The static crackles in my earpiece followed by Lisa’s, squeaky, nasally voice.
“Frirewall’s toast. Cameras are seeing an endless loop of non activity. Sensors are offline. Magnetic locking mechanisms are down and retinal scanners are now programmed to recognize your baby blues. You’re all ghosts, my darlings. I’m in control of their systems. Be stealthy and I’ll be your eyes and ears. No one will know you’re coming.”
The metal door before us crashes inward, courtesy for Cesar’s boot.
“Or you could just make all the hard work I’ve done today completely useless and go in like a herd of stampeding water buffaloes.”
“I’ve told you before, guera. I’m not a stealthy kind of guy.” Cesar says into his com and smiles. It’s a smile I’ve come to know and occasionally dread. I’m hoping this doesn’t turn out to be one of those times. He pumps his shotgun and walks into the sterile looking hallway before us, not looking like he’s going to be taking any prisoners today. Domino and I turn to one another and lock eyes. I shrug. She rolls her eyes and grits her teeth, muttering cuss words that I can only hear because of our com links. She moves quickly into the hallway doing her best to flank him in the narrow space. I follow behind her, moving sideways so that I can watch our backs.
“Cool! Whatever. I’m just a resource. Not a person. Don’t worry about my feelings or my self worth.”
“Mouse!” I snap gruffly into my com. Mouse is what we call Lisa. It’s of her own design. She decided Mouse was to be her code name because she can get into any system, no matter how well guarded, quiet as a. Much like our headstrong problems with Cesar, I don’t think she still understands the severity of our campaign or the power of our enemies like Domino and I do. The two of them are still playing a little kid’s dress up version of espionage. It’s something we’re working on.
“We still need you to be our eyes and ears, girl. You’ve kicked ass so far. Keep at it.”
“Hey, Mouse. there’s something else you can do for us. We’re about to party. Give us some music.” Cesar says into the com and I can hear his smile as if it were a sound. I should have seen this coming even though I’ve given orders for it not to happen again.
“Mouse, ignore that.” I tell our little technological genius who sits safely some thousand or so miles away from us in a techno bubble hideaway that I don’t even know where it is. She doesn’t listen, as I know she won’t.
“Oh, Cesar. This is why I still love you, you big gorilla. You’re like my own personal, not to mention the most realistic FPS MMO ever and any true gamer knows, you don’t go into battle without music. Let’s get cray cray, bitches!”
“Wait!” I offer up helplessly, knowing it’s already too late as the music kicks in over our coms and I see Cesar get a bounce in his step. I mentally picture an even more out of control Mouse bouncing around her control center.
“Mouse! You better keep your eyes on the prize and keep us aware.” I growl into my com.
“You know you get sexier when you’re angry, right? Someone has to have told you that before?”
“Mouse, you and I are going to have a talk when we see each other. Not a pleasant one.” Domino hisses into her com and I’m seriously feeling the Dis prefix latch onto our functional family as it usually seems to do.
“Domy, baby. Unclench those cheeks, girl. Some of us work better with media input to distract our ADD addled random neural transmitters. I’m focused. As in your right hallway’s coming up. Ten second collision warning. I suggest you duck.”
And this is where we excel as a team, despite our collective unprofessionalism and minor squabbles. No one hesitates upon hearing Mouse’s words. No one thinks. We moves as a unit, all three of us hurrying to a sprint, counting down the seconds in our head and then dropping to our knees simultaneously. We slide across the dull and unimaginative mauve linoleum as two armed guards come around the corner to our right, firing pistols at where our heads and upper torsos should have been. Their bullets rip through the air harmlessly. Ours don’t.
Bodies drop, minus parts of their anatomy that were important towards keeping them alive. We spring from the floor as they hit it, locked and loaded and ready for whatever comes next.
“Coming at you from six and nine o’clock. Groups of four. One will filter in ahead of you and one from behind.”
“How much time, Mouse?” I ask as I load in fresh clips.
“Thirty seconds, tops. I’m unlocking the doors on either side of the hall you’re on. Wait for my cue and you won’t need to waste bullets on the group in your hall.”
I hear the loud clack of deadbolts unlocking. Cesar moves into the door to the left. Domino and I move into the door to right. We both shut them behind us and await instructions silently as her soundtrack plays insistently into my ear. As much as I want to admonish her, I have to admit that it does build Adrenalin. I won’t even acknowledge that it’s sort of cool. It’s counter-intuitive at this point. I just sit and wait silently as Mouse occasionally buzzes in our ears.
We hold our breath as we see and hear them jiggle the door handles in front of us, finding them magnetically locked and being trained to arrogantly think that said doors are impenetrable from outside forces. Our enemies have been untouchable for too long. More than that, they’ve been unnoticed. It breeds arrogance. It breeds contempt. We are the sort of life lesson they won’t survive. Not the current gen, at least.
“They’re past. Domy, honey, be awesome sauce here and do that stealth attack that Cesar won’t do for me.”
Although Mouse’s words take a smart ass tone, she speaks sincerely and Domino acts on them.
With the greatest care, Domino opens the door silently and moves in behind the four man security crew like a spider silently advancing on it’s prey. They never see her coming before she moves into action. I honestly watch her in awe as she spins and twirls, a whirling dervish of limbs and blades that slices and kicks and bashes and breaks our enemies at a rate that I am almost unable to comprehend. I see a jaw break under heel. I see a throat slashed from a blade. I see a neck broken between twisting thighs. Enemies are slayed with a flourish that I could never match and with a sadistic streak of vengeance that even I cannot equal. Whatever it is that Domino fights for, its meaning cuts deep.
“Move now! End of the hall. Flank positions. Blades out. Make it hurt.” Mouse blurts into our earpieces and I can hear that staccato beat and energized level to her voice that lets me know she is truly zoned in. This will not be a fair fight at this point. This will be a slaughter.
We move as one, following Mouse’s instructions. Domino already has her katana at the ready. I flip out my butterfly knives. Cesar unstraps an ax from his back. My compatriots press against opposite sides of the wall as I crouch in the center of the hallway.
“Three…two…one…action.” Mouse whispers into our ears with an almost disturbing amount of passion.
I move with a swiftness that seems automated as Cesar and Domino move with me. The security team has barely rounded the corners of the hallway before we are cutting them down. Domino leaps and whirls, her stainless steel blades slicing through flesh, bone and sinew. Cesar’s ax comes down upon a man’s skull, reducing it to something akin to beef stew, only messier. The last guard splits their dual savagery, charging down the middle of the hall and into my knives,. I punch rhythmically like a human sewing machine, turning his midsection into a muddy mess of gore and seeping organs. The sterile white walls are quickly painted in crimson as our enemies fall and fall in pieces.
“That’s fucking sick! Even by our standards. I mean good sick, of course. I seem to suddenly find myself lacking in moral compunctions whenever we’re dealing with these people. Funny how that AL…WAYS…HAPPENS! WHOOOOO! GO TEAM!”
“MOUSE!” I shout into my com to get her attention. Mouse has a tendency to get a little….overexcited. Of course, having read the file on what was done to her is Stein’s program, it’s amazing that she only came out…..altered, instead of some sort of vegetable or dead. She might want payback more than any of us. “You good, Mouse? You take all your meds this morning? We need you focused, remember?”
“I’m here. I’m good. Sparkling, in fact. I just need to DJ this into something with more BPM.”
“No…Mouse….mission first. We need to know what you see. Where are..” I’m cut off by the sound of a new song starting up in our earpieces. I have no idea what it is. I just know it’s electronic and it’s horrible. I also know I’m in danger of losing Mouse. “Mouse…listen to me. We need your eyes. We need to know how many more security forces we have to deal with.”
“None.” Mouse says and I feel relief. “No…wait…not none. There’s actually some more.” My relief fades.
“How many more, Mouse? We need to know this.” I speak to her in a combination of calm and authoritative because once she starts losing her focus, freaking out only makes it deteriorate quicker.
“Um…like…a lot…like, a LOT! Did I say none, earlier? That was WAY off. Oh…DUDE! I know what music we need.” and before I can interject again, she’s changed the song once more and The Stooge’s Search & Destroy is blaring into our coms.
“Mouse! You need to stop worrying about the music and guide us through this.” I say a little less calmly than before.
“I’m not worrying about the music, babe. I’m worried about THIS ASSHOLE WITH THE 40mm CANNON!” Mouse blurts, now fully agitated and we are left in a near panic because being left in a confined space against a man with a semi-automatic explosive round launcher is not a favorable, or winnable, match up.
“MOUSE!” I’m now yelling and not calmly at all. “YOU NEED TO LET US KNOW WHERE OUR ENEMIES ARE AND WHAT OUR ROUTE IS. WE CAN’T RUN HEAD ON INTO A FUCKING 40MM!”
“You? There’s no one with an explosives launcher there? Why would a lab security force shoot something like that off in a hallway. That’s silly. They weren’t even expecting us. They’re like glorified mall cops. Chill.”
“YOU JUST SAID SOMEONE HAD A 40MM!” Domino yells into her com.
“Oh. That. I’m playing Titanfall. I’m not talking about you.”
“Maldita puta loca.” Cesar mutter while slowly shaking his head.
“I’m going to fucking kill you.” Domino hisses at Mouse and rips her com from her ear, throwing it to the ground.
“Mouse….please tell me you aren’t really playing video games. You have to be joking.” I plead with her.
“Of course not. I never joke about that. I’ve got mad skillz and you guys are done fighting, so I need my own combat to keep me preoccupied.”
“Mouse. We aren’t done fighting. You said there were a lot of guards left.”
“Oh. There are.”
“We need you to concentrate on that, please.”
“I can multi-task. You know this. I’ve been locking doors and sealing off hallways so that I herd them right to you.”
“HOW MUCH TIME DO WE HAVE?”
“Ohhhhhh, I’d say….none. They’re there now.”
We look up to see eight, maybe ten armed guards round the corner to fill the hallway in front of us. All of them are armed with automatic rifles. All looking like they aren’t ready to take prisoners. I raise my arms in the air and drop my weapons, hoping it will buy us some time. Domino pulls her blades back out and starts to advance slowly, ruining that option.
“You said we were done fighting, Mouse.” I say to her with great disappointment, knowing these might possibly be my last words.
“I did say that……and you are done fighting.”
The guards raise their weapons. I reach for my guns as Cesar pumps his shotgun and Domino tenses her leg muscles, preparing to spring into whirling dervish mode….
…and all of us stop in our tracks as the loud noise of mechanical grinding fills the corridor. Loud whirring…sounds of chains rattling..gears rattling…even the guards seem taken aback and nervous. As the wall panels in between us and them retract into the walls and slide down, I realize why. On either side of the hallway, two large gatling guns on turrets emerge from the walls and immediately begin to whir to life. There is no time to move or react that will get us out of their line of fire.
The turrets begin to swivel wildly, seemingly searching the room for their targets.
The multiple barrels begin to spin loudly in a high pitched noise as the turrets aim at us.
Then they quickly flip their positions to aim at the crowd of security guards and open fire.
You cannot truly imagine what gatling guns are like until you witness their sheer destructive power. No movie make believe can prepare you. The noise is deafening. It’s like mechanical demon boring into your brain with it’s roaring. I watch as it tears into and through our enemies and I’m watching human beings being reduced to nothing but unidentifiable meat. I almost feel bad, wondering if maybe there’s just some dumb schmuck in the mix who only took the job because it offered a good dental plan and his kid needed braces. Then I remember how many children this organization has left orphaned or dead and all feelings of remorse or sympathy or hesitation towards killing a thousand more of these men easily dissipates.
The roaring of ammo being expended suddenly fades to only the high pitched whining of rapidly spinning gun barrels and the empty clicking of emptied clips. Those sounds fade to an eerie, echoing silence in a smoke filled hallway and a scene before us that reminds me of the blood filled elevators from The Shining. The three of us stand silent and still, a tad bit shell shocked to be the only ones left standing. Domino gingerly bends down and retrieves her discarded earpiece just as our coms crackle with static and the cheery voice of Mouse.
“Sooo….I found these automated defenses buried in the system and I routed both you and the evil time clock punchers into the middle of them.As I said, you’re done fighting. You’re welcome.”
It takes me a few seconds to find the wherewithal to answer her. “You could have given us a heads up, Mouse.”
“Where’s the fun in that? Life is an adventure. Live that shit.”
“You could’ve gotten us killed.” Domino hisses at her, yet with far less conviction and venom that usual.
“Yeeeaaah, No. I’m well in control of their systems and the situation. No one’s getting hurt on my watch. I’ve proven that by now. Start trusting me more, please. It makes me want to fuck with you guys less. Just a smidge.”
Domino’s face contorts and it’s obvious she’s about to unload on Mouse. Cesar puts his hand on her shoulder, stopping her in the process. He winks and shakes his head, a big smirk crossing his face. Domino scrunches up her face, furious but silent.
“We trust you, Mouse. Where do we go next?”
“Well, judging the schematics and the security cam feeds, you need to hit the end of the hall, take the right, one hundred feet you take the left, two hundred feet a right, then the end of that hall is the goal line. That’s Lab 12. That’s our information hub. You’ll want to be fast. With no guards left the rats are fleeing the building. I have their communications shut down, but I can’t stop everything. They’re working against me now. The important, upper echelon tech personnel are trying to fight me off and I have to use most of my resources to stop the fuckwit in lab 12 from corrupting and encrypting files. Please move your collective asses. Pretty please.”
“We’re on it.” Domino answers first, stalking off down the hall, which is Domino’s version of affection. It makes me smile as if I were somewhere nicer doing something more enjoyable.
“Hey, guera.” Cesar pipes in.
“Yes, my mochaccino dream boat?”
“You know the drill. Play us out, girl.”
I hear Mouse giggle like a little kid and then the music fills my earpiece once more.
This isn’t exactly the professionalism I had in mind when I envisioned this squad, but when you collect a bunch of failed science experiments with damaged psyches, fragile minds and unwanted powers, unprofessional behavior is pretty much par for the fucking coarse.
We pick up the pace sprinting down the maze like corridors in the directions that Mouse has given us. I only hope she’s able to do her next, even more important part of her job and keep our enemies from destroying and hiding the information we’re here for. This may be a war of attrition, and I’m happy to slaughter all of these monsters, but it’s even more of a war for information. Without it, we can’t stop them. We can’t keep this from happening again. We can’t even find out what happened to us and why. We can’t find out who any of us used to be.
This battle in being fought in inches, but every victory moves us miles ahead. We need a victory today.
We reach the end of the hall in a sprint and Mouse is in our ears again.
“I’m blowing the lock on the doors. Hit him fast and hard. He’s about to break my defenses.”
I see a security scanner next to the doorway we are closing in on. Looks like a retinal/palm print scanner combo. Very secure normally. Not Mouse-proof. I watch the control panels spark and then smoke and then explode. The door begins to swing open just as we reach the end of the hallway. Cesar finishes off it’s slow inward swing by throwing his broad shoulder into the door and nearly ripping it off the wall as he plays human battering ram.
“GUN!” Mouse yells into our coms, but Cesar is smart and way ahead of her. I see his skin take on a much darker tone of brown as it crackles and hardens, looking very stone-like. That’s because it now is, for all measurable purposes, the same as stone. I hear gunshots and then screaming and then a sickening wet snapping sound. As Domino and I hit the doorway and enter lab 12, we see that Cesar has a man’s arm in his hand and that arm is bent at a grossly unnatural angle that looks very painful. Cesar’s powers have just stopped the bullets that should have ended his life as well as making sure that the man who fired them will have no choice but to be a lefty in his future. Yeah, I never said that our powers weren’t extremely useful. I just said they were unwanted. Big difference.
Domino moves into the room and crisscrosses her blades against the man’s throat like scissor blades, instantly gaining his attention away from his shattered arm. I’m moving past both of them, .45 in each hand and a snarl etched across my lips as on the other man in the room who is panicked but still furiously clacking away on a keyboard. He’s trying to finish his job. That can’t happen.
“GET AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD! NOW!” I yell at him. He ignores me, typing even more furiously. “I SAID NOW! I WILL SHOOT YOU!”
“FUCK YOU!” He yells, his voice sounds terrified but he’s undeterred from his task.”YOU CAN’T STOP US!”
“THIS IS THE LAST FUCKING TIME I’M GOING TO TELL YOU! MOVE AWAY!”
“He doesn’t move away. He doesn’t stop typing. He just yells. “YOU CAN’T STOP US! YOU’RE GOING TO DIE! YOU’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!”
He left me know other choice than to turn him into a colander. I don’t feel bad, but I do feel uneasy. We’ve been raiding then labs and research hives as we find them for the past two months. We expect them to get harder as they begin to expect us coming and know what we can do. What we didn’t expect is that their resolve and willingness to die for their cause would also grow more intense. These tech types and lab assistants used to crumble and cry like scared children when we first started hitting our enemies. This son of a bitch just stopped short of yelling Hail Hydra and chomping on a cyanide capsule hid in hollowed out molar. We’re going to have to step up our game.
“Please..PLEASE tell me you didn’t shoot anything vital.” Mouse moans into our earpieces.
“Looks like he shot dude in the head. Do you consider the brain vital?” Cesar says back to her, trying not to laugh.
“You know what I mean, funny guy. I don’t care about those assholes. I just care about the data.”
“Gives you the warm and fuzzies, doesn’t she?” Domino says and smiles, which is an amazing amount of warmth for her.
“Can we pull the plug on open mic night, please. I need the information in those hard drives and you need to get out of there. There’s chatter getting out on an analog frequency that I can’t lock down before it gets out. You’re going to have company in fifteen to twenty. Focus, children. I shouldn’t have to always be the one in charge.”
We all roll our eyes, but Mouse’s point is taken. Our enemy is down at the moment, but our enemy is never out. Our enemy is relentless and strong. We must be as well, but we must also be fast. Always keep moving. Always keep one step ahead.
Domino and I pull an arsenal of flash drives from our pockets and pouches and begin running around the lab, jamming them usb ports as Cesar keeps watch. Eventually we will get deep enough into their organization that they won’t be hiding behind the facade of normal laboratories and computer systems and these will no longer work. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For today, they have their asses in the air like cats in heat and they’re going to give up the secrets contained here without any fight.
Not by anything we can do, thank God. Domino has some ability, but not enough for this. I couldn’t hack their system with the passwords in my possession and Cesar can barely manage his Facebook account. This is all Mouse. Mouse is the best. Her skills far outweigh her eccentricities. We step back and watch as Mouse begins her magic.
We watch as data flashes across screens with blinding speed, too quickly to focus in on anything we’re seeing. We here Mouse in our ears, her voice almost as incomprehensible. She’s reduced to giggles and ticks and muttering to herself in a voice that’s something akin to speaking in tongues. She’s tapped in. This is HER power. She’s one with the machine and outside of the occasional recognizable cuss word or boast, she’s no longer speaking a language that is human. It only last two minutes. That’s a minute longer that our last hit. They’re indeed starting to prepare for us. The loud gasp of Mouse sucking in air lets us know that she’s done and detached.
“I’ve got it. I’ve got it all. There’s some meat here. This is what we’ve been looking for. Welcome to the next level. “
“Talk to me Mouse. What did we get?” I ask. My excitement is as palpable as a kid on Christmas
“Oh, we’re on the VIP list. I couldn’t absorb everything that I just downloaded, but let me just say this. Curiouser and curiouser, my blue eyed devil. We’re fucking straight up Tron 2.”
“I have no idea what that means.” I assure her
“You will. Now run. Flee! Go in peace my children, so that you don’t leave in pieces. Alarms are disengaged. I will lock every door and turn off every light that doesn’t lead to your exit. Dropping viruses now. Erasing data and burning links so they can’t back trace. Radio silence imminent. You’re about to be Mouseless, which makes you and I both sad. See you soon.”
And with that, the coms go dead. Domino and I race around the room, retrieving flash drives and tucking them back into the safety of pouches and pockets. They knew we were coming. At the very least, they knew it was a possibility. Security was tighter. Opposition was tougher. I know that the possibility that some of the data we found is bullshit. Some…but definitely not all. That’s because I know that they didn’t yet know just who they were dealing with. If they did, things would’ve been even worse. They’ll know next time. I had been blocking transmissions. Not anymore. I want them to know we’re coming. I want them to know who it is. I want them to know that the world sees them and that they’re being taken down by the freaks that they created. No more mystery assailants for them. No more easy raids for us. I’m fine with that pay off.
As we leave, I drop one of our business card on top of one of the keyboards in the lab. It Reads -
YOU’VE JUST BEEN FUCKED
That’s what they think we are. That’s what most of us that they’ve touched have allowed ourselves to be. That’s how we’ve viewed ourselves. They’ll find that’s no longer who we are. That’s no longer who we believe ourselves to be. Still……catchy name.