Operation Search and Expunge (5/5): After-Action Report

Unidentified Habitat, Moons of Braníthár, Mírlan System – Mission Complete

The view from the hab’s for’ard lounge was spectacular, Morria decided. Outside, storms and swirling winds swept the blue face of Braníthár, and  the upper limb of the planet flashed with periodic fluorescence  as Tehelmír’s radiation swept over it.

Her new bioshell was a vatjob, but close enough to her usual frame to feel close to home. She turned her attention back to the trigraphic projection unrolling between her seat and her employer’s, the counter at its base ticking off from MET +0:13:30. From behind the eyes of the gray shadow of her previous incarnation, she watched as…

…it slammed and locked the entrance door, infowar daemons code-locking it behind, then moved smoothly through the server cluster, snapping off precise needler shots at the technicians.

Even as they fell, it moved to the control pillar, and punched in a request; data began to stream up the pillar in a continuous cascade, too fast to read on the recording, while the hiss of cutting torches came through clearly.

”I haven’t had the opportunity to review the file listing you pulled. Anything noteworthy?”

”Mostly just the usual – Delphys InVids and slinkies, any amount of flat text, audio and EM recordings – a few poorly secured consumer product and printfood recipes. But there was one item of interest; copies of the Ikarakakt forknapped mind-states.”

”So, the Narijics are moving up to slaving, now.  Good to know.”

Meanwhile, the projection continued to unroll; the data streaming up the pillar coming to an end even as the hiss of the torches came to a stop. The shadow unslung the pinch from its shoulder, twisted its midsection, and set it on the floor.

With a crash, the door fell inward.

The image blurred and stopped as the lifelog ended. Mission Elapsed Time +0:15:69.


”Enough to tell the tale. Office staff, in the outer ring, and if the security there was even halfway competent, some of the core techs should have survived them, the pinch, and my bugout charge. Total data loss, though.”

”Excellent work, Operative, excellent! The Association will pay out the full performance bonus.”

”There’s just one thing that always bothers me about these missions, Chief.”

He looked at her inquiringly.

”I never get to remember if I thought of any good last words.”

Operation Search and Expunge (4/5): Dying Meat

Central Office, Illicit Drift, Narijic System, Freeport Loop – Mission Elapsed Time +0:11:22

The monitor showed a picture of absolute carnage; the inner security checkpoint littered with corpses, splashed with blood in a half-dozen colors.

“Well, Ahkshar?” the blue-scaled kalatri behind the desk asked the linobir standing in front of it, under the guns of the door guards. “How do you explain the complete failure of your mercenaries?”

“The intruder — there was no — it was –“

The linobir’s translator stuttered and cracked, but hse was saved from the immediate need to answer by a flashing pop-up message on the manager’s desk.


A tap on the message, and the monitor now showed another room; a haze of smoke drifting up from the silos around the perimeter of the room. Fluid gushed from severed pipes leading to suspension units in clusters nearer the room’s center, and the clone bodies held within them writhed and choked as they asphyxiated.

The kalatri’s eyes blazed, red with fury; and a single shot caved in the linobir’s facial aspect.

“You and you, come with me. Instruct everyone who’s left to converge on the central server area. I am taking charge of this personally.“

Mission Elapsed Time +0:12:19

Operation Search and Expunge (3/5): Meatgrinder

Security Checkpoint, Illicit Drift, Narijic System, Freeport Loop – Mission Elapsed Time +0:08:17

Shit. Unbelievable greencored shit. The fresh-awakened linobir finished struggling into hsis combat armor, and leapt for the checkpoint door. “Would someone shut that selffucking siren up?” hse demanded. “And what in the selffucking netherworld is –”

The status board spelled it out all too clearly, though. Hull penetration in the outer office ring, compartments – too many compartments – open to space. Half the spacetight doors were down, and the rest slicing the external security force into a dozen isolated sections with diabolic cunning; and yellow system-unreliability markers radiating out from the damaged areas, showing a spreading stain of infowar perversion.

A spearhead pointed straight at hsis checkpoint, the route to the inner core of the drift. As hse watched, the final corridor segment outside the checkpoint flicked over to the black of decompression, with the accompanying clack of sealing valves from the outer blast door.

“Defense stations!” hse yelled, scrambling to take cover behind the room’s central wall, gesturing with one mid-leg to a nearby lieutenant, “And you, shut off every infosystem in here before we lose them. They’ll be –”

A series of loud metallic clangs resounded from outside the blast door, distracting the guards for a fatal moment; a fractured second. Hse barely had time to speak a syllable before the ceiling service panel tore open, and a small object dropped through.

The needle-blast of the grenade tore through the first and second ranks of the guards. The gray ghost that followed it rapidly began to carve its way through the last line, moving elegantly as a dancer through the carnage – splatters of red, blue-black, yellow and white – while the flèchettes of the survivors caromed off its armor.

Hse spun to face it, raising hsis weapon a fraction too slowly; at its gesture, a shaped gravitic pulse ripped free hsis right limbs and tore into hsis guts.


Mission Elapsed Time +0:09:64

Operation Search and Expunge (2/5): Breach

Illicit Drift, Narijic System, Freeport Loop – Mission Elapsed Time +0:00:01

In the base of the crater in which the pod had impacted – aided by the requirement for stealth of the illicit drift, which couldn’t afford to reveal its position by installing local defense systems, never mind by actually using said systems – a brief mist hung in the void as the heat-charged thermal goo abruptly vented.

A moment of stillness to allow it to disperse, and the forward body of the pod cracked down its mid-line and opened, a humanoid figure pulling itself upright from its cradle of impact foam.  Me, Operative Morria.

Well, in mind, anyway.  My internal self-image doesn’t all resemble the Jímar-class single-op ‘shell they assign us for these missions, thank Ithával – hairless, sexless, regolith-gray skin the texture of old leather directly wedded to ceramet armor-plating.  And, more relevant to the immediate situation, without any particular need to breathe…

Enough fresh-reinstantiate woolgathering, Morria, I reminded myself.  “A slow incarnation is a dead incarnation,” as they say, and don’t let that distract you either.  There would already be local security cycling the locks to check out the impact site.  I yanked the equipment packages out of the pod, and stashed them around me, the pinch over one shoulder, grenades and the breacher charge over the other, weapon in hand, then fired up local wireless and ordered a self-diagnostic.  Straight-line blue.  A moment to order the pod into self-destruct and check the composite had started to deliquesce, and I was off in a high, bounding run.

*             *             *             *             *

The same consideration, of course, was why I couldn’t enter through the locks, either.  Well, shouldn’t.  Beating up on the local security might be fun, but very much outside mission parameters.  Which is why three minutes later I was not approaching the locks marked on my plan, but rather a flat spot in the asteroid wall where the habitat excavations had brushed a bit too close to the surface and been reinforced with a fused-wall.  I brushed the regolith aside, slapped the breacher to the surface, and leapt for cover while it drilled itself in —

The ground pulsed, and with a silent roar air fountained from the wound torn in the habitat, bringing with it a litter of smart-paper and aerogel mugs and other light stuff caught in the outflow before the spacetight doors slammed down.  A couple of bodies came with it, too, who must have been standing right next to the wall when it breached.  One was a kalatri in Voniensan uniform, I noted absently, adding his now perpetually-surprised features to the log-vlog; that wasn’t in the mission plan.

Speed is life.  I flicked a red-banded grenade, HE and needles to flush out the non-oxyeaters, into the hole and dived in after it, pirouetting to scan the room.  Nothing but corpse-char and wrecked office equipment; excellent, but half the drift would have felt the twin detonations.  Service duct.  There.  All was going as planned, now to keep moving, taking out the air and the automation as I went…

Operation Search and Expunge (1/5): Entry

Narijic System, Freeport Loop

The lights of the stargate flared as the megafreighter emerged from its throat, making its braking burn to slingshot around the Narijic sun for the outbound gate, and at the opportune moment, a pod no bigger than a domestic flitter detached from the underside of the long fuel trusses, falling into the system on a trajectory that would carry it into the local asteroid belt.

Within the aft section of the pod, tanklets of thermal goo hissed as the heat pumps went into operation, keeping the pod’s internal heat from reaching its outermost skin.  While any long-term stealth was impossible, the tanklets held enough to keep the pod chilled for several hours before they had to be vented, which – the mission planners thought – should be enough separation from the freighter that suspicious eyes wouldn’t be looking in its direction any more.  If not… well, it would be a much shorter mission.

And in the forward section, the long, slow process of thawing out and reinstantiating Operative Morria – on a minimal heat budget – could begin.