Cold Call

On the distant horizon, the faintest sliver of light shone, cutting through the heavy embrace of darkness that the planet wore like a blanket. Stark against the dim morning, bright, artificial light turned the colony into a beacon, a neatly laid out maze of concrete, metal, and glass, though only the twisting, still unpaved paths that spiderwebbed through it received the illumination. Without exception, every building in the colony remained dark, or, if any light shone within, the heavy metal shutters over the windows prevented any of it from leaking out. In a little over an hour, the small colony would come to life, miners preparing to get an early start on the day, the canteen opening to provide them food and some approximation of coffee to fuel their efforts. Engineering would make their rounds, chipping away at work orders about as quickly as they came in, if they were fully staffed and decently-provisioned.

Until then, shadows prowled the colony streets. They avoided the painfully-bright floodlights that bathed the main walkways in fluorescent glow, lurking in alcoves and hugging buildings, pausing only to skirt around any sensors that might cause additional lights to flicker to life, or cause automatic doors to slide open (despite security’s many attempts to get every door ID locked). They didn’t stop until the colony stood in their wake, with only a single, outlying building before them. Less painfully drab than most of the prefabricated structures in the colony, it presided over a small, wooden pier that extended out onto the river. The current bobbed a small, motor-driven boat up and down, against the cushion that kept it from bumping into the pier.

“Always count on a company man to live comfortably.” One of the shadows murmured, settling into the brush beside the other two. Stripes of green paint camouflaged his face, and a poncho (with its hood raised) concealed a low-profile set of armor: boiled leather, synthetic fibers, and armorweave plates, a common sight among colonial militias, low-rent mercenaries, and insurgent groups. At his side, a blocky, compact automatic hung from a sling, a suppressor and light/laser combo elevating the archaic weapon from the realm of gangsters to ‘budget spec-ops’ territory. A small toolkit on his hip and a set of throwing knives (of all things) secured to a bracer on his wrist rounded out the visible kit he carried.

“Not for long.” Scoffed the second shadow, her voice even colder than the first despite the faint lilt to it. An open, dark jacket concealed some of her own armor, all dark plates rather than the composite worn by the first; among the three, only she carried a rifle, a cut-down bullpup with a suppressor threaded onto the front and a short magazine, which further reduced the profile of the weapon. She pulled a black bandana up over her nose and mouth and bound her shoulder-length red hair up behind her head before busying herself checking the magazine in her weapon and the three spares in a pouch at her side.

“Cut the chatter, you two. We’re burning minutes.” The third shadow wore the slimmest outfit, dark, long sleeves under a rigid, armored vest that looked swiped out of virtually any armed security office out in the far reaches of mankind’s colonies. Short, slicked brown hair and a clean-shaved face also marked him as the neatest of the three, with an eyepiece over his left eye currently shut down to avoid any illumination lighting his face. The handle of a heavy handgun protruded from under one of his arms, balanced with a couple of magazine pouches under the other. “Klepto, you’ve got point. Iris, keep us covered.” The second shadow nodded and took a knee, bracing the carbine against a tree, barrel pointed directly at the metal door of the lone building. The first shadow set off, hunched down to minimize his silhouette, once again a shadow sliding across the grounds of the colony.

Conveniently, the lights illuminating the approach to the office/cabin had suffered from intermittent issues for days, and the ticket requesting maintenance kept getting shuffled to the bottom of the queue by some persistent system error, currently being looked into.

When the two reached about the halfway point between Iris and the building, the sliding doors parted, revealing a pair of stocky men wearing orange uniforms with black armor and helmets, each carrying a holstered pistol on their belt. One of them already held a cigarette between his lips, a gold plated Zippo rising in his grasp to light it as they stepped off the path, letting the door slide shut behind them.

“—took his lighter?”

“Fuck ‘em. Not paying us extra to keep our mouths shut. Least he can do is give me a light.” A faint orange glow illuminated a scraggly blond beard; moments later a stream of smoke trailed into the morning air and drifted away.

“Yeah, it’s getting a little weird, even for me, but I didn’t get this post by playing snitch.” The second nodded, squinting at the lightposts along the trail to the colony, which stubbornly refused to cast any light at all. “Speaking of giving us a light, what the fuck has engineering been doing all weekend?”

The complaints continued, bouncing back and forth between the two as Klepto glanced over at his companion. As soon as the two goons stepped out of the building, the two had lowered themselves to the ground, virtually indistinguishable, particularly with the two goons still night-blind from the bright lights inside the building. The other shadow shook his head and reached up, clicking his headset mic once, then twice more after a moment’s pause. Klepto nodded and slowly crawled forward, covering the distance between the building and himself slowly. By the time the first goon’s cigarette had burned down to a stub, cast on the ground and stamped out under a cheap, faux-leather boot, he stood ready.

Klepto eased himself up into a crouch, clicked his own mic once. Immediately, the second goon’s head snapped back, bouncing off of the wall of the building and lolling to the side as he slumped against it and slid to the ground. The first dropped the golden lighter and reached for his belt; he made it halfway there before a razor-sharp blade buried itself in his throat, which his spare hand grasped at, without the strength to pull it free.

“Next time, just shoot him.” Came the exasperated sigh of the third shadow, even as Klepto wiped the blood off the throwing knife and palmed the gold lighter, sheathing the former and pocketing the latter.

“Aye aye, Protocol.” After a moment’s thought, the hooded man also helped himself to the dead goon’s ID and cash, glancing up in time to see Iris looming over the two of them. “Iris, dump the bodies and meet us inside.” Beside him, Protocol eased the two-tone automag from its holster, taking it up in a two-handed grip that spoke volumes about his training. Klepto tapped the ID against the door’s panel; the metal doors slid open smoothly, likely the quietest portal in the colony by virtue of belong to an executive.

Wood floors, grand landscapes of space and various picturesque frontier worlds (certainly not here) on the wall. The stylized yellow W and white Y lorded over the space, underscored with the lie written across the stars almost often enough to become truth. ‘Building Better Worlds.’ Certainly not here. The first door they came across ignored any attempts to open it with the goon’s ID, the second showed yellow lights on either side that indicated it to be not only locked but also with the door bolts down, sealing it closed. Around the corner, a more promising room beckoned, with shuttered windows and a nametag on the door (“McKinley.”) Behind them, Iris rounded the corner, the other goon’s ID card clipped to her belt.

The door slid open, revealing a lone man, sitting behind a heavy wooden desk. Short hair, short beard, a vest over long sleeves and a striped blue tie. He reached for the panic button concealed on the underside of his desk; three guns pointed his way encouraged him to reconsider the strategy.

“Hands, hands!” Protocol bellowed, jerking his head to the side. “Show me your hands, motherfucker!”

Klepto swept the rest of the office. Wooden tables, a comfortable bedroom with a plush looking bed in the back, a heavy metal safe, it all looked the same as the half-dozen other corporate office he’d broken into over the course of his life. Importantly, no one with a gun, no tripwires, no cameras. Some doubtless caught them in the hallway, but this building ran on its own circuit; they could scrub the footage here and never make it across security’s desk. When he returned, he found Iris keeping watch on the company man, who sat on his hands in a red-cushioned chair against the wall. Protocol tapped away at the computer, his eyepiece on and casting a cool blue across half of his face.

“There’s no need for any of this. I’m sure we can work something out. Who are you? CMP? IA? UA? I’m happy to provide any accounts you need.”

Swapping over to a common colonial pidgin of Japanese, English, and some other borrowed lingo, Klepto flashed The Suit a grin. “We’re the colonial wrench in The Company’s Gears.” Protocol shot him an unamused glance; he drew upon past experience and ignored it.

“Oh. You’re with the Front.” The junior executive sighed. “Ransom, is it? Looking for company secrets?”

“What we’re looking for, McKinley, is the skeleton in your closet. Or under your office, in this case.”
Instantly, the color drained from the executive’s face, his eyes darting between the three of them.

“Klepto, get on that safe. Footage is gone, I’m unbolting the storage.”

“On it.”

“I don’t know who put you up to this, but I highly recommend you reconsider this course of action. While you still can.”

“Duly noted.” Protocol murmured, paying the executive no further mind as he continued to sort through the files. Nothing within looked particularly damning, but then again, he didn’t expect it to be. Even low-level company bureaucrats tended to have a good sense for how to keep secrets, and the primary work terminal wasn’t it. He hoped Klepto could find something in the safe, but if not, they still had stones left to turn over. Minutes bled away, his eye-piece keeping him acutely aware of how close they were to needing to get clear before anyone from the colony came poking around.

The office door slid open, revealing a third, orange-uniformed individual. “Hey, I can’t get a hold of the other two idiots, do you know—“

Iris half-turned, lifting her rifle; McKinley jumped out of the chair, brandishing a sleek, black pistol. Protocol felt the impact as two bullets slammed into him, sending him stumbling back from the computer. The orange-clad female in the hallway collapsed, a trio of rifle rounds punching clean through her company-issued armor. A burst of fire flew past Protocol, stitching a line up the executive’s tie; the gun clattered to the ground only a moment before McKinley’s body followed. In the doorway, Klepto stood, weapon in hand, the laser painting the back of the unmoving company man’s head with a single, red dot.

“What? You said shoot them next time.”

Iris checked Protocol’s wounds, wrapped some gauze around him under the armor and shot him full of bicaridine while Klepto stood watch, swapping a fresh magazine into his automatic and peering down the hallway for any additional goons that might pop out. The colony roster didn’t list any more, but it also only listed two in the first place, so he wasn’t ready to count on it for any measure of accuracy.

“How’s he look?”

“He’ll live. You get the safe?”

“Yeah. You two are going to want to see this.”

In the backroom, the heavy metal safe, having yielded to Klepto’s efforts, stood ajar, and with a theatrical flourish, the hooded man shoved the door the rest of the way open; the other two stood back to give it room. Iris swore, loudly, as the contents became apparent.

“Lieutenant Caldwell, please tell me Mr. McKinley just intended to cook up a big fucking omelet.”

“Wish I could.” Caldwell shook his head, not bothering to reprimand his associate for failing to stick to their call-signs. “We need to sweep the rest of this place.”

“We might have to sweep the whole fucking colony.” Protocol shook his head, wincing and bringing a hand up to his side. “Take Iris and be fast. I need to call this in.” He reached up, switching frequencies on his headset, slumping back against the wall and squeezing his eyes shut. “Falcon Actual, this is Protocol. We got bugs. I say again, positive confirmation of one twenty ones.”

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