In the eight weeks that had passed since Jena Foster’s re-awakening, she had time for a lot of reading. Her neural computer implant let her pull information from the computers of the IXV Shuck, the ship that had become her temporary home. At first her reading had been on the matter of cyborgs, given her new status as one. Then she added in the general history of human enhancement. In one of the corridors of the ship she walked on her hands as her mind let her scroll through the document she was currently reading.
It was the mid-twenty first century on Earth when human enhancement projects split into two distinct paths. The development of the human-machine interface let a mind communicate directly with electronic components and from that point on companies competed against each other to create the strongest, the fastest, the most efficient components they could. Someone with only a cybernetic arm would be constrained by their biological components. Someone with most of their body replaced on the other hand could far exceed human performance in all fields, but saw increased maintenance and upkeep costs.
Genetic enhancement was making its own strides. Widespread testing and genetic treatments paved the way for eradicating many diseases, though not without controversy rising over definitions of disease and disability. Those arguments were nothing when it came to improving the human genome. Decades of legal wrangling and philosophical waxing played out in courts and academia until a project was pitched to increase the baselines of all humans born after the treatment.
Centuries later, Jena herself benefited from long-term effects of those treatments. Humans lived longer and healthier lives while staying productive for longer. Where a hundred was once considered a ripe old age to die at, it was now a life cut short. How you looked at that age was still the matter of luck, though.
“Foster,” Handler called from the end of one of the corridors, “come give me a hand with these supply crates.”
Flipping to her feet, Jena went in pursuit of the young woman who lead the cell. While Jena’s hair was blonde and her skin still had some of its tan, Handler was the opposite. She had almost chalk white skin and her dark hair held up in a severe bob. Handler was all business, and Jena appreciated that.
“Crates with a red mark need to go to Fixer. Blue to the bridge.” She said as she struggled lifting one of the blue crates up.
Glancing at the handles, Jena turned four crates on their side, placing two of the crates together handle-to-handle. Slipping her hands around both, her new strength easily let her lift four at once with the even distribution of weight easily spread across the internal supports put into her back and shoulders.
Jena followed behind Handler, hoping the dark grey combat bodysuit she wore was not quite as tight on her body as their leader’s shipsuit was.
“Eyes up, soldier.” The dark haired woman spoke after a few moments as they worked their way through the corridor.
The former farmer felt herself blushing, not quite sure as to why.
Sat with a padded shirt over his overalls, Jaret was in his workshop with an old ceramisteel axe on his lap. Notches had been made in the handle once. Dark scorch marks covered the wood now. It had been found along with the ruined remains of his sister’s rifle. It was the only thing he had to remember her by.
“Wish you could have been here for this, little sister.” He spoke aloud in the darkness. “I’ll take this into battle with me. Hopefully I won’t have to use it. Just… look out for us. If not for me, for my wife.” He added as he felt someone step into the room. Rosie had been there to pick him up after his sister’s death. She was a timid young woman with mousy hair, but there was steel under the colourful home-made sweaters she always wrapped herself in.
She kissed him on the cheek. “It’s time, Jaret.” She whispered as she clung tightly to him.
Stepping out of his workshop with her, he looked over the gathered forces waiting for his leadership. Farm vehicles had been modified and reinforced with additional armour from scrapped machines. Their weapons were a mix of their own hunting and defense rifles, and newer Galactic Armed Forces models smuggled in by intelligence agencies. They were a rag-tag force, one of many that would be heading to the city, but they were united in their task.
Jaret held Jena’s axe above his head. They all knew whose it was, and what it meant to the leader of the Farringdon Falcons. “I’ve never been to Central City before.” He called out to his fellows. “So once we leave here, I don’t plan on stopping until I’ve seen Landing Site Park!” A titter of laughter came from some of the older members. “I also hear they’re looking for something for a new monument. A monument to celebrate the day we liberated the city, and the planet, from the Volsta Empire.” He looked over his sister’s axe in an exaggerated manner.
“I think this would do the job.” A cheer came up from the group, and Jaret put on his most confident smile. Turning, he pointed in the direction of Central City. “Let’s get moving, and no one stops until we’ve seen our liberation!”
“It’s almost time, Jena.” Handler called from behind her.
Jena had spent the last few days finishing her preprations and helping get the ship ready. She had been through checks with Fixer, plans with Handler, and listened in on the other six agents reporting back to the ship. Fixer had also given her a cartridge to place into the back of her neck loaded with combat stimulants, and a warning to be sparring in their use. Her system would regulate them and prevent her doing any damage but she needed to pick the right time to use them.
She was taking one final look over the tactical map of Central City when Handler had called to her. “I know.”
Jena turned as she heard footsteps coming towards her, and the sound of a zip being moved. Handler had her hair down and the front of her light grey shipsuit had a v-shaped split of pale skin in it where it had been unzipped. Her green eyes looked up, down, across, flitting about trying to decide where to look.
“Eyes front, soldier.” Handler smirked. “I noticed you looking the other day, figured you might need some stress relief before the battle.”
Had Jena been looking? Confusion crossed the cyborg’s face, and Handler paused too.
“I’m sorry.” Jena said, keeping her gaze firmly on Handler’s dark eyes. “I’ve never… with anyone, and…” She was getting more and more flustered. Taking a deep breath, she shook her head. “Thanks- for the offer that is, but… stress has always kept me keen. I think I’ll need keen tomorrow.”
Handler didn’t look offended at being turned down, like that man in the camp had. She simply smiled and zipped her suit back up. “Maybe after the battle then.” Her hands worked quickly to tie her hair up, and the old Handler was back with her. “Make final checks on your loadout for tomorrow. We’ll be holding you in reserve until all forces are committed, then deploying you to the optimal location for affecting ally and enemy morale.”
As Handler walked away, Jena tried her best to ignore the readings of her elevated heart rate. Instead she opted to look over the edge of one of her combat knives she had been given. If stress kept her keen, that little encounter would leave her as sharp as the knife she was checking.
The Farringdon Falcons did have to stop a couple of times on the way to Central City to let slower vehicles catch up and to rest the engines and the troops. It was at the last stop for the final day that Rosie had slipped into Jaret’s sleeping bag. The pair had nestled together under the stars.
“Are you scared?” She asked.
“Terrified.” He replied with a soft chuckle, tousling her hair with a hand. “I don’t know how she did it.”
“You’re just as strong as Jena, just in a different way.” Rosie stated, capturing his lips with her own. “And she’ll be out there with all of us tomorrow.”
“I know.” He nodded. “I just can’t let my nerves show to anyone.”
“But me.” Rosie spoke with warmth, glad he was able to confide in her. Even though she was a bit more open with him in private, her cheeks still heated up as she spoke. “Will you lay with me?”
Jaret’s hands slipped down to pull her close.
“This is Reporter Zang, with the Volsta News Network!” The broadcast rang out across all channels around Farringdon III. “The Resistance, pushed back and fought against for years by the brave Volsta forces, have launched a desperate all-out attack against Central City! But do not fear, for the walls of Central City stand strong, and its garrison are ready to defend the seat of Volsta power on the planet! I am here on the front lines with the brave soldiers of the Eastern Unit, engaged with the ramshackle forces of the Farringdon Falcons!” Zang caught his breath before continuing. “With the death of the Butcher of Vadarai Seven almost two years ago now, the terrorist formerly of the Falcons number, these criminals must not have much fight left in them to be driven to such a desperate action! Stay tuned in with me here on the front lines as the mighty Volsta repel these peasants!”
“The perfect target.” Handler almost purred as she listened in. “I’ve marked the location on your overview, Jena. Get out there, reinforce the Falcons and make yourself known.”
Quiet and armed to the teeth with knives, a plasma cutter, and several energy pistols, Jena squeezed Handler’s shoulder before departing from the bridge. Her dark grey and black combat suit showed off her physique, and was designed to provide some protection from energy weapons and other damage. As she took off running for the exit to drop into the battlefield, she ran one last systems check and remembered what Fixer had told her earlier.
[Disable Performance Limiters?] The message appeared in her in-vision display. With a thought, the message changed. [Performance Limiters Disabled. User Caution Advised.] As the optically-camouflaged ship slid through the air towards the eastern front, Jena Foster crouched down in the open airlock, gripping recesses on the floor. [“I’m in position.”] She broadcast through the Shuck’s communications systems to Handler.
It was not going well. Volsta troops were bombarding their fleet of vehicles with fire. The armour was beginning to fail, and the Falcons could barely get off attacks in response before having to duck out of the way of incoming fire. And that damn reporter’s spiel was continuing to demean and diminish everything the Falcons had done. As one of the smaller vehicles on their left wing exploded, Jaret hoped the amount of fire they were drawing would give one of the other teams space to breach the city and take out the planetary defense systems.
“Jaret!” Rosie called from behind. “I’m picking up a disruption approaching in the air.”
“Take cover, everyone!” Jaret yelled.
A fleeting shape passed over the battlefield, a mere shimmer in the air. A singular figure fell from the distortion, and then the carnage started. Jaret watched as from behind enemy lines, Volsta soldiers were flung in the air. He winced as one shot forwards and bounced off one of their gun emplacements to lay broken on the ground.
“What the hell is going on over there?!” He heard one of his men say from behind as one of the Volsta’s defense vehicles was tipped on its side.
“Back-up from the GFIA?” Jaret called back. “Whatever is going on, we have a chance. Check your fire and give them some support!” He yelled, before whistling the hunting call.
Bolstered, the Falcons begun their advance again as they laid down fire.
Unbridled, Jena tore through the ranks of soldiers. It felt good to fight once more. Fire burned in her veins as she laid out soldiers with single blows. Each punch could send a man hurtling up and across the mud, and her enhanced reflexes and joints let her dance through danger, conserving her weapons. With the Falcons joining the fight again, her destination was clear. The broadcast vehicle of the VNN.
“An enemy combatant has landed in the lines of the brave Volsta, and has begun an inhuman rampage! The brutality and barbarism of the terrorists can plainly be seen as… as…” Reporter Zang trailed off as he saw the vengeful face approaching him, her uniform stained with Volsta blood. “It… it can’t be.” A younger version of that face had been all over the news a couple of years back.
One of the soldiers charged at her, only to have his neck crushed with a squeeze of her hand. Picking his body up, she hurled him into his fellows. Zang scrambled for the vehicle and locked the door behind him. With a snarl, she plunged her hands into the metal and easily tore it off. With the Falcons encroaching their location, the soldiers were too busy to help him. She flung the door at the backs of some soldiers before staring at Zang and his broadcast camera.
“Let the dogs of the Volsta Empire howl in anguish.” Jena Foster growled. “The Butcher of Vadarai Seven has risen, and the Falcons hunt once more!” With a shrill whistle, she sounded the hunting call and promptly rolled the vehicle over onto its top.
Jaret stood ashen-faced as his dead sister walked towards him. At the sound of her voice the rest of the Falcons had surged forth to rout the Volsta. She looked a little older, a lot stronger, and dressed in dark colours with blood dripping from her arms a lot more vicious than even he remembered her being. He fell to his knees, tears running down his cheeks.
“Stand, my brother.” Her voice was a little deeper. “There’ll be time for that later.” Wiping her hands on her thighs, she easily pulled him to his feet. “You need to get into the city. I can clear the gatehouse and open it for you, then I need to assist with taking down the planetary defenses.”
Trembling, he managed a nod. She gave his shoulder a squeeze before pushing him in the direction of Rosie, who had been watching with wide eyes.
“Give him a few minutes to get his brain back in order, but get moving towards the gates.” Jena ordered. Then she turned and ran for the walls, her legs carrying her faster than anyone he’d ever seen. Gunfire started down at her, then she was leaping up to the top of the wall in a single jump. Soldiers soon started to fly off the battlement as she worked in close combat.
Gripping the axe he had carried since her death, Jaret drew himself up and took a deep breath. “You heard Jena! Falcons, advance! We take Central City today!”
The fighting was fierce in the city itself, and noting the stress readings on her arms Jena had fallen back on her weapons rather than risk overtaxing the artificial limbs. As a unit charged towards the now open gates and the Falcons making their way in, she gripped her pistols in both hands and activated one of the combat stims.
An odd sensation washed over her. The running Volsta slowed to a crawl, even as the slightest movement could make her arms swing rapidly. Her fingers squeezed the trigger over and over as she adjusted her aim, and then time was running normally as the charging group crumpled with their wounds.
Bounding from rooftop to rooftop, she checked some of the other combat stims she was carrying and triggered one to give her repair systems a kick. Repair and cooling solutions rushed to her limbs, and the conditions of each soon shifted back up from amber to green.
[“Foster, I see you.”] GFIA Agent Gibbams said over internal commslink. Looking up, she could see the balding intelligence operative on a nearby tower. [“Head for the central building. I’ll keep an eye on the Falcons.”]
[“Change in orders?”]
[“Handler wants you to capture Administrator Rahv, head of the occupation forces on Farringdon III, and secure him ready for handing over to the military when they arrive.”] Gibbams explained. [“Secure him, Foster. The military and intelligence agency wants him alive, don’t let any of the resistance extract mob justice on him.”]
With a nod, Jena took the elevated route to the complex in the middle of the city, taking potshots at Volsta troops as she went.
It wouldn’t be long now.