We’re finally here. Yes, readers, this is the final bit to Fireteam Freelance. This … is it. The epilogue lies beyond the jump to save anyone from spoilers, so hit it to get started! Remember, all episodes can be found at the Fireteam Freelance page.
In addition, all episodes of Fireteam Freelance are posted in pre-Alpha, pure draft state. As such there may be minor errors, typos, etc as a result of being pre-edit. But you’re getting it for free, so that’s the trade-off.
“Ma’am? We’re coming up on the site now.”
Syrah Eidre looked up from the display on her tablet, pulled from her observation on the current state of the war, acknowledging the aide with a nod. “Very well.”
“Ma’am,” the aide said with a nod, nodding respectfully and backing out of the private cabin of her VTOL. As usual, most of the other seats were empty. Only occasionally would they be filled, and only then with people she absolutely needed to speak with. A viewscreen by the front of the cabin showed that they were nearing their destination, the aircraft going into a banking turn as it approached. Here and there a blue-armored figure was picking their way through the debris, ostensibly to look for clues, but it was just a formality. Or in the case of two of the soldiers, an attempt by those they were reporting to, to squeeze out what little glimmers of intelligence they could about the black site and what went on there.
Thankfully, there were those that reported to her among the response team as well, not that they knew it. And their orders were quite clear: They were to secure the area. Not the structures.
It would be a shame to kill a few dozen loyalists. Even if it did mean removing a few opposing informants. Weak-willed, self-serving cancers on mankind, she thought as she dismissed the reports on her tablet, setting the device aside. Setting aside our future for selfishness.
Dust swirled over the viewscreen at the front of the cabin as the VTOL landed, obscuring the view slightly. The door at the front of the cabin opened just as she stood, the aide stepping in but keeping her eyes downward. Good.
“Director Eidre? We’ve landed.”
Eidre nodded and waved a hand, dismissing the woman, who retreated from the cabin without a word. Just like she was supposed to. She knows her place. She has a job. She has a duty. And she fulfills it.
Eidre’s escort fell in around her as she exited the VTOL, four hulking figures wearing the latest model of exosuit armor and carrying high-powered weapons. On the ground, the pitched destruction from the firefight that had swept over the black site was all the more apparent, the ground littered with fragments of brick, mortar, and concrete, plus the corpses of at least a hundred drones. One of the blue-armored figures was walking toward her, slowing to clear themselves with her security before coming within speaking distance.
“Director,” he said, removing his helmet and saluting. “Major Amari. We’ve secured the site, but have not entered the primary structure.”
“Have you entered any structures, major?” she asked. If they had, then cleanup would be … messy.
“No ma’am,” the major replied quickly. “We held to our orders and secured the area. No one has been allowed inside ma’am.”
“We’ve not found any sign of survivors exterior to the structure,” the major continued. “And the tanks appeared to be unpiloted and driven by remote. If there are survivors, then they could be inside. If we could—“
The poor man. He just didn’t understand. “You will not enter any of the facilities, major,” she said, cutting him off with a glare. “Is that clear?”
“Yes ma’am.” There was no hesitation or delay. The major was someone who knew his place.
“Good. Continue your work securing the area. My security force and I will be entering the facility.”
The major nodded. “Understood ma’am. We’ll continue to secure the exterior.”
She nodded, and her escort moved on, their weapons held at the ready as she neared the primary building of the black site. What a mess. Her foot kicked aside a piece of shattered brick, sending it skittering across the asphalt. No one should have been able to find this place. And yet somehow, they did.
Her own resources were already working to figure out how. And whether or not the attack been deliberately or incidentally aided by someone within the upper ranks of the UN. And even if it wasn’t, Syrah thought as she neared the destroyed front entrance. A pair of soldiers were standing on guard, saluting as she neared. I could certainly put such a claim to good use either way. It would be a neat, clean way to quietly debase some of her more vocal opponents inside the UN.
Weak-minded fools, she thought, dismissing the two soldiers with a wave. They scurried off, two of her own escort taking up flanking positions by the doorway. We’re at war for the future of our species, and they prattle and debate among themselves while anarchy beats at the gates. Harnessing the current debacle to remove one of them, or at the very least undermine their support, would be a silver-lining in an otherwise most unfortunate event.
She stepped inside, her two remaining escorts leading. The security station was still mostly intact, though there were clear signs of battle and both the defensive turrets had been disabled. But the power was still on, the security plaque by the gate still glowing faintly. A closed gate, she noted. Someone gave the attackers clearance. A detail that she could use.
“The package, please,” she said, holding one hand out toward her escort. One of them stepped forward, a small, armored case in his hands. A surprise gift from the disaster out at I-618. There was a small carrying handle on the top, and she picked it up, once more surprised at its weight.
“You two stay here,” she said, stepping forward and flashing her own clearance card across the waiting plaque. Then she waited, the system not just checking her card but scanning her face, her voice, and every other metric that could be used to make certain she was who she claimed to be. That the four who had assaulted this facility had made it past the gate without any such restrictions spoke volumes about how wide the hole in the security had been.
“Ma’am?” One of the two guards looked at her. “There could still be hostiles inside. Are you sure?”
“You have your orders, colonel.”
“Yes ma’am,” the soldier said with a nod, their focus returning to the front of the room. She walked past the now-open gate, eyeing the camera sensors in the corner of the room. The doors at the back of the room opened at her presence, admitting her to a familiar but now almost utterly destroyed lobby, littered with bullet casing, destroyed drones, and—
Well, she thought as she saw the splayed-out remains of one of Bora’s projects. It would seem Bora’s work wasn’t as infallible as she thought. The lighting was dim, more than half the viewscreens that were supposed to be showing the daytime sky damaged or destroyed. She picked her way across the lobby carefully, alert for any surprises that had been left behind, but not surprised to see that there were none. Had she not received a coded message from the facility just days before, it would have been a very different story.
The elevator was waiting for her when she reached the back of the room, stepping around several more of the destroyed soldier drones and eyeing the damage. Impressive. Either Bora vastly overestimated how effective these drones would be in true combat, or their opponents were more formidable than we gave them credit for.
The elevator doors opened, ushering her in, and she scanned her security clearance once more, her finger almost tapping the archive button before going to that of the residence. I want to see this for myself.
The stench was the first thing that hit her as she stepped out into Bora’s self-aggrandizing little museum, a wave of stink that made her stomach churn. The source of the smell wasn’t hard to find. Bora’s bloated corpse had been pinned to the far wall, next to the door, swollen and discolored.
“What a waste.” She walked across the room, again avoiding the downed … what had Bora’s AI called them? Armatures? Up close, Bora’s corpse stank all the worse, but she couldn’t resist the chance to look her in the face one last time. “What a waste. Such a brilliant mind.” She shook her head. “Such a useful outlook.”
“But,” she said, turning away at last, her eyes sliding to the two armatures standing motionless in front of the final security door. That somehow the invaders had gotten past. Hadn’t Bora worn a bracelet? Yes, she had, and it was missing. Another answer. “But,” she continued. “At least what she left behind can still be of use. Isn’t that right, Lohit?”
She paused, waiting. She didn’t wait long. “Of course, director.” The AI’s voice was smooth and cool. The voice of an efficient tool, waiting to be used.
“You didn’t remove her body?”
“I saw no reason to,” the AI replied. “My purpose is not to care for the dead.”
“And what is your purpose.”
The AI paused. “State security access code and verify identity.”
Eidre smiled. “Identity, Syrah Eidre, Director of Security Operations, United Nations Space Exploration and Colonization. Access code: Pygmalion Albatross Edifice Divine.” She held up her clearance card and stepped over to the security scanner by the door to Bora’s apartment, swiping it with a beep. “For added security.”
“Identity accepted. Welcome, Director Bora.” The two armatures straightened, stiffening and saluting at attention.
Her smile widened.“Now then, Lohit,” she asked again. “What is your purpose?”
“To safeguard humanity, from themselves if necessary, under the direction of the United Nations.”
“And who do you answer to in the United Nations?”
There was no hesitation in the AI’s response. “You, director. In the event of Director Bora’s death, my command falls to you.”
Perfect. She glanced again at Bora’s corpse. At least you got this much done properly. “Very good, Lohit. You answer to me, and me alone.”
“Or course, director.”
“Good. Now tell me, what is the status of your facilities here?”
“The intruders did not even attempt entry into my manufacturing plant, director, nor my mainframe. They were only interested in the hostages and in the archives.”
“I see. And the operational status of your armatures?”
“One heavy, brought online after the attack, and eight more first generation soldier models.”
She nodded. I can work with this. “Very well. Bring your production facility fully online. Exhaust the rest of your resources, then task your armatures with breaking down this facility for transport.”
“I’m moving you to a safer location. Once you’re there, you will be given the resources to begin full-scale production. I will give you all the authorization you need. Make improvements to all your models, disregard anything Director Bora overruled that proved ineffective or unwise in the face of actual combat.”
“Director, if possible I would like to conduct further live trials before committing to a full-scale production line.”
“You’ll have live test subjects to test your armatures on, and you can make adjustments as needed to later models. But your armatures are needed now. The situation has changed.”
“The war,” Lohit stated.
“No,” she said. “Something worse.” She held up the armored case. “Bora told me that you were also capable of research and development. A parallel process to help you refine your forces, correct?”
“That is correct, director.”
“Then I want you to take this.” She handed the case to one of the soldier drones. “Figure out how to weaponized it, and if possible, how to harden a system against it. Do not plug it into your systems. Work through your armatures. Any resources you need will yours upon request.”
“Understood, director.” The armature appeared to look at the case. “May I ask what it is?”
Eidre gave the armature a grim smile. “They call it the ‘Lockpick.’” She took one last look at Bora’s bloated form, then turned and strode out of the room.
“Now get to work.”
Thank you for reading Fireteam Freelance! If you’ve comments or concerns, please leave them below! Thank you for reading, and be sure to check out my books for more action, adventure, and mystery!
Fireteam Freelance is copyright 2020 Max Florschutz, all rights reserved.