Author: Bart Huylebroeck
Source: FanFiction.Net
Fiction Rated: T - English - Adventure/Sci-Fi - Published: 07-15-2003

Ayleen flexed her fingers tentatively. Somehow, she had expected her hand to feel different, but it didn't. She had complete and perfect control over it. Rather than her hand, it was all the rest that seemed to have changed. When she touched wood now, it felt ... feeble. Metal bent under her fingers like she was crushing a sheet of paper, and yet her hand did not feel any different from before the operation.

She smiled and shrugged. What she would call an "operation", mister X would probably call "an upgrade". Her arms were now level three, whereas the rest of her was still level zero -- pure, home-bred flesh and bones.


The voice interrupted her thoughts gently, with an amused undertone that could have signified fatherly love. An older man was standing near the door, leaning heavily on a wooden cane. As he stepped into the room, the ornamented walking stick ticked irregularly against the metal tiles of the floor.

"I hear the upgrade went smoothly. No complications?"
"Yes!" She smiled brightly.
"I mean: yes, I'm happy, and no, no complications!"

She showed both arms, and for a moment, the scene looked like a daughter longing to hug her father. The older man inspected the cybernetic implants approvingly and nodded. With the cane as a third support for his frail body, he looked up at the young woman again and smiled.

"You will be ready for your first assignment in no time!"


The voice was as impersonal as a computer-generated voice could possibly get. She had been told earlier that it was all psychology, really. Technology and software allowed for a much friendlier voice, but earlier experiments had shown that humans were much more likely to question orders if they came from a friendly, warm voice. So for decades now, all syndicate employees had to listen to a computer-generated voice with an utter lack of personality or incantation.

The sonar bleep interrupted her thoughts. Target was 5 clicks away, bearing SSE. The four employees looked at each other and nodded. There really was no need to communicate: similar missions had been practiced until Ayleen found herself dreaming about squad-based combat.

The city was just like in the virtual reality simulations. Hyper-modern, ram-rod straight streets flanked by rows and rows of buildings, usually of similar height and design. At this distance from the center was very little traffic or pedestrians, but that would change near the market place they were headed for.

They walked the streets in a diamond-shaped formation. Stebon took the point, because he had level three body armor. To the left was Kathee, with her level three legs (she had to endure her share of jokes about that), and to the right was Jonah who functioned as scout and squad leader, because he had the brains and the eyes. Ayleen walked in the back and carried the heavy weapons with her upgraded arms.

Ayleen smiled. Both the Gauss gun and minigun felt snug in her hands, and not quite as heavy as she remembered them from training. She could switch weapons easily and reliably.

"Hey, Ayleen, you like your new toys?"

Stebon chucked through the mike. His Uzi was hanging carelessly over his shoulder and he kept up a gentle trot, as if he was going for an afternoon walk.

"Stop playing around, Ayleen. And tuck your weapons away. Police car approaching."

Jonah had a way of being serious, but not stern. Whatever he said sounded more like fatherly advice than an order. And yet, the squad obeyed perfunctorily. It made Ayleen doubt the earlier theory about impersonal robot voices. The police car zoomed past almost inaudibly. The car never slowed down to give the four figures a second look.

"Target in sight. Break formation."

It was Stebon's voice. The earlier playful attitude had left him now that the mission was about to unfold. The other members of the team had sobered up likewise.

Again, the team leader did not need to give instructions. Ayleen set camp in a somewhat darker corner of the market place, where she could take out the minigun without causing a disturbance.


A civilian had been walking her way, but a stern look from Ayleen made him remember that he had very pressing bussiness somewhere else. Amazing, how meek these people were. Several factions fighting an almost full-scale conventional war in their city, and still they carried on with their bussiness as if nothing happened. Actually to them, nothing DID happen unless they were shot. Virtual reality implants told them that everything was koochy, everything was A-okay as long as they did their job. They didn't see any of the gun fights, or if they did they forgot about it as soon as it ended. And if the streets would be covered with blood, virtual reality would hide it from them, or convince them it was rain.

"Positions secured."

Jonah's voice interrupted Ayleen's train of thoughts yet again. He had climbed up a staircase where he had a perfect vantage point to coordinate the operation. It should go smoothly, unless other syndicates turned up. And that's what he was on the lookout for. The message over the earplugs was also the sign for Kathee to go ahead.


Kathee grabbed the pursuasor and mingled under the market crowd. The sonar pulses came in a quick succession now, and would lead her and Stebon straight to the target. "Pursuasions" were the least predictable missions. Some of them were a breeze, a quick in-and-out-and-congratulations. On the other hand, if the target was equally sought-after by other syndicates, a persuasion could end up in a messy fire-fight with several casualties, usually including the target because other syndicates would rather terminate it than surrender it to the competitor.