Chapter 3


Each tangler grenade landed on the top of its target vehicle at the same time, bursting into a net of reinforced strapping and super-adhesive sprawling out over the roof and sides of the vehicle, sealing the doors closed and locking the passengers inside. The EMP grenade landed between them, exploding into a shower of blue-white sparks and fingers of lightning that played over the surfaces of the vehicles, dazzling the eye and burning up their electrical systems. Their motors died and they dropped to the ground with a heavy thud that covered the sound of Darren landing atop the small van.

In a second, he had his cutter out and was laying down a line of binary gel in a large circle on the roof of the van. Once complete, he set the dispenser next to it, making sure the probes touched the circle of gel, and pressed the initiate button. The gel began to glow bright orange and in a heartbeat it burned away the metal beneath it. With a clatter, the circular piece of the roof fell into the vehicle.

Counting on surprise and quick timing, Darren dropped through the hole into the van expecting to grab the canister, or its case, and get out again before anyone realized what was going on. In all, it had only been a couple seconds since he’d attacked the convoy so there was little likelihood of them catching on just yet.

His feet had barely touched the floor of the van’s interior when the fist impacted his face and sent him sprawling to the back of the vehicle. He slammed into the closed rear doors, springing them from the inside to let light from the street lamps outside seep in through the cracks. His tangler grenade did its job though, keeping the doors closed despite the fact they should have been knocked off their hinges.

“You picked the wrong vehicle to rob, little girl,” a menacing, digitized voice called out.

Darren looked up, wiping blood from his face with the back of his sleeve. Approaching him from the front of the van, stooped over in almost comical fashion, was a fairly large cyborg, clad in combat armor and bristling with the kinds of weapons that were only legal on an unpressurized battlefield. It figured. Cybernetic systems were well shielded from EMPs, especially the military hardware. Apparently most cyborgs had some sort of issue with their bodies being shut off by external forces, so every effort had been made to insure that could not happen, even under the most direct, targeted attacks on their systems.

Trying to shake off the jarring impact and decide if he was just going to give in and throw up right there, Darren worked to get his feet back under him. He needed options, and nothing he brought with him was sufficient to handle a military cyborg.

“Do I look like a girl to you? Man, that’s enough to really bruise a guy’s ego.” he quipped, tipping himself forward into a somersault as the cyborg took another swing at him. The punch missed him by a hair, denting the back door in the shape of a metal fist and further pushing the door off its hinges. The material of the tangler grenade’s strapping groaned against the harsh treatment and Darren had a flash of inspiration at the sound. “Either way, I’m not sure you’re much of a match for me, so I think I’ll just grab what I came here for and be on my way.”

“I think you know that isn’t going to happen,” the cyborg replied as he extracted his fist from the door and swiveled around to see Darren at the other end of the space, up against the metal wall that separated the cargo area from the cabin.

“I think you’ll find that I am full of surprises.” Darren grinned, then winced as his swelling cheek protested the action. Scanning the space, he caught sight of numerous small cases and boxes, but only one of them was large enough to contain the canister he’d been sent to retrieve, so he began wrapping his plan around the location of the case, eyes roaming the interior of the van for anything he could use to his advantage. At last, he decided on a course of action, just as the cyborg reached for him again.

Moving as fast as he could, Darren ducked under the cyborg’s arms, launching himself into his opponent’s legs, wrapping his own arms around the other man’s shins, pushing against the dividing wall with all the strength that his genetically-enhanced legs could muster. Under normal circumstances his tactic would stand little chance of success, but in the tight confines of the van, with the cyborg bent over and squatting, the environment was in his favor, to some extent.

He felt the other man topple forward, but the motion didn’t go the way he hoped. A second later he felt himself being dragged backwards with his opponent, falling down on the other man’s chest as he clattered to the floor with a loud crash. The cyborg’s hand closed on Darren’s jacket, one of its fingers slipping through the bullet hole that had been put there earlier and allowing the man to find a purchase that he might not otherwise have had.

Struggling to get himself off the cyborg, Darren slipped one arm out of his jacket and grabbed hold of the nearest object he could find. Bashing the man in the face with it, he filled the van with metal-on-metal clangs as he struggled to get free. In much tighter quarters that prevented him from using his parkour and capoeira skills, it was beginning to show in the form of a mild panic. He needed out of there. He was not equipped to scrape with cyborgs. He was a thief, not a brawler. While he could handle himself in a fight, he’d long ago learned that it meant less to know how to fight than it did to know when to fight. And this was not the latter.

It took him a moment to realize that the cyborg had stopped moving. He had no idea how long he’d been hammering away at it with the metal case, but looking down at it he saw the man lying there, arms and legs twitching like a toy with a malfunctioning remote control. His metallic skull was dented and smashed in several places and one of his dark, glossy black photoreceptors was cracked and crushed in.

“Shit,” Darren cursed, looking down at the case in his hands. It was familiar somehow, but the crushed in corners and edges and the sprung latch made it difficult to identify. Prying it open despite the mangled hinges, he looked inside to see the familiar shape of the canister he had been sent to retrieve. It was nestled in a bed of form-fitting, shock-absorbent material and a small trickle of some kind of bright neon orange goop was sliding down the length of the cylinder from one end.

“Shit,” he repeated.

“You’ve got that right, kid,” the familiar voice of the cyborg announced. Darren looked over the top of the case to see that the smashed and mangled head of the cyborg was back up off the floor, as was one of its arms. In that arm was, what looked from Darren’s perspective to be, a howitzer, pointed right at his chest. “I told you this was a bad idea. Now you get to be an example to everyone else of what happens when you mess with Solidarity Online.”

“Wai…” Darren began to say, but the electric sizzle of the cyborg’s energy weapon spooling up power cut him off. All he could do was try and shield himself somehow, so he raised the case in his arms, positioning it between the weapon and himself even as the red-orange lance of super-excited death leaped out at him.