the end of the 21st century, the international banking system collapsed
under the strain of prolonged global conflict. Unable to economically
maintain their own armed forces, the world's armies dissipated one
Military Corporations have stepped up to the challenge of policing
and profiting from an unarmed world. Proxy battles are now fought
on behalf of Client Countries on an unending basis.
is on this stage that we first find Dashiel Word, Elite Agent of
Arcane Industries, premiere PMC to the world's largest Client Country,
the United North American Front. Dashiel is laying atop a skyscraper,
wind blowing through his hair, convulsing wildly, as he desperately
tries keep his guts from spilling one hundred stories to the street
Word lay curled on his side, ignoring the dying screams of the people
below. The skyscraper's roof was bitter against his cheek, rough
and cold like frozen sandpaper. Laying at the edge, he savored the
heat rising from his blood as it soaked into his uniform. It provided
relief from the pounding winds, like unending waves of ice.
to ignore his cold skin and burning guts, Dashiel focused on the
fading sounds of his rapidly thumping heart, and the "Musical
Offering" in his ears.
on all missions, his earpiece quietly piped this eerie final piece
by the ancient composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. The Musical Offering's
rising organ was steeped in sinister intent, yet Dashiel found the
song's complex layers put his mind at ease. It aided all levels
of his consciousness to operate both independently and cooperatively.
optimal levels, Dashiel could bluff his way through any situation.
With his sharpened mind listening to orders from Arcturus Command
in one ear, he could still pay attention to his interrogator, lie
with ease, size up his opponent's offensive and defensive capabilities,
analyze the layout of the environment, calculate how much time was
left, identify possible weapons, and relax to the layered, ominous
sound of the Musical Offering. But the song was not finished before
Bach died, and so, cuts off abruptly, damning the masterpiece to
music in his ear faded from attention. His neck throbbed as all
the blood in his heart rushed to the hole in his stomach, mixing
with bile, squeezing out around his fingers, and then onto his legs.
The pain coursed like a spider's web, lightning tipped and cold,
latching onto the core of his bones and marching toward his brain.
am going to die up here, he thought. I'm going to die high. He glanced
down the side of the skyscraper and laughed.
sun began to set over the shimmering skyline. As it slipped below
the horizon, streams of red and pink shot across the orange sky.
Dashiel turned his head away.
is a glamorous death, he thought. Bleeding to death from my stomach
atop the city's tallest building. Whoever finds me will not forget
it. Arcane will deny my existence publicly, but they'll have a big
ceremony after. My name will be on that plaque up on Arcturus. A
legend among PMC Elites! A flashy death
but not a good death.
It would have been better to die in combat. Hand to hand. Knife
to throat. Or rescuing someone. A woman. Yes, rescuing a babe
never forget me. She'd always wonder what it would have been like
if I'd lived, every man she's with afterwards just a mannequin for
her to close her eyes and place my face on
pressed to roof, Dashiel could hear the deep rumbling below, the
sound of concrete, steel, and flesh crackling and consumed. A roar,
like a serpent rousing from slumber beneath the earth's crust.
Right. This building is going down, he thought. My crushed remains
will be burnt to a crisp. No one will find my body. I'll just be
listed MIA. Cheaper. This mission is a total failure. It's not my
fault. Not this time. They struck first. They did this to themselves.
rolled away from the ledge.
he thought. I am not finished. I am perfect. I will not be cut off.
one hand firmly clamped over his wound, he used the other to pull
his emergency equipment from his belt. He groped blindly, staring
out over the city, skin crawling while he awaited the next shot
found what he was looking for, a small vial that he popped open
with his thumb. He emptied the contents of the vial onto his stomach,
spreading it onto the wound and pushing it deep into his split flesh.
He winced as the bacteria began working. The nano-machines imbedded
in the bacteria's cells would help slow the bleeding and fight infection
for a short time. Some would begin knitting a microfiber mesh net
around the the wound, a temporary fix until a real medic station
could seal him up. The rest of the nanomachines began pumping endorphins
and adrenaline into the base of Dashiel's spine.
reached into his vest and pulled another small canister out. He
pressed a button on the side and it split apart with a hiss, revealing
a needle that he quickly jammed into his neck's artery. The chemicals
coursed through his blood, racing to the base of his skull. He felt
the effects immediately. A tingling in the nose, like the onset
of a cold. The relief of pressure from behind the eyes, warmth in
the back of his throat. The flaming ball of glass that enveloped
his stomach began sliding away, the sensation of pain falling behind
a wall of illusionary relief.
Word, this is Arcturus Command. Do you copy?" a faint voice
called inside his head.
reached up to his earpiece, tapping it lightly. The hissing, distant
voice came in clearer.
Come in!" the voice called again. "You've been compromised.
The mission is aborted. You have to get out of there now! The whole
place is burning down!"
Clive," Dashiel mumbled.
Christ, his vitals are crashing," Clive said to someone else.
"Get someone out there now! Xerxes? Fine! Forget the Director,
he'll give clearance later! I don't care, pay them! Arcane's top
Agent isn't going to
clenched his jaw. Blood flooded up his throat, spilling out around
his perfectly aligned teeth. This last bit of stinging warmth flooded
onto his chest, greeting the hot pool soaking between his legs.
Blood and piss. It all comes down to blood and piss.
I'm on the roof
marching pain overtook him, but he did not scream. Dashiel sank
within himself. His lungs tightened, filled with cement and fear.
A white light pulsed behind his eyes. It grew, spreading like a
summer breeze cascading between the body armor and his flesh.
sky brightened. The stinging light inside his skull left, floating
up to fill the blue above. A smell of cooking meat filled the air.
Children laughed behind him, beer cans popped open all around. Adults
murmured and laughed, bare feet thudded on the soft earth.
sat up, hands no longer pushing against the grainy roof, but soft
grass. The sun was directly overhead, keeping his hair warm, like
the summer air. Looking down at his arms and legs, they greeted
him, hairless, thin, and new.
air smelled of real flowers, hot dogs, burgers, and melting cheese.
All around him, lush green trees stood proud and firm, keeping the
cool ocean hidden from view. Sand mixed with dirt, forming a soft
sheen that stretched through the dry grass, filling the clearing
and leading down to the ocean.
rolled into the sandy path. The sand was hot and dry, perfect. Ants
marched by, dutifully carrying a raspberry cookie.
small girl with blonde hair was standing, hands on her hips, waiting
for him to say something. The ants marched through his stomach.
He smiled. The girl stepped toward him. She began moving quickly,
like bad animation, sped up, skipping frames. She was kneeling next
to him. She touched his hair and he felt sleepy and dumb.
blinked, and they were on the beach. Night, a full moon glowing
over the ocean, leaving a silver snake arching toward the shore.
The whole coast soaked in blue and purple, an orange orb burning
in the distance. The adults' bonfire. He pressed his lips to her
cheek. It felt like a peach. She touched his hand. Marcy.
sighed and found himself in a bedroom, cluttered with stuffed animals,
pictures of girls partying, toys scattered on the floor, bed sheets
twisted around his calves. Another girl, another soft, shallow breath
that smelled of storm rain, another pair of eyelashes caressing
his cheek. Erin.
were moving even faster now. Like he was being pulled across the
water's surface, trying to look into the depths as he skimmed along.
He stared into the water, and saw himself older, running, grasping
a light brown hand, strong voices and blinking lights filling the
darkness behind them. He leapt around a corner, pulling the hand,
the arm, the slender body against cold brick. Boots boomed past,
and he tasted her mouth. Shannon.
animation grew worse. He was at all places at once. Ten years old
on the beach, twelve at the park, eighteen in his car, fourteen
in the detention cell, twenty-four in the airship, sixteen along
side of the rocket, eleven when the bombs went off.
Erin, Shannon, Eileen, Elizabeth, Stacy, Tina, Renee, Zaida, Jane,
Alicia Kay, Yeda, Bonnie, Terry, Alison
As the faces increased,
the names faded.
blood pulsed, urgent, steaming. Flooding around his ears and pulling
him farther back, skimming across the surface of his life, a dark
pool stained with rust and sweat, and a hundred smiling lips fading
gave way to sound, to feeling and fear. In the darkness, Dashiel
grew old and knew loss, made friends and fought, grew strong and
conquered. Pride swelled, he gained knowledge, applied it, killed.
He was accepted. He rose through ranks, saw enemies fall and beg
for mercy, earned rewards. He was celebrated.
he floated in nothing, save for bitter cold. His nerves cried out,
raw and exposed, tired of feeding impulses of shock and pain. He
heard a low thumping, and a haunting melody, looping and spinning
around itself, forward and backwards, defined by its own reflection.
darkness became gray. It congealed, laying on his skin and becoming
jelly. It slid off, slowly. Dashiel awoke colder, weaker, seeing
the city skyline on its side.
on the skyscraper, he could feel the fire raging beneath him, giving
a hint of warmth to the roof. Faint screams and crackles reached
his ears. The Musical Offering continued its endless loop.
was a good life, he thought. Such women! All those girls to keep
me from the edge. All the danger, the glory, the conquest. It was
a good life.
blotted out the sun.
saw death's silhouette standing over him. Death turned, sans scythe,
nestling a rifle stock on her shoulder instead.
was in awe. What a remarkable thing, he thought. A standard pulse
rifle, but with major modifications. The cartridge which super heated
each blast for cauterization is gone, meaning the victim will erupt
like a fountain after each shot. Messy, and stylish. The elongated
stock allows for precise aiming for an attachable thermal grenade
launcher. The sight on the rifle's head has three settings, most
likely standard, infrared, and night vision. The handle looks as
if it encases some sort of pistol, ready to be ejected from the
base of the rifle at a moment's notice. A blast shield is fitted
around the end, with an opening at the top for the sights. Laying
down, this shield can double as legs to further steady one's aim.
You could even fit a sniper attachment on the barrel, effectively
meaning that one weapon is devastating at short, medium, and long
ranges. A weapon made with love, by someone who gets their hands
very dirty. A true work of art.
fired her rifle. Short bursts of purple flared out. Distinct cracks
echoed across the city canyon. As death continued to fire into the
distance, the sun crept around, revealing her form.
hair was sapphire red, short, and sharp. Her eyes were narrow, focused.
Her nose was small, smooth curves and perfectly symmetrical. Her
cheeks and jaw line were of Old Russian descent, sharp and strong,
yet distinctly female. Her sleek neck was framed by strong shoulders.
Her red armor fit well, showing off a long body, nothing but tight
muscle wrapped around pristine bone. Not a wasted inch of flesh.
an ass, he thought. So round and strong. Damn, I bet should could
leap to the next building. And her calves! Her form is flawless.
Each recoil from the rifle will travel down her perfectly. The force
will dissipate through her feet, and her heels are elevated just
enough to prevent reverse shock traveling up her lower back. Beautiful!
propped himself up on his elbows.
didn't think the Reaper would have such curves," he said, giving
a faint smile. "Unless of course, you're a guardian angel."
look ridiculous. Wipe that blood off your teeth," she said.
"Arcturus Command, come in. Agent Word is alive. Delirious,
reeked of professionalism, a killer of mathematical elegance, detached
and cool, with hot blood soaring through her veins. Synapses and
neurons tightly coiled around mortal sorrow. A machine of flesh.
cocked his head, straining to look down at his legs. With blurring
vision, he saw damp, rust colored Kevlar, and slicked armor. Shredded.
And he saw a faint bulging at the crotch. The stir of life. He laughed.
can you hear me?" Dashiel said slowly. "You should see
this, buddy. I'm bleeding out and I can still get it up!"
woman glanced down, her eyebrows arched in disapproval.
work, Agent Kessler," Clive said in her earpiece. "Arcane
Industries is very grateful. But remember, payment is for a successful
recovery, not body retrieval. Get Agent Word back to Arcturus Command
in one piece."
great roar shook them. The building was crying out. Its death throes
shook them to the core. Agent Kessler dropped down, steadying herself.
Dashiel's exposed guts steamed just below her. Another blast, and
she fell forward, catching herself on her palms. Her face hovered
just over Dashiel's. A bead of sweat dropped from her brow, landing
on his nose. He smiled.
eyes," he said.
me when you can get up," she said.
squinted at her.
that," she said. "Don't say a word until you can lift
suddenly dropped her rifle, leaping to the side and grabbing his
shoulder. Just as she rolled Dashiel, the spot he'd been laying
on splintered away with three sharp cracks. Dashiel looked up at
her as she lifted a Denum-grade Handgun that had been encased in
the handle of her rifle. She squeezed off six rounds.
me, Agent Word. How did you manage to turn a recon mission into
the apocalypse?" she asked, still keeping her sights trained
on the enemies on the opposite building.
doesn't pay us very well," Dashiel mumbled. "I'm just
subbing in. I'm from accounting."
didn't respond. She remained kneeling, aiming over Dashiel, now
propped up on left side, facing away from the action.
are you using me for a shield?"
up. There's two snipers across the street."
yes," Dashiel said, patting his stomach. "I'm well aware
fired again. Dashiel heard a faint yelp.
you get him?"
she said. Still training her sights into the distance, she reached
down to her belt with her left hand and pulled out a canister. Still
not looking at Dashiel, she popped the lid off and dumped two pills
into his gloved hand. "Swallow those. It will help with the
pain, and coagulate your blood more."
couldn't swallow them. As Agent Kessler fired again, Dashiel saw
something approach from the sky. As it grew closer, he recognized
the familiar hum and bursts of energy that popped behind its thrusters.
here," Dashiel said.
Kessler stood up quickly, yanking Dashiel to his feet by his body
armor. He stumbled, trying to get his legs to go firm. He fell onto
her chest. She kept him upright, frowning and firing again.
you take those pills? You should be maxing on adrenaline right now,"
Dashiel said. He nuzzled his face into her neck.
shuttle hovered just over the roof, gently rocking back and forth.
Another explosion shuddered through the building. Both Agents struggled
to remain upright as they backed up toward the small shuttle. Kessler
kept firing as the sniper's shots struck all around them.
dumped Dashiel onto the shuttle's loading bay. He grabbed a handle
and pulled himself in, still leaking juice all over. Kessler leapt
in backwards, still aiming at their enemy. Her red body armor was
stricken with Dashiel's dark stain.
shuttle lurched into the air. The pilot leaned his head back and
looked at Dashiel.
to see you survived, sir!" he shouted over the roar of gunfire,
flames and engines.
could see his own face reflected in the pilot's visor. His brown
hair was black with sweat, his face pale and hanging. His lips and
teeth were covered in caking blood. His eyes looked sunken and yellow.
I've made better first impressions, he thought.
go kill that bastard," Dashiel said, pointing down at the building
the other sniper was perched on.
can do, sir," the pilot said as he turned back to the controls.
They glided into the air, over the burning skyscraper. "The
mission's a bust. I've got direct orders to get you back up to Arcturus
Dashiel lay back against the wall, his bloody legs splayed out in
front of him. His chin rested on his chest.
you're feeling better," Kessler said as she loaded a fresh
clip into her handgun. "You're very lucky, Agent Word. I wouldn't
push that luck. That armor Arcane slapped on you is top grade. Those
sniper shells were at least .50 caliber. You should have been blown
in half and flung off the roof."
call me Dashiel," he said, suddenly shifting gears. He smiled
and extended his hand.
stared at his glove, completely soaked in blood. Dashiel shrugged
his shoulders, pulled the glove off, and extended his hand again.
She took it. As they shook, he made sure to grasp the tips of her
fingers, savoring the rough texture of her combat glove.
don't believe I caught your name," Dashiel said. The shuttle
banked left. Dashiel could see the skyscraper's roof licked with
Kessler," she said, looking down at the skyscraper in disgust.
first name is Agent?" Dashiel said coyly.
stared at him with cold, emerald eyes. He kept smiling, cocking
his head to the side and arching an eyebrow.
to meet you, Emma Kessler," Dashiel said. "Thank you for
saving my life."
mighty roar shook the skies. They grabbed onto whatever they could
as the shuttle rocked back and forth. Looking out of the loading
bay, they saw the skyscraper begin sinking down to the street. Great
plumes of ash and smoke shot up around them, as if a long dormant
volcano had risen from the sewers, raging with ancient fire. The
air shook with the sound of shattering glass and falling concrete.
my, Agent Word," Emma said. "What the hell did you do
to bring that entire building down?"
dropped a satchel of thermal grenades down an elevator shaft,"
Dashiel said. "I also set off some demo-charges I placed at
the scraper's foundation when I cased the place."
did what?" she shouted. "How could a professional pull
such an amateurish and wasteful
hey," Dashiel said. "All that was after they blew a softball
sized hole out of my stomach!"
you saw who shot you?"
They got me while I was still in the office. Right through the window.
Some asshole across the street, didn't have the stones to look me
in the eye. Maybe even the guy you plugged."
were compromised," Clive said into their earpieces. "Listen,
Dashiel. I'm very relieved you survived, but we have to have an
urgent discussion. Arcane is extremely displeased with this little
incident. Do you even know why or how you were discovered? In fact
in the middle of a conversation. We'll chat when I get back to Arcturus,
ok? Later, Clive!" Dashiel said. He plucked the transmitter
from his ear and tossed it on the shuttle bay floor.
professional," Emma said. "I can see why that mission
went so well."
not from Arcane Industries," Dashiel said.
see you have some brains to back up that knack for turning recon
me, I'd remember a face like yours," Dashiel said. He leaned
back against the wall. He kept his hands clenched around his middle.
a Xerxes agent," she said.
yes, Xerxes. The number two PMC for the U.N.A.F.," Dashiel
said. "Shame about your pulse rifle." Dashiel nodded his
head toward the burning crater below.
have three identical ones back at base," Emma said. "Besides,
I'll attach that one to Arcane's bill as an expense."
will probably be deducted from my paycheck," Dashiel said.
You know, Mr. Word, I'm a little confused as to why exactly Arcane
would turn to a competitor for an emergency extraction. Why wouldn't
they deploy one of their own Elite Agents?"
am their Elite Agent," Dashiel said. "Highest ranking
in the U.N.A.F. field. There isn't anyone better to back me up."
put a hand over her mouth. The skin around her eyes creased.
no. I'm just
of course you are," Emma said. "Lucky
for you that Xerxes had me stationed in the city."
shuttle arched upwards, preparing to dock at Arcturus, Arcane's
mobile airbase. A half mile below, the city writhed in chaos, as
bodies and debris rained on the streets. A dull rumble rose from
the smoking ruin.