Katy felt completely empty inside. Looking into the large hanger where a Heaven Blade Armored Personnel Shuttle sat silently, she noticed the room was dark and silent. Not like the silence that preceded the gunfight in the kitchen, something more...peaceful. It was the quiet of normality, as if every plan had gone expected, leading to something long foreseen and unsurprising. As if behind just a single security door there didn't lay a site of utter carnage and tragedy. The harrowing proof of a people divided, a microcosm of humanity's eternal struggle with fallibility.
She had seen combat before.
She was a soldier, a warrior with a strong and courageous soul. She fought every battle with a focus and determination that had pulled her to the top of Technology Recovery Team Four. Her chief was so impressed that he had made her a team leader in record time, after only three short years.
She performed admirably, even this new and foreign role of leadership had been familiar and easy for her. Katy's fellow teammates followed her passionately and proudly, seeing a meritorious success rate that put her team on the map.
Specialist Blanch, one of the youngest and lowest ranked soldiers to ever lead a Technology Recovery Team was arguably responsible for making the formerly unassuming team famous.
When Special Operations and Recovery came looking for especially gifted and bright recruits from the Technology Recovery office, they inevitably came to hers, an honor that had been denied to former incarnations of the team for over two decades due to an inescapable affliction of mediocrity. Chief Silas Manhattan pushed passionately for Katy to be taken to The Grid but S.O.A.R recruiters had been hesitant at first due to the fact that no female had ever passed the Hektor-Maria Excellence program.
Silas fought hard for his shining star though and eventually the battle was theirs. He was crestfallen to see her go, but delighted that she had finally been given a challenge and opportunity worthy of her skill.
When she got to the infamous moon base she did so with a solid determination to not let her former chief down. The second her boots touched the soft dust of Luna, she knew the program was hers, she resolved then and there, at the boarding ramp of a Heaven Blade much like the one before her now, that she was going to be the first ever female S.O.A.R member.
Throughout her training, that same attitude won her multiple commendations and the respect of one of the hardest instructors the HMEP had to offer, a former officer and black-ops agent, Sergeant Jack Ervine. By the time the final tests were on the horizon, the notoriously cold Sergeant was her biggest influence, her desire to prove his efforts of sculpting her into a warrior worthy of the S.O.A.R designation eclipsing even that of her former Chief.
Specialist and S.O.A.R cadet Katy Blanch was a soldier at heart.
She had seen combat before...but she'd never seen betrayal.
She felt empty because she didn't know how to cope with such an abhorrent reality. Her ears were ringing and her vision was unfocused. She revered the strong sense of fellowship that naturally developed when fighting a common enemy with her brothers.
To see that connection desecrated in such a callous and obscene way. It was beyond her capacity, she felt polluted, her sublime perspective blackened by the loathsome and foul parasite of corruption and infidelity.
“Katy”, the sudden voice was foreign, distant in her mind.
“Katy”, she closer her eyes and looked down, opening them to look upon her unsuited frame, she saw her filthy hands and clothes and hated herself. She hated her imperfection, the knowledge that a people who shared her DNA and culture had the capacity to harbor such malice for each other. An ability to be so apathetic and uncaring of the love that she felt for her own kind. The thought manifested into an acrid rot on her tongue. She saw her form, unmasked and clear, as if she were a living metaphor for truly seeing the potential evil of her kind for the first time.
“Katy?”, the voice was closer and louder as she continued to stare at her feet.
How could she continue to fight knowing that what she fought for, who she fought with, were broken and imperfect visions of her feelings of absoluteness?
Defective ideals, defective allies, defective friends...how could she force herself to lift another finger for a society like hers?
“Because you have to...”, the voice rang through her mind and she was shaken from her introspection. She looked over to see the black operative still by her side, her face was ashen and despondent as she looked upon the man and wondered how long she'd been thinking out loud.
“Because there are still those of us who fight for what is right and good”, he continued, “still those who deserve to be protected from the atrocities of the world.”
“We stand together in times like this more than ever, not only because we have to but because this is when it's most important. There will always be the selfish, manipulative, and rebellious in our own ranks, but we must stand united against them, no matter how painful, because if nobody does”, Josiah paused, his blank, expressionless mask reflecting a profound humanity before he looked away, “then we really are no better than the immoral and licentious.”
The two of them stood in a long, narrow locker room attached to the hanger that Katy was just seeing for the first time. The Sergeant was in a far corner sifting through an open locker, his face hidden by the door.
Whether it was a desire to change the subject, or an effort to get what was left of the team moving, Josiah pointed to the end of the room where Ervine was still busy shuffling through a pile of what looked to be linens, “you'll want to get washed up, clean out that wound before we take-off. I apologize for the lack of privacy but black-ops facilities aren't exactly known for having too many women around”.
Katy turned in the direction of the showers and started walking through the benches that lined the narrow walkways, “keep faith cadet, I know it's hard to face this atrocity but, if anything, look for solace in knowing that what you do, and the importance of the ideals that drive you to do it, have never changed.”
The words followed her but Katy wouldn't immediately see how significant they truly were. She still felt depleted, the motions she made were automatic...there was no meaning to them. She wanted nothing more than to fade away, softly and quietly into nothing.
After stepping out of the shower she found a towel, some sterilized dressings for the painless and bloodless hole in her arm, and a clean pair of military fatigues waiting for her on a nearby bench. The two men were nowhere to be seen, having placed the clothes there for her and then leaving her to her privacy.
She dressed in silence, feeling marginally better from the shower alone. Blanch still wanted to collapse in on herself like a singularity but the feeling was less acute.
The clothes fit remarkably well, and as she pulled on a new pair of combat boots she found herself feeling grateful for the two men with her. After everything they'd just been through, the horrifying, first person realization that her people did not fit into a utopian vision of unity, she still felt that a spark of the old fire she used to have for her brothers had not been extinguished, that it still flickered on. Maybe it was Josiah's words, his reaction to her dark thoughts or maybe it was the shower and the ability to wash away the blood and pain of the kitchen.
She saw the agent and the sergeant huddled by a large casket by the shuttle when she came out of the locker room. As she came closer to them she saw that it was a large cache of equipment.
“There you are”, said the sergeant turning around to regard Katy as she approached, “how was your shower? I hope you're feeling a bit better.”
She smiled weakly, whispering softly, “I'm okay sir”.
“Good, good. Josiah managed to find this weapon and gear locker in some back room and we pulled it over here. Come have a look, they've got new R class exo-suits and Directed Energy weapons in here...black-ops gets all the good stuff.”
Katy felt oddly reassured by the sergeant's unceremonious, almost irreverent tone as she walked up next to the giant container.
It was the size of a small room, she wondered how they'd managed to drag it here. “It must have taken a hundred graviton nodules...”, she thought.
Her mind went to Prodigy as she looked at the plethora of energy weapons lining the wall. She wanted nothing more than to go back to it, to pick it up off the floor and repair it, but it was all she could do to keep herself from returning to her execrable thoughts. The idea of opening up the door to that kitchen made her physically nauseous.
As she stepped inside the casket, it reminded her of the old semi-trailer containers that were laying about on earth, buried under centuries of neglect, their elemental properties reclaimed by the planet.
She soon found the answer to her earlier question as she slowly walked down the narrow passageway. There, a few inches above her head was a built in graviton nodule as large as her torso, this canister was constructed to be portable...the equipment, she realized, had been designated for operatives in the field. The large nodule enabling a single agent to move the canister and use its weapons and gear surplus throughout the course of a duty assignment. She'd seen this type of cache once before on earth when her former team had been sent in to scale and clear an odd looking and ancient needle-like structure in the now marshy and heavily forested pre-hundred year war metropolis of area Sea-36, or as the old civilization called it, Seattle.
An operative had been working in that area before the team arrived, using the canister as a forward base and living area. She also remembered not being allowed to go near it because of the sensitive and classified equipment inside. Operatives were given access to the highest levels of gear the Reclaimer Navy could offer, sometimes even including experimental weaponry and armor not yet produced.
She looked towards the back of the casket, noticing a nondescript rear wall, behind which she knew was a hidden small office for sleeping and working with classified intel, her Chief had accidentally let it slip during their assignment.
The weight of the situation was not lost on her, despite everything else she felt a palpable sense of admiration as she looked upon the left wall, laden with energy weapons. The MDME*, DPF-X-Ray Plasma Rifle*, and even the R23-2 Particle Beam* that had come seconds to ending her life less than an hour earlier were all here...even some that were completely unfamiliar.
Most of the weapons in attendance on the wall she had only had the pleasure of reading about on the National Fleet Network* or in periodicals. The greatest weapons using the highest levels of technology known to the Reclaimers and therefore humanity. She reached out and ran the tip of her bare fingers along the side of a nearby MDME, it was cool to the touch and beautiful.
“Go ahead and pick it up, I'm personally granting you access to these assets”, Bennet announced, walking into the storage can with her and leaning against the wall.
Looking from Josiah back to the “madame” she reached out, gingerly at first, but then when she had her hands wrapped around it she hungrily lifted it out of its seat against the wall. She knew a lot about the man-portable Dark Microwave Emitter from studying diagrams and documents on it but she never thought she'd be able to actually have one. Even most S.O.A.R members still used solid state weapons, energy weapons were becoming more common in the military but they were still a long way from being accessible to just anyone. For her, the chance to use one in the field was a great honor, it was almost enough to make her smile.
The opposite wall was no less impressive, full sets of ranger or “R” class exo-suits were hung along the wall. Spec-ops exclusive armor that utilized more complex military software and combat suites. Exceptionally rare and expensive ballistic micro-fiber graphite and platinum alloys were used to create the matte, light-absorbing plates that were synonymous with a black-ops agent in the field. The suit alone was probably worth more than what the Navy paid to put Katy through the HMEP.
The whole thing was a bit overwhelming for Katy, she stood there for what seemed an eternity taking in the gravity of where she was at.
“We need to move out soon, get suited up and then we can get to the fleet”.
Katy looked over to the sergeant who had entered next to Josiah but just stood in the entrance. Obeying her instructor's command she found her correct size, a suit that had never been used before. Even though there had never been a female spec-ops agent the Navy had developed and kept the gear on hand for the inevitable eventuality. Why there were female versions of the exo-suit in a locker clearly meant for a male operative she had no idea.
Boot Sequence Initiating... Suite Build: 122.2 Predator Class... Military Naval Science Commission...
Internal Identification Chip Sync and Integration Process Starting Up...
… …... …...... ….........
Process Completed, Preferences Loaded... Welcome Blanch, Katherine A.
Basic Permissions Granted... Special Operations Clearance Denied... Please see a qualified Special Operations affiliate for key-in to unlock this suit's combat software...
Just as the suit completed its start-up procedure Josiah appeared by her side and inserted a special key into her arm interface, turning it to unlock the suit's full capabilities.
Permissions Unlock and Special Operations Clearance Confirmation... Encrypted Key-In Complete... Black Operative Bennet, Josiah C.
… …... …...... ….........
Suit Systems Fully Loaded... Welcome aboard Black Operative Blanch, Katherine A.
The suit's confirmation, blinking quietly in the HUD overwhelmed her. She looked at Josiah's blank mask as he silently returned the gaze before turning around and leaving the container with Jack, still in his bloodied civilian clothes. Something significant had just happened, she could see it once again in his unnaturally human visor. Did he just make her Black Ops or was it just meaningless protocol, necessary to grant her access to the suit's full capabilities?
Deciding it was better to let it go for now, Katy picked up the MDME she'd left on the table and mag-locked it to the weapon harness.
New Weapon Synchronization Initiated
Man-Portable Dark Microwave Emitter (MDME) Military Naval Science Commission Modified, IR Scope Special Notes: No Dark Matter Canisters Detected
Looking around she discovered a small ammo box in the corner labeled “DM Canisters, 12 EA”. She grabbed all 12 and locked them into her suit harness before leaving.
Josiah and Jack were already by the shuttle running through different diagnostics and start up procedures of the Heaven-Blade when she finally stepped away from the gear supply locker.
“Aren't you going to get suited as well sir?”, she asked Jack, approaching the two men.
The man looked to her and then to Josiah before placing his hand on her shoulder. “I think I'd probably stay out of a suit for now, I'll need to get to a hospital as soon as we get ship-side”. He cast a shadowy glance back at Josiah before turning to board the shuttle, disappearing from sight as he reached the top of the ramp.
“You'd better get on board too Blanch”, Josiah added, “we'll be taking off momentarily”.
Katy nodded to him and started to board the ramp when she heard a familiar robotic voice come over one of her suit channels.
“Cadet Katy, it's good to see your vital signs registering in our database, I was worried I'd lost you in the evacuation. I see you've sustained additional injuries. Please stand-by, I'll be at your location momentarily”.
“Azora? Why aren't you with the other evacuees?”
“My primary directive is to watch over my assigned patients Cadet Katy, you were the only one I was not able to find”.
“It may be too late to help me Azora, we're about to take-off from a classified area.”
“Zone 12, special operations shuttle bay alpha, I'm aware Cadet Katy. My operating clearance and area of access is network and facility wide.”
“We're about to take off...”
Azora responded curtly, “I'm closing on your location Cadet Katy, you're under my care until directed otherwise”.
Katy turned around on the shuttle ramp and looked in the direction of the small security doorway leading to the kitchen. Josiah, finished with pre-flight procedures, looked up at her as if about to speak but instead swiveled around lifting his weapon as the door suddenly slid open.
“I am a class one synthetic medical aid given top level clearance to all aspects of this facility. I would ask that you lower your weapon and cease targeting procedures Agent Bennet, Josiah C. I am here for my patient Cadet Katy, if you wish to leave under an unregistered shuttle designation and trajectory than I will need to accompany her. My directive will not allow me to leave her unaccounted for.”
Josiah paused for a moment looking at Azora quizzically, “welcome aboard then”.
“Thank you Agent Bennet, Josiah C...”, Azora stated, nodding at him as she walked up the ramp to the shuttle and towards Katy. As she approached, she produced something from her back and handed it to the cadet, “I found this in the kitchen and remembered you asked to have your gun a few days ago, since we're no longer in the medical wing I see no reason why you can't have it now”.
Katy was dumbstruck as her robotic medical aid handed her Prodigy.
“Thanks...Azora”, she said, her voice a reverent whisper as she looked at the broken weapon that had found its way back to her.
They all finally made their way into the shuttle as Josiah passed them hurrying to the cabin. Katy was still clutching Prodigy when she and Azora found the sergeant already seated in one of the passenger harnesses.
“Ah, another guest...you're that robot in the medical wing I saw helping with the evacuations”, he said.
“You may call me Azora, Sergeant Ervine, Jack M”.
“Right, welcome aboard then.”
“I see you've suffered multiple fractures and a gunshot wound to the thigh, I am equipped to handle most battlefield injuries.”
Ervine sniffed humorously at Azora as a message blinked in Katy's visor.
“Please meet me in the pilot compartment cadet...”, sensing something was not right she tossed one last look at the instructor and her robotic helper - who was now scanning the sergeant - before quietly slipping past them towards the front of the shuttle.
Josiah was bent over a large control panel and switching on different dials when Katy entered. “You wanted to speak with me sir?”, she asked.
“Have a seat, you don't mind being my copilot do you? Black operatives are trained to fly these things but it never hurts to have a second pair of eyes.”
“Sure...”, she responded, sensing he had another motivation for her being there.
“Great, like I said take a seat, the right one there. Let me know when that display shows equalization in the shuttle bay. Starting depressurization of the hangar now. All shuttle hatches are sealed and we are go for launch.”
Sitting, Katy watched the display as she felt the shuttle roar to life, the sound of the engines muffled as the atmosphere of the launch pad was sucked away and the large doors to the hangar suddenly bloomed above them.
“Display shows equalization of internal and external atmospheres,” she affirmed, hooking herself into the seat harness.
“Copy that agent Blanch”, Josiah answered unceremoniously as he switched channels, hearing his voice come through another line, “hold tight sergeant, we're pulling out of here”.
She stared at the operative as her stomach lurched into her throat, the shuttle jerking into the air.
After what felt like an eternity Josiah turned to her.
“I've enacted Protocol Nine Katy...”, he stared at her for a long time, the visor in her mask blinking passively as the shuttle continued to rise into the heavens.
She could see that he was struggling, “...each Black Operative is given a set of ten emergency protocols that they can only ever activate once. They're designed to keep a system of checks and balances and reduce the chances of an agent going rogue or attempting to acquire too much power. They all have various penalties but protocol nine perhaps carries the harshest...”
“I don't understand sir, what's going on?”, her stomach was still in her throat but since they were soaring through an airless, low gravity space it wasn't due to the gs.
“As you may have guessed the potentialist we encountered was a Black Operative. His name was Stone something, I didn't really know him. His name is far less relevant than what he stands for though.” Josiah took a breath, attempting to gather his thoughts before continuing.
“His existence proves that whoever these traitors are, the Black Ops office at the Grid has been compromised. It's of the utmost importance that we continue to pursue whatever it is that these guys were able to steal but I'm not going to be able to do it myself. Once we get to the fleet they're going to imprison us.”
The weight of his words froze Katy to her seat, she had no idea what to think or say. Everything they'd done to get off the base, what was it for? Nothing made any sense. Her whole life she'd sacrificed everything to serve her people. To be considered an accomplice to the coup was horrifying to imagine, much less cogitate.
“That doesn't change the fact that we still have to do it Katy”, Josiah declared, sensing Katy's shock, “remember when I said that we continue to make these sacrifices because we have to stand for what is virtuous? This is one of those times...someone has to be the good guys, especially when it's hardest to do so.”
“I...I don't understand, how are we going to help by turning ourselves in and making them think we're traitors?”
Josiah sat back in his seat, his hands subconsciously hovering over the shuttle's various controls, “we're the only ones that know what happened, this is a matter of national security and we have no idea as to the scope. Relaying this information directly to a seat of command within our government will have dire consequences though. By the time we say our piece we'll have made it all the way to an admiral's desk. They'll be forced to take us into custody for our government's own protection while they parse through the intel we give them....unfortunately this also means that while we sit paralyzed on what to do, these rogues will be getting further and further away with whatever they stole. Their plans will remain uninterrupted and they'll know it.”
“So what do we do?”
Josiah turned to Katy, his face mask once more projecting that strange level of humanity, “like I said, I've enacted protocol nine...I've given you my rank and status.”
“What?!”, Katy hissed, unable to process what she was hearing.
Josiah looked away, staring out the forward shuttle port at the inky black void.
“Our mission is of absolute importance, unfortunately however, nobody will believe us due to that very fact. Too many eyes will be on me and your instructor, we're well aware of this fact but it doesn't change anything...we have to continue to pursue these guys or who knows what will happen. I'm sorry Katy but we only have one hand to play here. You're going to have to continue this on your own.”
She felt like she had been punched straight in the gut, she couldn't breathe, her heart was racing, even her arm started to once again pulse with a deep and dull pain.
“I...I can't do it, I don't know how, I couldn't even pass the Hektor-Mar...”
“I saw you in action Blanch, I saw your skill and I saw how heavily the consequences of this experience weigh on you”, Josiah interrupted, “you're the perfect person for this, right now we don't need someone who can just hold their own in a simple gunfight, we need someone who cannot comprehend what it means to turn their back on their own people, we need someone who can wholly be trusted to do what is right, what is good...”, Josiah continued to stare out into space.
“You're not the best person who can do this, you're the only one”, Josiah sounded sombre, regretful.
“People like you are becoming woefully rare Blanch, if we have any chance of survival it's going to be carried on the backs of people, soldiers like you...”
Katy looked at Prodigy sitting broken in her lap. She wanted to cry, for the second time in a day she felt completely helpless and lost.
“How will I know where to start?”, she questioned...having so much more that she wanted to ask but having no idea how to go about it.
Josiah was quiet, he sat still as death as the void continued to swallow them. His hands had fallen to his lap, the shuttle's auto-pilot had kicked in and he must have realized his hands had been hovering over the control panel pointlessly.
After what seemed like an eternity he spoke quietly, almost inaudibly, his voice a grainy parody of a whisper in her suit. “Before we took off, Ervine and I were able to intercept a piece of critical data...we know the name of one of the directors of this coup. You're going to have to meet up with him and find out what they've taken and where...from there you'll be on your own...”
“I'm not trained in this sort of stuff sir, I don't know how be a spy, to gain people's trust, I can't lie convincingly!”
“There's another reason you're perfect for this job, I don't think you'll have to Katy.”
“These guys are traitors Josiah, they're not going to just trust me because I walk up to them and say 'hey, I like this whole betrayal thing you have going, can I play too?'”, Katy was at a loss, she felt the seed of desperation growing by the second.
“Before we head to the Red Lake we're going to drop you off under the guise of an evacuee on the Ivory Talon”, the operative paused, “...I'm, truly sorry Katy.”
“Josiah? What's going on...”, her stomach was in knots as she waited for the hesitant black operative to respond.
“When we were sifting through that other agent's communication logs and data stacks, we discovered who his direct contact was”, Josiah broke his gaze from the window and stared once again with the mask he was somehow able to cut through her with, piercing into her soul, “it was Gunnery Chief Silas Manhattan.”
_________________ "Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not."
Last edited by Xefa01 on Wed Apr 18, 2012 1:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
I find myself struggling with images of Azora looking like C3PO, and the MDME (based on your codex) as a 60's cartoon ray gun. At some point, this story merits illustration. And no parts more than the characters.
What's wrong with Cartoon Ray Guns?! Lol, yeah I can totally see that could be a misinterpretation. The inspiration for it is actually from one of the concept art pieces Matthew has shown for energy weapons. It's the one with the weird dish thing at the end of the barrel and the large capacitor looking assemblies at the top.
Seriously though, I'm blown away! Those picture you have are insane. The shuttle is 10x cooler than what I was picturing.
Most importantly though OMG that's totally Katy! That's actually very close to how I picture her. Katy's real now!!!
_________________ "Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not."