Horizon: Rebuilt, Ch. 9

Snow was a regular occurrence on Surtr, once a month the frigid moon would slip behind the gas giant Surt and the whole moon would be hidden from the sun for a full day before its orbit would take it back towards the light. When the long night came around, most people spent as little time as possible outdoors, some even slept through the whole rotation, if their jobs allowed. On this particular long night Horizon stalked the streets of Surtr City in her disguise as an arctic fox, wearing a long orange coat over her FedTech jumpsuit. Between the suit and her augmentations the cold was practically meaningless to her, but the coat made her look like any other late-shift worker staggering home through the snow.

As she passed by buildings and alleyways her augmented eyes snapped from side to side, seeing both visible and infrared light and saving images of anything that seemed strange. As she strode on, Sam whispered analyses of the images into her ear. “Oddly shaped trash bag, vagrant in sleeping bag, hopefully hibernating, an after-market heating unit bolted awkwardly to the wall, a garbage fire with two people huddled next to it, another weird garbage bag, wait…” One of the images flashed in Horizon’s vision, a shadowy outline in the rough shape of a parahuman. The view switched to thermal and Horizon paused mid-step, the outline shown as even colder than its surroundings.

Thermal camouflage? she suggested.

“With a faulty regulator,” Sam confirmed. “Most consumer-grade goggles would have missed them.”

Horizon resumed walking as if she had seen nothing. Think they’re with our “friends”?

“If you mean the people trying to kill us, I have my doubts,” Sam answered. “The bug in their camouflage makes me suspect they got it on the ‘secondary market’, so to speak.”

The disguised raccoon came up on the specific alleyway that she’d been looking for and made sure to capture every inch of it and the alley across the street. Like the secondary market quantum core we’re looking to buy?

“Precisely,” Sam replied. After a few moment’s processing she pulled up an image of the alley across the street, highlighting a small shape in the air. “There, look, another one.”

How soon could either one reach the meetup? Horizon inquired.

“The one across the street could arrive in about four seconds,” Sam calculated. “The one with the faulty regulator in twelve.”

Call Jenny, she commanded. There was a few seconds’ delay and then she heard the squirrel’s voice in her head.

Jenny: Hey Horizon! Did you get a chance to look around?

Horizon: Yes. The alley itself looks clean but I spotted a couple tall guys in therm-opto in the nearest alleys.

Jenny: You think the seller brought some covert muscle?

Horizon: Possibly, you want to call it off?

Jenny: Hmm, think you could take them?

Horizon shot a thought in her AI’s direction. Sam responded almost immediately, “assuming no major augmentations or power assistance we could neutralize the both of them within fifteen seconds given our current equipment.”

Non-lethally? Horizon added.

Sam snorted as if the raccoon was trying to spoil her fun. “Twenty-five seconds then.”

Horizon: Sam thinks I could knock them out in half a minute, but I’d rather you stay out of the line of fire.

Jenny: You’ve got therm-opto too, don’t you?

Horizon: Yes.

Jenny: So take up a position between them and us and be ready to hit them if they make a move.

Horizon: If you’re sure about that.

Jenny: You worry too much, now I’ve got five minutes to reach the hand-off area and Shawn is getting antsy.

Horizon: Okay then, hopefully you’ll see me once the deal is complete.

The raccoon rounded a corner three blocks from the last place she’d spotted a hidden tough. Once she was confident she was out of sight she felt under her coat for the weapons she’d had fabricated and made sure they were securely adhered to her jumpsuit’s smart materials. Assured she was properly armed she grabbed a pair of fist-sized discs and tossed them into the air. As the discs started their internal rotors and flew off she tossed the coat aside and put her hologram projectors into camouflage mode. In a matter of seconds she faded into the wall behind her.

Her minidrones flew towards the alleyways where she’d spotted the hidden figures and grabbed onto walls overlooking the entrances to the alleys. Horizon herself shuffled lightly across the snow, pressed up against the wall, trying not to leave footprints. Moving at such a slow pace she was across from the alley where the meet was happening just as Jenny and Shawn arrived.

The two rodents bundled in their heavy clothes dashed through the snow and turned into the alley, Horizon checked the drone feeds before deciding whether to chase after them. In the first drone’s feed she spotted a trail of footprints rising out of the snow, leading out of the alley, the second had enough sense to scrape out their prints as they walked. Horizon considered the information carefully, then sprang into action. She ran across the street fast enough to kick up a cloud of snow and leapt at the wall on the far side, the cloud obscuring her tracks that stopped three meters short of the wall.

Horizon held onto the side of the building, as the trails of footprints came closer she scurried along the wall with her arms and hands, feet never touching ground. But before she could reach the alley a light appeared, a secret door in the side of the building at the back of the alley. As she watched a polar bear in business attire stuck his head out and looked around the alley, then he opened the door the rest of the way and let a short arctic fox tod step out.

“So,” said the fox in a voice barely above a whisper. “You’re the ones looking for a quantum core processor then?”

Jenny looked incredulously at the fox. “You’re rather upfront for someone who claims to have one. Mr. Qali.”

“Coded words and slang are for people who don’t own the street Ms. Ratuta,” the fox retorted with a smirk.

The squirrel froze at that last comment. “I never told you my name,” she replied.

The trails of prints came closer to the entrance of the alley. Horizon scrambled to keep ahead of them from her position on the wall. “Your Friendly Society’s records are not that secure, you should look into upgrading your security.” Mr. Qali held up a finger as if a thought had just come to him, “perhaps that’s why you want the core then?”

“That’s…” Jenny struggled to come up with a retort. “None of your business.”

“We’ve got payment,” Shawn threw in. He started fumbling around in his pockets and pulled out a couple paychips. “I’ve got 5,000 here and she’s carrying the other ten.”

Jenny jabbed an elbow into the vole’s side, almost causing him to drop his chips. The fox nodded to his bodyguard, who opened the door again and picked up a suitcase. “The core’s right here,” Qali stated, drumming his fingers on the case. “So gracious of you to bring the payment in full, especially given how strapped your organization is for resources.”

The squirrel barely held back a glower at the fox. “We’re here as ourselves, not as members of the Friendly Society,” she corrected.

“So that cash is even more important to you,” Qali suggested. “I was wondering if perhaps you might be inclined to offer some sort of… alternative payment?”

Jenny seemed confused for a moment, then her face twisted in slight disgust. “I suppose I could perform a few muscle grafts for your pet meatheads,” she suggested with a nod towards the polar bear.

The arctic fox gave a brief laugh in response. “I was thinking less of your services, more about… information.”

“I thought you already had our information?” Jenny quipped.

“Not everything, no,” Qali conceded. “There is one member of your organization that not even your system has much, if any, credible information about.”

Horizon tensed, preparing to spring into action. She began to calculate optimal strategies for neutralizing all three potential combatants. Jenny’s eyes grew wide in realization. “You mean…”

“That ghul with something that looks like a conscience,” the fox confirmed with a growl. “I don’t know what your people were thinking, letting one of those creatures join.”

The temperature regulator will be on the back, rip it off and the suit will heat up without the heat sinks.

Jenny scowled at the black market dealer, “she’s not a ghul.”

Material is thinnest at the joints, under the chin will have the easiest access to blood vessels without the force that can be exerted by the limbs.

“Touched a nerve, now did I?” Qali grinned, showing his canine teeth with menace.

Leap, swipe down the back with right hand, reach up for neck with autoinjector in left hand.

“I don’t know anything,” Jenny claimed, a quiver of uncertainty in her voice.

Once target one is injected, kick out at target two, aiming for the regulator based on target one data.

“I don’t believe you,” Qali suggested. “You are the Friendlies’ resident anarchist biohacker, you would find out everything there was to know about a ‘posthuman’ like her.”

Sleeper hold on target two, jab with autoinjector and pounce on target three.

“And I don’t believe that’s a quantum core processor!” Everyone in the alleyway turned to stare at Shawn after his unexpected outburst.

Jenny will need to jump to the right to get out of the line of fire. Be sure to warn her.

Qali growled under his breath at the vole. “What did you just say?”

Shawn hesitated, at Jenny’s glance he continued. “That case isn’t big enough to hold a quantum core and its shielding. It might be enough for a naked core but cosmic rays will junk it in five minutes.”

“Well,” the fox improvised. “Then we’d better get this deal done quickly, shouldn’t we?”

“If there’s a core in there it’s already scrap,” Shawn retorted. He turned to Jenny, “we should just go.”

“Wait a second,” Qali squinted at the vole. “Aren’t you the disgruntled employee who blew up that factory?”

Shawn’s mouth fell open in shock at the bizarre accusation. “What?!”

“Yes,” the fox sneered as his bodyguard took several steps towards the vole. “A hypno-junkie who got fired and sabotaged the factory where he’d been working.” The trails of footprints in the snow began to close in on Horizon’s friends. “I think maybe the Company will pay more than 15,000 sacs for you.”

Horizon: Jenny, jump right!

The squirrel tensed, a blur darted from the wall on the side of the alleyway and froze mid-air. There was a cracking sound and the outline of a polar bear crackled and fizzled into existence. A drill whirred as a shadow reached over the bear’s shoulder and jabbed something into his neck. Jenny leapt for the wall to her right and clumsily pulled a dart pistol out of her pocket. Another blurred figure turned to face the materializing bear as his mimetic suit became fully visible, too slowly to evade the shadow striking him in the back and choking him with two blurry arms. Horizon adjusted her hologram again, abandoning stealth for intimidation, she presented as a figure wreathed in black flames, with a pair of glowing red eyes.

The third polar bear, the one who hadn’t bothered with camouflage, leapt for Shawn, pinning the vole against the alley wall with one arm and holding up a set of wicked-looking claws with the other. “Stop or he’s dead!” the bear shouted.

Horizon leapt to the ground in front of the third bear, standing up straight as the second bear collapsed. Jenny nervously aimed her dart gun at the last of the bears. Qali surreptitiously backed towards the door and smiled again. “Well,” the fox said. “It looks like the ghul decided to tag along.”

“You’ll wish I was just one of those mindless cannibals!” Horizon shouted.

Qali shrugged, “well, whatever you are, it seems we’re at an impasse.” He gestured towards his last bear, holding his claws centimeters from Shawn’s throat. “If, by whatever inhuman values you hold, that vole is valuable to you…”

“Do not claim to understand my motives!” Horizon raised a shadow-wreathed arm to point at the fox.

“It doesn’t matter,” Qali shrugged. “If you want him alive, then I suppose you’ll have to give me something that I want.”

Horizon glanced at the vole, frozen wide-eyed against the wall. She turned back to the fox, “what do you want in exchange?”

“Like I said before, information.” Qali waved idly, “who you are, where you got your augmentations, maybe even a blood sample?”

Sam appeared in front of the arctic fox, “you can’t give him that!”

Horizon considered the situation, Sam was right, it would be disastrous if organized crime got hold of her microbots, especially if they sold it to the people trying to kill her. But she couldn’t just let Shawn die. “I’ll need to think about it,” she said out loud.

“I’ll give you ten seconds,” Qali nodded to the bear, who began to pull his arm back for a swing. “Nine…” Shawn’s eyes grew even wider, “eight…” his fingers slowly began to curl into a fist, “seven…”

Before Horizon could say anything the bear’s snout exploded in a spray of blood and he reeled back, letting the vole drop to the ground. With a series of popping noises three darts sprouted from the bear’s back and he staggered to the ground. Shawn rolled in the snow just in time to avoid the bear landing on top of him.

In a flash Horizon’s hand was clamped around Qali’s throat, she lifted the gasping fox over her head and glared with her glowing holographic eyes at him. “You know, I’ve never tasted fox before,” she suggested with a clear air of menace.

Qali’s mask was completely gone at this point, an acrid odor emanated from the base of his tail as he struggled to find words. “I… I have a quantum core.”

“Where?” Horizon demanded.

“Inside,” he gasped out. “I’ll let you have it, if you let me live.”

Horizon thought about it for five long seconds. “Agreed,” she finally said, and dropped the fox on his ass. As he gathered himself she turned and strode towards the third bear and the vole. The bear’s muzzle was bent at a thirty-degree angle and bled profusely, staining the snow around him. Shawn cowered on the ground, scooching on his butt away from Horizon.

She dismissed the hologram, showing her white-suited and red-furred raccoon self. “It’s okay,” she tried to reassure him. “The danger’s been dealt with.”

Shawn held up his fist, knuckles covered in blood. As Horizon watched, a shallow cut on one finger scabbed over with inhuman speed. “Is it really?” he asked.


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