Read On Guard Online

Authors: Kynan Waterford

Tags: #Coalition, #Kynan, #Waterford, #Jupiter, #Garen

On Guard

Raj Duggan slowly crushed the ration container in his new cybernetic fist, enjoying the tortured sound it made as the metal gradually succumbed to his amazing strength.

“You ever going to get tired of that?” his equally new partner, Vick, asked from the other side of the room.

Raj glanced over at him. Vick was standing next to the massive vault they were guarding and looked suitably impressive in his heavy Coalition armour. He also wore a suitably irritated expression that Raj could see clearly through the faceplate of his helmet.

“Not until my next upgrade,” he said with a grin, trying to lighten the mood.

“You’ll be dead before you pay down the Coalition debt on that lot, rookie,” Vick scoffed.

Raj frowned for a moment. Entering Jupiter’s atmosphere always made him a little nervous – which was why he’d already eaten more than half his rations – but it would be extremely bad luck to get killed on his first mission.

Thankfully, the turbulence wasn’t too bad at the moment, but there was a definite roar in the background that reminded him of the dangers they were flying through. Jupiter’s dynamic, marble-like atmosphere might be one of the most beautiful sights in the solar system from orbit, but on the inside it was a violent nightmare that had claimed far too many lives.

Still, the Coalition drop ship they were hitching a ride in was tougher than most. The Coalition had spared no expense on this transport run. Along with Raj and Vick, there were ten other high-level security officers on board, which was far more than usual.

Raj was well aware he wasn’t being paid as much as the others, but it was only because he’d just reached this level of the game. He’d also been assigned to guard the ship’s fortified inner vault and so he was unlikely to see any real action.

Holding his new cybernetic arms out in front of him, Raj inspected them proudly and let his doubts fade into the background.

“This ‘lot’ has already started to pay off,” he said with conviction. “I wouldn’t have landed a place on this mission without these babies.”

“Whatever this mission is,” Vick said sourly.

Raj looked at him again. He didn’t know much about the mission either. He knew the heavily armed drop ship was on its way to rendezvous with an energy sump – the main source of power production in Coalition space – but he had no idea what they were transporting.

With a shrug, he turned back to the crushed ration container in his fist and then flicked it toward a small garbage bin in the corner. The mangled ball of metal arced across the room and looked like it was on target right up until the point it hit the rim and bounced away.

Raj winced in embarrassment. His new arms might be strong, but he hadn’t quite built up the neuronal connections required to unlock their dexterity.

Leaving the garbage where it lay, Raj picked up his helmet and pitgun, and returned to his post by the massive vault door.

“Who cares what the mission is,” he said, wedging the helmet under one arm and leaning against the wall. “It pays three times my usual rate. If I keep landing missions like these, I’ll be able to afford a plantim upgrade in no time.”

“Keep dreamin’, pal,” Vick said with a grimace. “You know why the Coalition pays triple credit on these runs, don’t you?”

“Sure I do,” Raj replied. “They value their tech more than anything else.”

“Any five year old knows that,” Vick said, rolling his eyes. “I mean, why do you think they feel so threatened they’re willing to pay a dozen security officers triple credits to transport one piece of tech down to an energy sump?”

“Well…” Raj began slowly. He had some idea because he’d heard the other officers talking earlier, but he wasn’t sure he should admit to it. “We’re not meant to discuss it, right? But… we’re carrying Helmsken tech, yeah?”

Raj knew as much about Helmsken as anyone else, which wasn’t much at all. Helmsken were supposedly responsible for piloting the Coalition’s energy sumps through Jupiter’s treacherous atmosphere and the most persistent rumour had them upgraded in ways so advanced that they didn’t look human anymore.

Vick gave him another condescending look and shook his head.

“You really are dense, aren’t you, rookie?”

“Spit it out, Vick,” Raj said, letting his frustration show. “I clearly don’t know what you’re taking about.”

Vick’s sour expression became smug for a moment then he spoke again.

“You take any time out from crushing cans to watch the news?”

“News?” Raj said with a grimace. “Why would I waste time on that depressing drivel? I get enough propaganda at home, thanks.”

“It’s not all propaganda,” Vick said with a raised eyebrow. “And if you had, you might be aware of the current situation regarding Lyquis terrorists.”

“Hah! Those losers? They couldn’t steal a used tea bag from my dear old granny.”

Vick looked at Raj like he’d just grown a second head.

“Please tell me you know who Garen Maertikye is.”

“Yeah,” Raj replied in a defensive tone. “I’ve heard of him. He’s the one they call ‘the most dangerous man in the solar system’, right? What a load of bull shit.”

“Bull shit?” Vick said, shaking his head again. “You know what, rookie? I’m going to do you a favour and let you believe whatever
bull shit
you think you know. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.”

Raj frowned. He’d heard a little about Garen, but assumed most of it was a beat up meant to scare motivation into security teams.

He opened his mouth to push Vick for more information, but was interrupted when the ship’s silent alarm was tripped.

He knew this not because the alarm’s location was now flashing red within the holographic representation of the drop ship beside them. He knew because an implant in his neck had just activated, dumping a large dose of adrenalin and class A stimulants into his blood stream.

As his brain activity spiked, Raj’s perception of time slowed and he could feel the adrenalin increasing his heart rate and blood pressure. He breathed deeper as the passages in his lungs expanded and the muscles in his legs and torso grew warm as they flushed with blood. Even his new cybernetic arms seemed to respond, although Raj knew it was probably just a side effect of the increase in mental acuity.

When the sudden change of perception had run its course, Raj focussed on the holographic map of the drop ship.

The other security officers were indicated as glowing blue icons with a tiny Coalition logo rotating above them, but they were no longer alone. At the aft of the drop ship, a much smaller ship had attached itself to the hull and a single yellow icon had just entered through a small breach.

“They’re boarding us,” he said incredulously, staring at the bright yellow icon in disbelief. “How the hell did they get so close without us knowing?”

“The storm’s electrical activity makes it nearly impossible to detect anything out there,” Vick said gruffly.

Raj heard the serious edge to his partner’s voice and, for the first time, began to feel unsure of himself.

“There’s only one of them,” he said firmly. “They’ll never reach us.”

But Vick didn’t say anything this time and it only made Raj’s fears worse.


Is it Garen Maertikye?
” he thought with a chill.

As his super-charged brain reminded him of all the gruesome tales he’d heard about Garen’s previous attacks, Raj watched the exchange being simulated on the holographic display.

It didn’t make any sense. The lone terrorist had picked an inconvenient location to breach the hull that effectively split their defences in two, but there still should have been enough of them to fight back one attacker.

But faster than should have been possible, parts of each blue Coalition icon were flickering orange and red, indicating serious injury and loss of effective combat status.

For a moment, Raj’s reeling mind considered the psychological effect of seeing such information when it wasn’t available for the invading terrorist.

It made sense from a situational awareness point of view, but the simulation also happened to make the Coalition forces appear to be losing badly whilst the terrorist remained a pulsing yellow icon, seemingly untouchable.

“This is bullshit!” he growled when another security icon started blinking completely red. “We’re being taken out like a bunch of amateurs!”

“Shut your hole and get that damn helmet on!” Vick snarled. “They’re almost here.”

Raj felt a wave of nausea as he realised he was still cradling his helmet under one arm and quickly put his pitgun down so he could pull it on.


I’ll be fine,
” he thought as he fumbled with the locking mechanism. “
And they’re going to regret it if they manage to make it this far.

As his less-than-dexterous fingers tried to jiggle his helmet onto its latch, Raj’s gaze moved from the holographic display to the impressive door that led into the pre-vault security area. It was thick enough to withstand a sustained assault by most conventional weapons and couldn’t be opened from the outside

specifically to repel attacks like this one.


It’ll hold,
” he thought with conviction.

He continued wrestling with his helmet, which still didn’t seem to want to slip onto its latch, and began to reassess the wisdom of taking a mission before mastering his new cybernetic fingers.

“Get that helmet locked in,” Vick growled.

“I’m trying,” Raj growled back, ignoring an urge to force the helmet into place, which would undoubtedly break the latch.

His gaze moved back to the holographic map and he felt a rush of panic when he saw the lone intruder was now on the other side of their door.

“They’re here,” he gasped.

“No shit,” Vick swore quietly.

A faint knocking sound came from the door, and Raj began to panic, making his fingers feel even fatter and less helpful.

“They’re going to cut through the door,” Vick said after a moment. “Get ready.”

Taking a moment to imagine the trajectory the door would follow if it was blown into the room, Raj took a large step to his left. He didn’t think even explosives would breach the tough metal door, but he wasn’t taking any chances.

His heart beat madly as he tried one last time to latch his helmet into place, but when it didn’t engage, he gave up and reached for his weapon instead. It might not be locked in place, but at least he had a helmet on.

BOOM!

From his time-altered perspective, Raj saw a blazing oval of white appear on the inner side of the door and immediately assumed some kind of super-charged thermite had been used to cut through the metal.

His unsecured helmet dimmed automatically to prevent his vision from being impaired and so he was able to watch the oval piece of door as it exploded into the room.

Raj expected it to fly through the air and scream past him before smashing into the vault’s door, but his supercharged mind quickly realised it wasn’t moving fast enough.


What’s going on?
” he thought in confusion.

The thick piece of metal was neither moving in an explosive rush nor falling to the floor in a smoking heap. Instead, it appeared to be floating into the room at a running pace.


Running pace,
” Raj thought suddenly. “
Someone’s holding it!

Recognising the sound of heavy boot steps, Raj realised the invading terrorist was using the large piece of metal like a shield and instinctively fired on it.

The savage
BLAM
of his pitgun was barely muffled by his unsecured helmet and the projectile slammed into the oval piece of door with enough force to rock it to one side. But whoever was behind it was strong. Despite the force of the blast, they barely stumbled before reorienting themselves and charging again.

At that point, Vick began blasting away at the makeshift shield as well and the terrorist was no longer able to simply shrug off their combined assault. Whoever was charging them was forced to crouch down and brace the large piece of metal against the floor or risk losing it altogether.

Raj saw Vick moving from the corner of his eye and realised he intended to flank the target and get a clear shot behind the shield.


Fine by me,
” he thought, staying back so he could cover his partner.

Their combined assault was now leaving smoking dents in the metal shield and as Raj watched them appear, he noticed something glimmer near the shield’s top edge.

A strange object rose majestically over the shield, slowed by his supercharged perception, and so he had plenty of time to wonder what it could be.

It looked like a glass ball, as if the terrorist had lost all his weapons and was down to throwing Christmas decorations, but there was something dark inside it that swirled with ominous intent.

The way it had been thrown made Raj immediately assume it was a grenade and so he moved his aim to blow it from the air before it could reach them.

His heightened senses made him aware of Vick at the last moment, who was holding out a hand as if to stop him from firing, but it was already too late. Raj’s pitgun went off with a resounding
BLAM
and its devastating projectile smashed the glass ball apart, creating a sudden flash of intense, white light.

The next thing Raj knew he was hitting the wall behind him and crashing to the floor with his pitgun and unsecured helmet clattering away from him. In a daze, he quickly looked for the terrorist and got his first glimpse of the man behind the shield.

He was big. Armoured from head to toe in a suit Raj didn’t recognise, but it was surely as advanced as the one he and Vick were wearing.


Garen Maertikye,
” he thought with a chill. “
He’s here!

His eyes flickered to Vick and he saw his partner on his knees against the wall. But, unlike Raj, Vick had managed to hold onto his pitgun and was already swinging it back onto the target.

Raj’s gaze flickered back to the terrorist and he saw Garen swinging something as well – the massive piece of metal he’d cut from the door, which was secured firmly to the forearm of his right arm as if held there by a powerful electromagnet.

Just as Vick fired his weapon, the thick and, more importantly,
heavy
piece of metal slammed into his arm and crushed it against the wall. The armour covering his arm should have been enough to withstand the attack, but the terrorist had targeted a vulnerable point at the elbow and Raj saw it collapse beneath the powerful blow.

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