"In order to choose the correct path,
you must know the pitfalls that await you."
"I'm sorry Citizen Pierre, there is nothing I can do – your ship is landlocked until the checks are done."
The officer had to raise his voice slightly to be heard over the background noise in the large anchorage, the large crowd of waiting refugees were adding to the already steady cacophony of industrial work as ships were docking, being refitted or resupplied.
He looked truly sorry for the inconvenience, but also tired of having the same conversation with different people all day.
"It's Jac, no need to be formal officer" The engineer pronounced his 'J' as a 'Dj' sound as he spoke.
"Look, I know you're just doing your job, all I want is to maybe get a feel for how long this is going to take, and to know if they singled out us specifically or if it's routine, you understand right? Can you put some of my worries to rest?" His demeanour was casual, like a man sharing a beer with a friend after a long days work.
The officer visually relaxed his pose and leaned closer "As far as I know there checking everybody, one of my coworkers said something about maybe somebody had disappeared and they were trying to stop them from leaving the station. But I don't know what to think, between the stuff going on in section eight and all the weird news from home it's been a bitch of a cycle if you know what I mean."
"Tell me about it." Doc accentuated his words by rolling his eyes and looking up towards the dome as if it would drop some sort of explanation in his lap.
When no divine intervention arrived he sighed and return his gaze to the FedPol stationed outside the Angelica. "You from Terra? how long you been out here for?"
"I'm halfway through my 5 year contract, but this last year has been the worst, I can't put my finger on it – it just seems like everyday is slightly more tense and annoyed then the last, you know?"
He paused and looked over the crowd further down the walkway that stretched out from the station leading into the heart of Caelestis. "We still call it 'Earth' you know." His smile was disarming and tired.
John looked down at his communicator, in front of the white and red wallpaper there was a message:
I have a lead for you: the abandoned antigrav anchor in section 3.
He looked up from the small rectangular glass gadget at his friends.
Red was eating – again, while he was lazily scanning over the casino they were seated in, the smell of buffalo wings in hot sauce drifted across the room to John.
Liam had once told him that apparently, they weren't purple on Terra.
Doc was going through the manuals and checking the cables to the new gear they had acquired from. John knew he had paid to much – but he also knew that some of this tech was hard to find past the belts, so he accepted it.
"We got a message from 'P', he says there is something to check out in section three."
The two looked over at him, Red wiped sauce away from his stubble. "Should we check it?" He looked sceptical.
"I think we should, how long do you need have that up and running, Doc?" John pointed at the large duffel bag on the seat next to them.
The engineer thought for some seconds before answering "A couple hours, depends on the calibrations and if you want it done fast or right."
He leaned closer. "But I can't do it here, I need room to work and some peace – not blinking lights and waitresses with low cut tops, high cut skirts and stim marks on their arms, John."
Red glanced over at the derriere of one of the servers as she walked by, his face was marked by deep thought, like an art critic choosing a beret. He nodded, partly at Doc's word , or maybe to himself.
"Ok Doc, lets return to the flats then, I prefer being locked and loaded – especially since my room sweeper is still locked down in Angelica with Red's peashooter and your noisemaker. "
He lifted a hand to signal a waiter for the check.
The streets on the underside of Caelestis was like a different world than the top; lights were cracked, blinking and gone some places, while the streets looked like they hadn't been cleaned for cycles.
Refuse littered the streets and crunched under their boots like gravel.
"Look at this place." Red said as they walked towards the location their handler had provided.
"It looks like nobody bothered fixing up the place after the last food riots some cycles back, wouldn't suprise me if they de-couple the whole thing and replace it with something new within ten cycles, it's been done be-…"
John, stopped for a second, before continuing his step like nothing had happened.
"Red, do you see the building behind us, fourth floor?"
The voice over the com was all business now, and low.
Red glanced surreptitiously past his shoulder as he pretended to talk to Doc. "I see it."
"We have two people up there, they -…"
John fumbled with the upgraded controller on his left arm.
"Strike that, it's four people, and two of them stayed behind while the others are now following us I think."
"Should we run? the Anchor station isn't far and none of us have anything larger than a standard issue sidearm." Doc asked, while checking the toolkit hanging from his shoulder.
They were still walking at a normal pace.
"I'll slip away and see if I can get the drop on them, give me a signal John." Red adjusted his pace to bring him closer to the nearest walls and side alleys.
"They just entered a new building, I think they're planning to get over us, they don't have eyes on us now, You can…" John chuckled, Red was gone.
That's the Martian Wardens for you.
The two of them walked in silence for some minutes, all the time John was following their pursuers on the HUD-display in his helmet.
Finally Red broke radio silence with three whispered words, barely audible. "I'm behind them."
"Ok, let's close the noose and -" He quickly shouted "Doc! Scramble!"
And they both dove for cover as rifle shots impacted around them.
Doc kept running around the corner, looking back he saw John stop and reverse bak the way he'd came before leaping across the street.
Holy Saturnalia that mutant is fast!
Red whispered into the radio, "One down." He sounded like he was breathing heavily.
Across the street John landed and rolled into place pressing himself up against a wall as an explosion from where he had jumped peppered him with debris.
He drew his sidearm and fired off into the nearest door before kicking it down, he barely had time to throw himself in and next to the wall as a new grenade landed where he had stood a moment ago.
The air around him was filled with dust and shrapnel.
John Icarus had once been told by a teammate that he'd bedded, that he smiled the same way when he was making love as when he was fighting, right now he was grinning as he felt the blood leak down his shoulder.
His radio crackled as Doc asked him "John? are you okay?"
He closed his eyes for a whole second as he answered.
"I'm. Just. Peachy."
Then he sprinted across the room and up the first flight of stairs, he vaulted the bannister onto the next set of flights, he left half a palm print of blood in the dust as he raced on.
"How you doing Red?" he hissed into his radio.
In the floor above him he heard someone were shouting before something heavy dropped to the floor with a thud. "And that's two, we done?"
Red's breathing was deep and controlled as he'd begun lowering his heart rate again.
John stopped and consulted his scanners. Nothing.
"Yup, the other two didn't follow." He paused before smiling, that signal was familiar. "But Liam did."
The comms delivered the voice of their medic "Hi guys, what's going on? Anybody hurt?" as the whirr and thumps of a larger armour echoed softly from one floor down.
John answered him "Up and to your left L, I have a shoulder you can looks at, shrapnel." He looked at the blood on his arm.
"Where have you been?" He added.
John raised his visor and leaned back his head, riding the adrenaline crash slowly down.
He fumbled with a bandage from his kit but the aftershock shakes made his fingers into sausages, he stopped trying and waited for his pulse to even out again, and the professional to arrive.
Dodging grenades is a new one, people usually didn't throw them around in spaceships without having a long hard think about how much they liked vacuum and frostbite, well there was that one time – but that guy was an idiot.
And he died, ugly.
Stepping onto the same floor as John, Liam was wearing a military issue combat armour, it still had the logo of the Starsoldier Corp on on it. As he came closer John snapped out of old memories and noticed the smell of alcohol and the dark circles around his eyes, he looked happy enough though.
"it's actually a funny story" he began as he took the bandage from Johns hand and begun looking at the wound. "Remember those old army buds of mine?"