Tales from Transhuman Space
Copyright © 2001 by Gadrin
BOLIVIAN JUNGLE -- 6/4/2103 3PM
"See, just like I told you," Ulf smiled as he pulled back the tree branch, revealing a small, black-topped runway out in the middle of the Bolivian jungle.
Lopter nodded, then studied the scene with his binoculars. Parked on the side of the runway were two large aircars. A pair of cybershells armed with assault weapons stood guard over the airstrip.
"Well?" Ulf's smile faded at Lopter's lack of excitement.
"Yeah, it looks good -- so far," Lopter lowered the binoculars, to study the scene from a distance. "But we're a long way from Weisbaden. Seems like they'd have more than just two guards."
Lopter thought back to when Ulf brought him the idea. The pair had been vacationing in Milan. One of Ulf's friends had flown down to the remote Bolivian airstrip with a business associate. The landlord, a European businessman, had carved a spot for the villa out of the jungle, to use for vacations. The man's son used it for parties. While the rich boys played, they left their expensive transports parked on the airstrip nearby. Large aircars went for a pretty penny and Ulf's friends knew someone who'd give them twenty cents on the dollar . . .
So Lopter and Ulf had chartered a turbo-prop to nearby Trinidad, with Ulf footing the bill at Lopter's insistence, since it was his idea. Then they'd hired a small powerboat and motored down the Mamore river for six hours to get close. From there it was two days of hiking to get to the airstrip. Luckily Ulf's friend had a GPS readout on his cell-phone, so the pair had hiked until their set matched the coordinates of the villa. First they reconned the house, then the airstrip. Lopter was a bit shocked to discover both sites were lightly guarded, which clinched his commitment to the score.
The pair observed the airstrip until dark, then bedded down at their makeshift camp. At first light they re-checked the strip then headed back to the boat to make the trip up-river. Lopter was adamant during the return trip: they needed to find their own pilots and two heavies who could handle themselves.
* * * * *
HOTEL PROVISO TRINIDAD, BOLIVIA -- 6/12/2103 9AM
Ulf prodded Lopter awake. The blonde-haired man had been asleep in his hotel room.
"I just got a call from Koenig," Ulf stood there, cell phone in hand, all excited. "This weekend, another little soiree at the villa!"
"Yeah, ok, relax," Lopter washed his face. "Today's Tuesday, that means if we leave tonight we'll be in place Saturday afternoon."
According to Koenig, the villa parties always lasted through the weekend, with the aircars arriving Friday night and the guests leaving late Sunday or Monday. "Go find a boat, and I'll see about getting some help."
Down at the bar, the pilots, two ex-smugglers, were shooting pool. Lopter had offered them $5,000 each to stay at the hotel while the group waited for their chance to strike. He told the pilots to get ready, then left the hotel, heading over to the radio station. He placed a call to his connection in Panama. Two suitable men would be on the next commercial jet to Bolivia, arriving just after lunch.
Then the six of them would head down river.
* * * * *
MAMORE RIVER -- LATER THAT NIGHT JUST BEFORE SUNSET
"That one scares the hell out of me," whispered Ulf as the powerboat made it's way downstream. Lopter didn't look back, knowing his friend was talking about the part-man, part-beast occupying the aft bench seat. The creature was six feet, six inches of furred, lean muscle and spoke in an animalistic growl. Accustomed to moving among humans incognito, the monstrous thing wore a greatcoat and hood to conceal itself. Lopter was concerned as well, about the creature's nature under fire, since they were rumored to be bloodthirsty as well as fearless. Lopter wanted to grab the aircraft with a minimum of trouble. The less shooting the better, as damaged merchandise would be worthless. He decided to get to know the beast.
The creature's name was unpronouncable so Lopter nicknamed him Garm. This served to establish a rapport between the two, even more so after Lopter had introduced him to the joy of smoking cigars.
The other newcomer was a human named Volano, who kept to himself. The two pilots sat together, sipping beer.
"Relax," counseled Lopter. "We'll be there in a little while and we've still got a helluva hike ahead."
Ulf nodded and went to lay on the foredeck, as far away from Garm as possible.
* * * * *
THE VILLA -- 6/17/2103 5:20 AM
Lopter and Garm visited the villa just after dawn. The partygoer's pilots were shacked up in two small bungalos behind the house. The group in the main house had been partying all night and would be fast asleep. The pilots were another matter. They weren't the party animals the others were, it was unlikely they'd be up this early.
The pair overcame the two, taped their mouths, then marched them back towards the airstrip at gun point.
* * * * *
"After Ulfie and I take out the guards you two remain in the tree line," explained Lopter, "Just in case there's any surprises. Then we'll move in and secure the aircars." Garm and Volano nodded.
The six of them had gathered in a clearing, not too far from the airstrip, to review the plan one last time.
The two kidnapped pilots would be escorted to the aircars by Lopter and Ulf. In close, they'd overcome the guards and have the pilots open the aircraft.
"Let's go," said Lopter, planting the barrel of his gun firmly against the pilot's neck. Ulf did likewise and the pair moved to the edge of the tree line.
Garm stood. The chronos-bioroid watched Volano down a combat pill, then make a religious sign.
Lopter warned the hostages one last time, ripped off the tape covering their mouths, then prodded the pair forward, keeping their weapons out of sight.
About twenty paces from the two aircraft the cyber-guards detected the four men. Lopter raised his weapon and fired.
* * * * *
The sharp crack from Lopter's gauss battle rifle broke the silence around the airstrip. The sound was no louder than a large animal trouncing wildly through the jungle brush, but seemed like the discharge of a cannon to the mercenary. Lopter guided a burst into the nearest cyber-guard's chest then adjusted his aim, firing another burst at the head. The two pilots dropped down for safety.
Ulf opened up as well, visiting the same course of aiming and firing upon his target.
A few moments later both cyber-guards were sprawled on the tarmac, incapacitated.
Lopter and Ulf herded the two pilots across the tarmac, towards the aircars.
Ulf froze as a third armed robot surprised him, emerging from the jungle, a rover that Koenig and the others had been unaware of. The newcomer spotted Ulf, then dodged backwards, taking cover behind a tree. As Ulf's gauss rifle peppered the area, the guard, now laying prone, returned fire with his automatic weapon.
Ulf collapsed in a heap.
Lopter, surprised by the gunfire, turned as he reached the aircar. A second burst of bullets sprayed the runway near him, so he herded his pilot behind the aircar's landing gear where they both could take cover.
More gunfire erupted from the jungle as Garm and Volano opened up on the third guard from their positions.
* * * * *
A prolonged period of silence prompted Lopter to try for the access hatch. Pushing the pilot ahead of him, the pair broke for the hatch. His hostage had just engaged the opening mechanism when a burst of gunfire sounded. The third cyber-guard was still free, having changed his position several times, to keep Garm and Volano from flanking him.
The whine of lead smacking into the aircraft reverberated in Lopter's ears. The blonde mercenary felt an intense, sudden flare of pain in his left shoulder. A wave of dizziness overtook him and he collapsed at the base of the hatchway's steps. He lay there, breathing heavily. He looked to his side to see the pilot laying motionless a few steps away, blood oozing from wounds in his abdomen.
Two more long bursts of automatic fire, then it was suddenly quiet. Lopter heard the pounding of running feet. It was Garm, Volano and one of smuggler pilots. The rogue flyer moved past them, up the ramp and into the cockpit to prepare the aircar for takeoff.
"Ulfie . . ." groaned Lopter.
"Forget him!" screamed Volano, leveling his weapon at Lopter. "Our other pilot's dead too. More cash for us. Say, you don't look too good," Volano tapped Garm. "One more down means more for us, eh?"
Garm bared his teeth in what seemed to be a smile. Volano grinned back, then ejected his empty magazine.
"Adios," as Volano's lips curved upwards in an evil smile, he slapped in a fresh clip.
Garm's right hand flashed out suddenly, karate-chopping Volano's windpipe, causing the gunman to drop his weapon. Then, the monstrous creature wrapped his huge hands about the gagging man's head and jerked them violently in unison, snapping the helpless man's neck. Volano dropped to the tarmac.
"Even more now," Garm growled, turning on Lopter, who was struggling to retrieve his Walther from its hiding place in the small of his back. He was certain he'd be the monster's next victim.
Instead, the creature snatched him up effortlessly, climbed the access stairs and dropped the wounded man into one of the passenger seats.
As the pilot readied the craft, Garm retreived Ulf's body, then closed the hatch.
Ten minutes later the aircar taxied onto the runway and took off.
PART TWO -- CAT'S EYES
BEACH HOUSEAJACCIO, CORSICA -- 10/23/2103 11AM
"We taught Twinkles how to use light-switches, to keep an eye on the
kids and even play chopsticks on our synthesizer."
With a chuckle, Lopter put down the newsletter and extended his damaged arm slowly. To help the wounded after the last operation, the group had flown to French Guyana, visiting a physician their pilot once used. He attended to the wounded, then referred them to a colleague in France, at the infamous Clinic Rouge of Marseille.
Doctor Madeleine Rouge had stashed the mercenary with friends on the mediterranean island, stopping by periodically to check on him bringing with her, work reports and news magazines from the french mainland. The periodical Lopter had been reading was a professional report, accidentally mixed in with entertainment magazines.
"A cat that plays the piano," he said aloud. The dark man inspecting the blonde mercenary's gauss rifle looked up.
"Pardon?" the arms dealer's eyes narrowed, "A nice weapon, señor, but inadequate." Mendoza was a Spaniard, a friend of Dr. Rouge's operatives on Corsica. He sold equipment to people of Lopter's persuasion. "Don't misunderstand me, Fabrique Nationale produces high-quality goods. In my opinion it was your approach that was flawed, uh, due to your equipment." Lopter didn't understand, so Mendoza held the weapon up, "A lack of options."
Lopter nodded, understanding the man meant the way he'd approached the task of stealing the aircars a few months before. "Well, any help you offer will be appreciated. My options were limited by my bankroll."
Mendoza tsked twice, "I can offer several alternatives well within your price range, señor." The arms dealer pulled out a small electronic device, about the size of a hand radio. "This is a warbler, a sonic emitter. Activated in a room or even out here, in the open, it would incapacitate anyone not wearing special ear protection."
Lopter motioned for the device and Mendoza complied. "Just push that red button," Mendoza's hand shot up suddenly, "But not now, señor."
"How does it work?" the blonde mercenary inspected the sonic grenade.
"They emit a painful sonic discharge, running up and down the sound spectrum. They work on humans, cybershells that have standard sonic sensors and most animals. Fifty euros each."
A car's horn sounded. The pair turned to see Dr Rouge's Rolls Royce pull up. Garm, Lopter's new found friend, was undergoing physiological tests for Dr. Rouge, though Lopter suspected something kinky. The bioroid exited the car along with the doctor, "Como ça va?" she called.
Lopter returned the warbler, "I'll take a dozen -- with earplugs," Mendoza nodded.
Lopter stood and raised his wounded arm slowly, revealing he almost had full range of motion.
"Magnifiqué," Dr. Rouge kissed his cheek. "I'll have the lab prepare the final RNA virus. You can accompany me to the clinic tomorrow. We'll have you back in action in a week."
"Great," he picked up the report, "This was in with your magazines. Nice trick cat."
She looked at the report, "I wondered what happened to this," she held the report up, "Friends of mine in the field."
The servant announced lunch, so the group moved to the other patio table to eat.
* * * * *
SHUTTLE HELICOPTER MARSEILLE TO ORLY AIRPORT, PARIS -- 10/29/2103 9PM
"Tokyo?" growled Garm. The chronos-bioroid had been "born" nearby, in a Chinese growth-vat. The Chinese supplemented their regular army with bio-engineered creatures, grown specifically for combat. He'd done training in the People's Republic and seen action along the Pacific Rim as well. It was almost like going home.
"Yeah, I wondered why Dr. Rouge discounted her fee," the mercenary flexed his healed arm. "She gave me a deal, providing we see a business associate of hers."
The prospect of returning to Tokyo made Lopter a bit uneasy. Several years ago he'd torched some nightclubs in the pacific capital. He'd gotten away each time without any trouble, but he'd later found out the clubs had ties to the Russki-Yakuza. Dr. Rouge's proposition would return him to the lion's den. Still, the discount was substantial and the incidents in Japan were probably long forgotten.
He doubted whether anyone ever knew he'd been responsible.
Just in case, he and Garm purchased several firearms from Mendoza. And two sets of body armor.
* * * * *
TOKYO, JAPAN -- 10/31/2103 11:36PM
"Pull over," said Lopter, sitting in the front passenger seat of the auto, pointing to his right. The Hummer that had been slowly cruising the fog-shrouded streets of Tokyo's dock district pulled over to the curb, next to an alleyway. Garm grunted, then killed the engine and lights.
The Hummer had already been around the block once, but the thick mist obscured vision keeping the pair from finding the address that Lopter had been given. The vehicle's GPS monitor showed an overview of the area on its display, but it lacked essential details, such as the entrance of the alley. Lopter studied the area, then nodded.
Garm reached back and hit the release latch on the cover of the back bench-seat. From the hiding place, the chronos-bioroid fetched a case, inside of which were a pair of weapons and other gear. He slapped a clip inside a small automatic pistol then handed it to Lopter, keeping a machine pistol for himself. He then passed Lopter a small canister, inside of which were four small plastic ovals, and watched as his partner inserted a pair into his ears.
"Warbler," Lopter motioned with his fingers and Garm handed him the hand-sized electronic device, which he put in the left pocket of his greatcoat.
While Lopter donned an ultra-thin flak vest, Garm attached a silencer to the barrel of his weapon. Lopter exited, pausing briefly at the curb for Garm. The pair disappeared into the fog.
The alley led to a small hotel. Adorning the building's entrance were several ceramic cats, a japanese custom that supposedly brought good fortune.
Lopter took a deep breath, "It's the room at the top of the stairs," he patted his pocket, "You hear this thing go off, come-in shooting."
The mercenary strolled into the empty lobby, past the sleeping clerk and quietly up the stairs, pausing to check out the landing before approaching the room. Pressing his ear against the door, he could hear a radio or television, since the electronic earplugs only filtered out harmful sonic waves.
He knocked twice then waited before an older man answered.
* * * * *
"Mars?" growled Garm as he piloted the Hummer through the Tokyo traffic. While serving in the army, the chronos-bioroid had seen action off-planet as well.
Lopter nodded, "Yeah, apparently the old-coot's competitors have a scientist there, vacationing at one of the biospheres." Lopter paused to light a cigar. "We snatch him, hold him for sixteen weeks then cut him loose."
Garm licked his teeth, "How much?"
"One million," Lopter puffed out a large cloud of smoke, "...Dollars. We get expenses up-front. They'll do it by wire-transfer."
"Scientist?" growled Garm, "Have bodyguards. Very tricky," Garm recalled his service with the Chinese military. Compared to Earth, Mars was a much more controlled environment. "I know technician that can get us inside biosphere." Garm smiled, remembering the intelligence unit attached to his regiment. The crafty oriental had penetrated most of the civilian installations.
"Yeah, that's the kicker. Getting in is one thing. He's probably got security," Lopter pulled out a small, hand-sized ceramic cat he'd taken from the stoop of the hotel. He liked luck charms. He studied it briefly. He'd noticed them all over the pacific captial. "We'll need a hole card," he said. The mercenary pulled a cell phone from his coat pocket.
"Madeleine, it's me," he said, "Yeah, remember that newsletter? No, no...on the island...yes, that one. You think you can get me an appointment with those business friends of yours? Then do it. Now.
I'll call you back."
An hour later the Hummer arrived at Tokyo airport, and parked near the Quantas Terminal.
* * * * *
AMERICAN BIOSPHERE MARS SYSTEM -- 11/14/2103 3PM
"Well I'll be," Dr. Tobias pulled the hankerchief he'd dropped from the mouth of the gray cat. The creature had brought it to him, like a retriever dog. He stroked the feline, which rubbed up against him, purring loudly, showing an obvious affinity for the man.
Tobias' bodyguard inspected the creature, noticing it had no collar. It seemed equally disposed towards him as well. After the pair finished eighteen holes of golf, the cat appeared again, following them back to their maglev transport, meowing loudly.
"You again? Must be a stray," Dr. Tobias scooped the creature up.
"C'mon little one. I think we can find a place for you."
* * * * *
AMERICAN BIOSPHERE MARS SYSTEM -- 11/17/2103 6PM
"What's going on?" asked the watchman as a dark-haired stranger, dressed in a med-tech uniform approached. He was wheeling a covered ambulance gurney, which held a body.
"Accident," Lopter explained. The Aussies had also sold him a half dozen cosmetic viruses in pill form. The once blonde man now had dark brown hair and eyes to match, and Garm, underneath the sheet, was similarly altered.
Lopter, wiped his forehead with a towel and gave the guard an embarrassed smile, "Hey, I'm lost." The biosphere was an immense structure, encompassing several smaller buildings inside its main sphere. He turned to follow the man's directions, clearing his throat. Behind the guard, the covered figure sat up upon hearing the signal. Garm pressed his needler pistol against the unsuspecting man's neck and pulled the trigger.
"Owww!" complained the guard, recoiling in response to the sharp pain that blossomed in his neck.
The watchman grabbed for his comset, but the huge bioroid's hyper-reflexes intercepted the attempt easily. Lopter clapped the towel over the guard's mouth. There was a brief struggle before the tranquilizer needle took effect.
Garm hefted the limp body onto the stretcher while Lopter placed a breathing mask over his face then replaced the sheet.
The bioroid was clothed like a security guard, and he straightened his outfit. The creatures were often employed as supplemental troops on the off-earth colonies. The pair moved as fast as they could to the elevator, past the inquisitive looks of a few locals who were leaving an open car.
"Emergency, coming through!" cried Lopter.
Tobias was housed in a wing with other VIPs, segregated from the site's more common guests. The elevator stopped on Level Four. Garm rolled the stretcher out, while Lopter consulted his compad. The smartcat they'd planted with the doctor had sent him an e-message with Dr. Tobias' room number and access code.
The two kidnappers paused outside the door. Garm readied his spring needler while Lopter punched in the sequence on the door's keypad. The door swished open and the pair rushed inside.
* * * * *
CERES ASTEROID ROCK CITY -- 12/12/2103 10AM
"...Twenty-one and twenty-two," Garm placed the last two thousand-dollar bills in the purser's hand. The Remma, a private space freight hauling vessel, had just docked at the Ceres asteroid.
In one of the her containers, was a sealed cryotube, containing Dr. Tobias. The Remma made regular trips from Mars into the Great Beyond, which marked the outer orbits of the solar system.
Garm deplaned from the vessel. From here, he'd transfer the container to a belt ship which would house Tobias for the duration.
It took a few hours to locate a belter who could accomodate him. Garm was on his own now, as Lopter had returned to earth, to see about adding to their fortune.
The pair had killed two men, in addition to the kidnapping of Dr. Tobias. Both agreed that compared to the risk, a million dollars just wasn't enough.
* * * * *
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS -- 12/15/2103 10AM
"It's Tobias' DNA," Reg Pratt, the special agent in charge of the investigation, relayed the news to his team. "We can take the ransom demand seriously."
After his bank received the final wire transfer from Tokyo, Lopter had sent the CEO of Doral Biotics an express package with the initial ransom instructions. Smeared on the letter were several drops of the good doctor's blood, to allow Doral to authenticate the demand. The express package had led law enforcement nowhere, since the sender had used a remote pickup box and a cash, prepaid label.
Pratt switched on the holo-projector, displaying a copy of the demand, which Pratt's team was familiar with. The missive ordered Doral to gather two million dollars in commercial diamonds. There were to be two payments made, the first a "good-faith" payment and a second to secure the doctor's release. The email intimated that interference with the first payment would be detrimental to Tobias' health. This wasn't anything new, and Pratt's team treated the situation as they normally would.
Doral was to break the gems into two sets of one million each and await further instructions.
"We'll place nanobugs in the drop bags, so we can track them," explained the team's surveillance expert, "Plus we'll have a roving microbot swarm at the site, where ever it is." The trouble was that the demand didn't specify the drop site's location. It was now a waiting game.
A week later an email from an account with the largest ISP in Canada arrived, ordering Doral's CEO to drive to a neighboring town. When he got there he was to drop one of the packages of gems into the dumpster of a small business. That done, he was to drive north, cross the state line and check into a motel where he'd receive further instructions concerning the next payment.
The Doral executive complied, but the next set of instructions never came.
* * * * *
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS -- 1/17/2104 2:30PM
Lopter arrived in the city two weeks ago, after a short trip to Canada, taking considerable time to stage the recovery of the ransom. He had to get to know the area and teach the smartcat its tasks to help him, since the feline would play a key role. Doral undoubtedly had the Feds involved. With the deaths of two people on Mars and a scientist like Tobias, things were going to get hot. He would need a unique way to retrieve the gems without getting caught.
Lopter had discovered an abandoned building next to a dumpster. He'd knocked a hole in the adjoining wall, and cut through the dumpster's metal siding, making a hole big enough to accomodate the smartcat.
He also secreted an EMP grenade inside the dumpster.
From his car he used his cell phone, dialing a number in Canada. Under the pretense of representing a telemarketing group, he'd hired a hacker to rig a personal computer to a SIAB. Modern PCs were easy to program, and he simply changed the setup to send an email once the PC answered the call and he entered his code. By the time the authorities discovered the electronic relay he'd be long gone.
The CEO showed, dropping the tiny bundle in the dumpster. Lopter waited an hour in a nearby diner, before moving to a remote recovery point after double-checking it was clear. He then released the cat to fetch the gems. He detonated the EMP grenade remotely.
The cat retreived the package, hauling the precious payload through a maze of tight spaces, large enough only for a small animal to traverse. Lopter placed the package into a specially, shielded box.
If the tiny bundle was broadcasting, its signal would never escape the shielded cover.
Then he and the cat drove south. Lopter took his time, scouting out a pair of safehouses as he passed through towns for future use.
Finally, after reaching Texas and crossing the border into Mexico, he removed the small pouch and burned it, placing the gems back inside the shielded box. Once he got the box in space, far beyond transmitter range, he could have the gems checked for microscopic devices or nanomarks.
Compared to the last score things had gone surprisingly well. Lopter jumped back into the driver's seat, and took off. The smartcat leapt into his lap, purring loudly and seemed to be thanking him.
Lopter stroked the feline, "No, no," he said, "Origatou."
(to be continued ...)
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