July 2024 - Shots Fired (2024)

New mission. Remote asteroid. Human Edge. Stavka intelligence operatives had infiltrated into a workers’ union, shielded by their nation’s soldiers. The mission was to remove them. The inevitability: violence. And there was Patsy Garnett, dead in the middle of it, waiting for the PanOceanian particle ammo and Ariadnan slugs to criss-cross in the cold, recycled air of the enviro-dome and make tonight a lot less boring.

To her left, a whole bevy of polysteel industrial tanks chock full of fermenting bacteria. To her right, the same. To its credit, the enviro-dome on HuEOS 289 wasn’t meant for tourists, but was it so much to ask for some sunshine? Not like anything could spit shine all the brutal angles and sharp edges, but with the right AR patina, some color would’ve been nice. Not like they really had Maya here. Then again, not like she really needed it. HuEOS—or Huey, as the locals called it—was a backwater, sure, but water was where she was at her best. Almost a non-sequitur, but it was better than the pragmatic alternative: there were no oceans in space and she was very much out of her element.

The bearded giant beside her wasn’t. Gunnar Lundmark. Troll-hunter. Svalarheiman powerhouse. And while she’d had experience with the overzealous, heavily-armored meleeist type—Knights of Montesa had been core to the Immediate Reaction Division since their catastrophic losses on Paradiso had forced them to adopt a motorized revamp—something about the neo-viking gave Patsy pause. It might’ve been the facial scar, a brand in the shape of a less-than sign centered on his eye. It might’ve been the fur of the dead bear hanging off his shoulders—real fur, something she’d never seen outside of remastered sensaseries (from the early oughts, mostly, on housewives’ shoulders—she didn’t quite care for overproduced historical dramatizations). Or, it might’ve been how he was picking his teeth with a teseum-alloyed vibroknife, a weapon so sharp it could carve straight through the enamel of his canines as easy as fingers through sand.

But she’d never been one to back off from a challenge. With a smile and a wave, she crouch-walked over to his position. “G’day, Mr. Lundmark,” she said, keeping communication sub-aural by rerouting the conversation through her comlog. “I think I got a toothpick in my bag if you’d prefer that.”

Regarding her like a stain on his dress blues, Gunnar lowered his knife. “No. Thanks.”

“Well, if you change your mind,” she said. “Just checking you’re on the up-and-up about tonight. No questions? No concerns? Everything about the mission crystal clear?”

For a moment, it seemed he wouldn’t answer. Raking his fingers through his ginger beard, he said, “These agents infiltrating the Union. They’re armed?”

“Kosmoflot, mostly, though I doubt the rest of their lot will sit by once the violence starts.”

“But they have guns. And they want to use them.”

“We think so, Mr. Lundmark.”

Gunnar crooked one unruly red brow. “Think?”

“Well, intelligence suggests they are, but I can’t speak to the nature of their armament at exactly this time. I mean, in a perfect world, we’d get the drop on the Ariadnans, they’d confess, and then they’d surrender, and we’d all go home without any bloodshed or incident reports all in time to catch Sunday night scu-ball on Oxyd. You know. In a perfect world.”

Hilting the knife on his belt, Gunnar turned to his MULTI Rifle and away from Patsy. Mechanical clicks followed his rapid inspection of the weapon, but no words.

The silence hung for several seconds before she gently touched his arm. “Listen. I know you’re new here with us. Nerves, right? Never really go away. But, I think you’ll find I run a tight ship, so to speak, and part of that is making sure everyone’s heard. With that in mind, please don’t hesitate if you have anything—anything—you’d like to bring up before—”

“If these folks are unarmed, and you try to make me kill them,” Gunnar said, “you’re first.”

Patsy blinked. A nervous laugh bubbled out from inside her, but Gunnar’s expression didn’t change. If anything, his fiery brows drew tighter, and deep in the well of his storm-blue eyes lay a barely-contained fire.

She cleared her throat. “You’re funny.”

“Not joking.”

Cold weight hung heavy on her shoulders. “You’re… serious?”

“I am,” Gunnar said.

“Sounds an awful lot like threatening an officer.”

“Sure does,” he said. “So if you want a high-value target done, don’t pick me.”

“Well, I mean—what if you’re the only one who can do it?”

“Then we’ll see you in eight years when you step out of the Vatican.”

Patsy withdrew her hand. “You’re really not joking.”

“No,” he said. “I’m not.”

“Not really a team player, are you, Mr. Lundmark?”

Gunnar thumbed the rubbery leg of the brand over his eye. “Not anymore.”

Across the enviro-dome warehouse and atop a bacterial tank, SAS Operative Elizabeth Graham peeled her eyes away from her binoculars and said, “They’re flirting.”

Royce gawked, snub-nosed and tusk-toothed, big and ugly as a USAriadnan Wulver from Springfield could possibly be. “No way. You’re joking. Lemme see.”

She jerked the binoculars away. “Look at you, all excited. You’ll break them.”

“Will not,” he said. “C’mon, Graham.”

“Still no,” Graham said. “And we’re not supposed to be out here shipping these blueberry assassins, you know. We’re supposed to kill them.”

“Depends on if they make a move first.”

She waggled her eyebrows behind her balaclava. “Royce, behave. Never knew you were one for double entendre.”

Royce shrugged his lips, confused—and then smirked. “Oh, yeah, well. I’m all about it. Sometimes I do triple, even. Quadruple.”

“Judging by your size, I’d imagine quintuple isn’t out of the question?”

“Six-tuple, even.”


He snorted. “Good one, Graham.”

She scoffed, rolled her eyes, and slipped the binoculars back onto her face. Halfway through scanning for the PanO idiots down below, a brilliant, irresistable idea surfaced: “Oh my, Royce, I think they’re undressing.”

His meaty jaw dropped before he had the good sense to close it. “No way. Pullin’ my leg.”

“Let it be known that Patsy Garnett keeps the combat heels on.”

“Definitely leg pullin’.”

“By god, he’s acrobatic for a big man.”

Royce finally laughed, all dulcet and baritone. “Graham—anyone ever tell you you’re a tease?”

“Only you,” she said, and her viewfinder landed squarely on both heavily-armored PanOceanians leveling a submachine gun and MULTI Rifle in their direction.

“Hey,” Gunnar Lundmark shouted, stock tight to his shoulder. “You armed?”

July 2024 - Shots Fired (2024)
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