Jena Foster stalked down the corridors of the Central City Administration Building with a knife in each hand. The handles were tethered to her wrists by microwire cable reels, their purpose simple. Having shot her way into the building, her pistols sat in their thigh holsters building up charge. As a guard ran out into the corridor a flick of her wrist sent the knife flying into his neck. A thought started the cable reeling in with the knife leaving a bloody trail across the floor. Handler had sent a picture of Administrator Rahv to her internal computer, and she had the image of the sanctimonious invader up as a reference as she made her way towards the inner rooms.
With a multitude of footsteps heading her way she leapt into the rafters. The patrol found the guard she had just killed. They did not spot Jena until she dropped from the rafters and plunged her blades into two soldiers as her powerful legs kicked out at others. She almost pitied them being so outmatched.
Handler was keeping an eye on the situation from above the city, the IXV Shuck’s optical camo keeping them hidden from the ground forces. Fixer had joined her on the bridge to monitor the progress the resistance were making. Most of them were now in the city and had their list of targets to take. Power relay stations, garrisons, prison facilities and so forth. Her agents were at work too, and she had status reports listed for the seven.
She paid a lot of attention to Jena’s. The recent recruit’s broadcast via VNN had a dramatic effect on morale on both sides, and she was now in the central building hunting for the Administrator. It was something of a test for the former farm girl. If she killed Rahv or let someone else kill him it was no big deal. If she carried out the assigned mission? There’d be hope for her long-term potential, and a place to offer her on the team.
Handler reminded herself her hair was done up. It was no time to be thinking of her newest agent in that regard. She could consider her move there when the battle was over and her hair was released from the tight ponytail she’d tied it up in that morning.
Agent Gibbams, Durand and Huang were at the planetary communication relay. Durand had taken some fire but was still standing, and the other two cyborgs were busy trying to deactivate the defense systems.
Akintola was at the prison going through the prisoner manifests and transfer records. It wasn’t quite as glamorous a job as taking down defense systems or securing administrators, but they would need those records and she was well suited to data gathering.
Sokolov and Lopez had the most unpleasant task. The resistance and the others were focused on the Volsta. The two GFIA veterans were focused on the collaborators. Some were forced into working with the Volsta, others freely turned on their own. It was the latter that the pair had been sent to gather before the resistance started any indiscriminate killings. Handler had dealt with these situations before, and a resistance group was only as focused as the threat from their occupiers. Best to nip any issues in the bud.
“Handler?” Fixer called from his console. “I’m picking up warp signals from around the planet.”
“It’s too early for the task force, the defenses are still…” She quickly switched the viewscreen to above them and swore. Instead of peals of rainbow light opening up, it was inky clouds of black separating with fissures of brilliant white light. Outdated warp encapsulator auras could only mean one thing.
“Administrator, The Pride of Volsta is now coming out of warp.” One of the ops officers in the CCAB reported. “It is joined by Ginv’s Folly, The Wrath of Volsta, and The Rage of Kiel. They need to wait for full warp disengagement before releasing their dropships.”
“About time too.” Rahv snarled. “Draw our forces back to Defense Position D and let the reinforcements know to come in from around the city. Grind them against the building into paste and use their remains as fertilizer!” The Administrator was of advanced years for a Volsta, his angular features heavily lined and his pale skin yellowing in places. He looked up in shock as the doors to the control room flew open and soldiers dashed in, their weapons pointed out into the corridors.
“What is the meaning of this intrusion?” He demanded.
“She’s out there, Administrator!” One of the soldiers shouted. “The Butcher of Vadarai Seven!”
When Jena had worked out just where the Administrator would be, she had changed her tactics. In an apparent wild search for her quarry, she had dashed around various rooms and fallen on the guards in there. When they were dead, she had placed a sleeping gas grenade looted from one of the armouries she passed in the ventilation system and accessed it remotely to lock that section down.
After repeating that several times around the command room, she had worked her way up to the floor above it and into the ventilation system herself. A simple thought switched her systems to recycled breathing, a pop-up in her vision explaining just how long she could go at current activity levels before needing to draw a breath.
It would be long enough. Using the programs Fixer had installed, she hacked into the air systems again and started the chain reaction to flood the command room with gas.
“Handler says there are Volsta ships preparing to release dropships.” Gibbams noted, keeping the soldiers in the corridor busy with suppressing fire.
“Great, more stress.” Durand huffed, wiping at her forehead as her implants worked to subvert the defense systems.
“Almost ready, Durand.” Huang said, a similar look of concentration on his face as he battled with the command encryption system. “Prepare to receive encryption protocols in five.”
Jaret had noticed the change in enemy movement. From haphazard defense and attacks to decisive movements to hold onto certain points. When Rosie had pointed out the flashes of black and white in the sky, he knew what that meant. He switched from the hunting call of the Farringdon Falcon to the circling call. The Falcons fell back, even as he started issuing commands to shut the gates and take up positions to defend both inside and outside the city.
Akintola kept her wits about her as she dumped chunk after chunk of records to her extended memory space. Even though she was tucked away in a small room in the prison, she didn’t want any surprises as she backed up every single entry, transfer and death record.
Sokolov locked the door behind her as Lopez ticked another name off the list.
“Seed and Grain Offices next?” He suggested, pulling another set of heavy duty zip-tags from the pouch on his waist.
“Sounds good.” Sokolov nodded. “They reap what they sow.”
Lopez groaned as his optical camouflage kicked back in, the pair shimmering up onto the rooftops.
“One!” Huang said, sending the encryption keys through his machine interface tether to Durand. From their, the hacker sent the command codes through the comms relay and to the satellites. As much as she wanted to turn them on the Volsta, that would take time they just didn’t have. Instead, they were to go to inert mode and begin a ten hour diagnostic sequence.
“Planetary defense systems offline. Time to call in the cavalry.” Durand grinned, firing off the next message with glee.
As the Volsta ships started to release their contingent of dropships, all the bridge crews noticed the shimmering rainbow appear before them. Even before they had fully exited warp, the Galactic Armed Forces Task Force opened fire with a barrage of weapons fire, more joining in as the fleet of ships poured out of warpspace and joined the fray.
Things had gone rapidly wrong in the command center. They had barricaded themselves in only for the room to start filling with sickly sweet gas. As soldiers and ops officers began to stagger about feeling the effects, the defense systems went offline. As proud and brave Volsta dropped to the floor, ships began warping in to take on their own space force.
As Administrator Rahv covered his face with his hands, a blonde figure dropped in front of him. He had seen her on VNN not even an hour ago. She had a knife in each hand. Rahv sunk into unconsciousness defiantly staring up at her as she brought the knives up, not expecting to wake.
[“Good work, agents.”] Handler’s voice came through the commslinks. [“Gibbams’ team, join up with Solokov and Lopez and get the collaborators secured. Requisition a vehicle if needed and take them to the prison. Akintola, you’ve got command of that facility until we can hand over to the Task Force.”]
“What about Jena?” Fixer asked from his position on the bridge.
“I’m going to bring us down to Landing Site Park.” She explained. [“Jena, once you’ve secured the Administrator, bring him to this position.”] She sent the map data along with her voice. Her hands then came to the control panel to bring the ship around.
Jena glanced out of the window at the crowds milling about below. With the Galactic Federation Task Force mopping up the Volsta ships above them the streets were filled with resistance members looking for remaining enemies. Given she had one slung over her shoulders, going down there wasn’t a good idea.
Administrator Rahv was out cold. His wrists and ankles had been bound with the microwire tethers of her knives, and a cleaning rag found in a cupboard formed a makeshift gag. Looking out over the city, she tapped into the map data provided to plot a course out to Landing Site Park then adjusted the route to take her along the rooftops.
Jumping came easy to her now. Her artificial legs sent her from the CCAB’s fourth floor to the roof of an adjacent building, and then across to the next. Central City was laid out in a grid system with the long rectangle length of Landing Site Park running along the north-eastern edge. Jena had always dreamed of being able to go to the city, but now it seemed rather small in spite of being the largest settlement on the planet. Federation ships had started their descent, a quick calculation of their trajectories had them heading to the park too. A terrace of buildings gave her plenty of room to build up speed before a long jump sent her hurtling through the air towards the park.
[“Handler, I’m approaching your position. I take it we’ve got company coming to meet us?”] She asked through her commslink.
[“Admiral Roland of the ISV Herne will be joining us shortly.”] Handler confirmed.
Jostling Rahv on her back, she proceeded at speed towards the Shuck. [“Good thing I brought a gift, then.”]
Handler was waiting for her to arrive, and thankfully she had both her hair up and her zip. With ease Jena lifted her prisoner from her shoulders and placed him on the floor of the airlock. “Volsta sleeping gas, he should be back with us soon.”
“Nicely done, soldier.” Handler nodded. “Take him to the medical bay and help Fixer restrain him. Stick around afterwards, the other agents are busy with their orders. You’ve done all we’ve asked of you.”
With a slightly worried expression, Jena lifted the Administrator up again and headed into the ship with his prone form.
Admiral Zaha Roland was a severe looking woman whose long black hair came down to her rear, just passing over the end of her white admiral’s jacket. In her right hand she carried a slender, sheathed sword of little decoration. The tip of it tapped on the floor with each step she made. While she was not of advancing years in appearance, her eyes were much older than the rest of her face. “Handler, I looked over your reports on the way down here. The Shuck’s crew have done well, you shall all be commended for your efforts in the liberation of Farringdon Three.”
Handler bowed her head in thanks.
“And this must be the local talent.” Zaha added, looking over Jena. “How does it feel to have helped free your planet?”
Jena glanced to Handler and Fixer, and then at the Admiral. “That all depends on how long your troops will be here for. We didn’t fight and bleed to get rid of one army to bring out the Sunday best for another.” Handler shot her a look of warning.
“Pert.” Admiral Roland commented. “The Task Force has no plans to subjugate your world, though. The Volsta have been pushed back on other worlds, and we will push them back further still. The troops are only here for the handover back to civil control. You have spent almost a decade under enemy rule.”
“In which case, there’s a present for you in the medical bay. Their administrator.” Jena explained, before looking to Handler. “I need to check in with my brother, if that’s all right?”
Handler nodded. “Do come back later. Fixer will want to check you over.” Fixer nodded his agreement.
“Perhaps we will meet later then, Miss Foster.” Zaha spoke. “You’re excused.”
As she left, Jena was glad Handler wasn’t quite as uptight as the Admiral.
She had found Jaret close to the old hospital, directing medical teams from the Task Force to various parts of the building. Giving out a few more orders, he ran towards her and leaped onto her with a tight hug.
“You’re okay…” He sighed with relief.
Jena gave his back a slightly awkward pat, remembering she hadn’t put her performance limiters back on yet. “It’ll take more than this to kill me, brother. They had a good go before, and Fixer put me back together.”
“Rosie said you were… more different.” He smiled a little uneasily. “You were incredible out there.”
Jena shrugged. “Where is your wife, anyway?” On noting his look of surprise, she hefted his hand up and tapped his wedding ring. “I noticed it earlier. Congratulations.”
“Thanks. She’s helping the medical teams out. She trained with administering aid to animals, and they’re not too different from us in a way.” Jaret explained, before stepping back to look over her. “You’re taller now.”
“Growth spurt. And some new legs.” She said, tapping one foot on the ground. “You’ve got some more work cut out for you, I’m afraid.” On noting his look of confusion, she thumbed back to some troops on the street. “You’ll want to make sure they don’t get too comfortable here. The Admiral in charge said they’re here to help transfer power back to civilian control. That means we’ll need a new Farmer’s Council. You’ll also want to make sure the resistance stands down and doesn’t do anything too drastic to collaborators and the like.”
“That’s… a good point. I mean, I’m glad to see them, but I’ve had my fill of soldiers for a while.” Jaret laughed, scratching the back of his head. “You can help out too with the council, right?” A pause fell between them. “Right?”
“I’m not a farmer, brother. I might have been once, but not any more.” She said quietly, refusing to look in his eyes. “We had an argument about that once.”
His face fell. “Jena, I-”
She cut him off. “I’ll check in on you in a bit. I’ve got some work to do too, I just wanted to…” Remembering to set her performance limiters back on, she patted his shoulder. “It’s good to see you.”
Night had fallen over Central City. Jena had been checked over by Fixer once the Admiral had cleared off, and after grabbing some food from the ship’s canteen she had found herself in her makeshift quarters eating a mix of rice, spiced vegetables and a meat paste. Her bloodied combat uniform had been changed to a pair of grey sweatpants and a black tank top, and a half-drunk bottle of Cybabrew supplement drink sat by her thigh as she read over some of the other agents reports in her head.
“You did well today.” Jena tensed up at the sudden speaking, relaxed when she realized it was Handler, then tensed up again when she saw the intelligence officer’s hair was let down. “Maybe a little more gratitude to the Admiral would have been nice, but at least she understood your position at seeing her troops march out to secure the city.”
“I had to say what I did. For what little family I have left.” Jena spoke before taking a pull from her bottle. All the nutrients and supplements a cyborg body needed, plus a fruity taste sensation.
“Have you given some thought as to what you’ll do now?” Handler asked, stepping into the room and letting the door shut behind her.
“My brother asked me to help with the Farmer’s Council, but… I’m not like him. Or Joran, or Father.” She said sadly, tapping the side of her head. “I’m wired differently. I clashed with my brother over that before I left to find Mother. I’m-”
“A soldier, soldier?” Handler took another step closer, and Jena felt her heart pounding.
“S-something like that. Besides, not many repair shops for cyborgs on Farringdon III.” Jena stood. Standing was probably better in this situation than sitting on a bed.
“You’ve got options. The military always needs skilled soldiers, and Admiral Roland mentioned backing your application.” Handler said, taking another step nearer. “The Shuck could always use someone with your skills too. I’d be happy to have you join us.” An arch look crossed the intelligence officer’s face. “My previous offer still stands too.”
Handler was up close to her now, and Jena could barely feel her lips due to the tingling spreading across her face. Her hands felt weak, a muddle of sensory feedback coming from them to shoot up her modified spine and into her brain. Words stumbled from her mouth and she could hear something rattling against the wall behind her.
Handler looked sad, almost pitying as she observed Jena. “You’re trembling. You charge into battle with no fear, but this has you actually-” she stopped and stepped back, letting the cyborg take ragged breaths. “I’m sorry. I thought you were just nervous but…”Grabbing the bottle of Cybabrew, she offered it to Jena.
As Jena drank, her feedback readings began to normalize. “Sorry.” She mumbled around the mouthpiece of the bottle.
“You’ve nothing to apologize for.” Handler shook her head. “As it stands, I’d recommend you go join the GAF. As valuable an asset you’d be for the Shuck, the GFIA tends to hold onto an agent for as long as possible, and I think- I hope at some point you’d like to try life outside of the service.” Noting Jena’s nod, Handler turned to leave and give the cyborg some room as well as find an outlet for her own frustration. She stopped as a hand caught her arm and felt a thumb stroke against her wrist.
“Thank you.” Jena said, her eyes averted. “To you and the crew. For everything.”
A smile crossed Handler’s lips. “Get some rest, soldier. You’re a hero and you’ve done a full day’s work today.” She allowed her eyes to look over the cyborg one last time before Jena let go. The door slid shut behind Handler, and the dark-haired woman let out a frustrated sigh.
“Screw rest.” She muttered to herself. “I need some recreation.”