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No Quarter, Out of Order.
January 2, 2046. El Borj, Morocco.

She’d been flown in from Barcelona first via a sleek Gulfstream XLT8950 not at all out of place in the Catalan’s posh playboy airport and then deployed midair aboard a Personal Evasive Warfare Pod. Which was a less dignified means for travel.

The P.E.W.P. deployment device was developed by the Americans as a top secret infiltration method for their SEAL teams back in 2025. After only two years of service the method was scrapped, due largely to an unintended consequence involving the vibrations created from subsonic deployment upon the human excretory system. SEALs called it the poop device.

The castaways were then reported decommissioned and destroyed but the designs were snatched up by none other than Sir Elon Musk. A decade further of development, redesigns, design merges and testing by SpaceX saw the initially cumbersome pod evolve into what was essentially; a human glider. No one was really sure how that happened. It turned out to be mostly useless though as one British test pilot described operating the suit akin to, “trying to crab about on all fours atop a ball of ice in the middle of the ocean.” Still the name stuck, even if the project was scrapped and Musk gifted the surplus in utter secrecy to his friend, the Pope.

PEWP was then pushed about and shuffled around until finding a home aboard jump craft, for training, although the jumpmasters used it solely to threaten the unruly. Having never seen the system successfully tested, it devolved into a mostly harmless game to gauge machismo. The idea was to see if you could use the suit to land, without deploying your parachute. This was always a failure simply because of the change in aerodynamics from not wearing the parachute model the suit was designed with initially. No one had bothered to read the instructions though to change the fin configurations to match.

Nika was fifteen the first time she deployed in one, or rather, was thrown from a Lockheed Martin MC-230J by a cantankerous Irish jump instructor. Ground control, not having registered a chute deployment, were well into grilling the priest about the accident when the deceased showed back up on the tarmac. The teenager strolled past the group stating she’d missed the landing zone and wanted to try again. Nika later admitted to Father O’Roark that she’d hit the landing zone but her knees had been shaking so badly it had taken her twenty minutes to calm down behind the jump shed. Mainly because during their heated argument on the plane, Nika had forgotten to put her parachute back on.

O’Roark credits shock to consenting to her jumping again and the third time (depending on who was counting), he asked if she was mad. The girl grinned at that and responded pointedly, she was in fact utterly terrified before cannonballing off the rear ramp. Jump four was the closest she came to an untimely demise but by the fifth jump (a month later) she had an ace up her sleeve.

Since stability seemed to be the main obstacle in deployment, Nika had the idea to wear the protective base layer she used under her racing leathers. Safety systems for riders had evolved through the years from mere surface protection and padding to airbags and finally to something the media had immediately dubbed, ‘the stiffie suit,’ and later, ‘tumbleweed.’

Riders just called them jammies and started an unofficial, if fierce, contest to see whose prints were the most ridiculous and outlandish. Cartoon bunnies, red hearts and naked cherub aside, the technical composition became a baselayer of transgenic engineered spider silk reinforced with a carbon nanotube exoskeleton. It was thin, pliable and light enough to wear under racing leathers yet designed to become rigid in the event of a crash via a small electrical charge. The onesie was so nondescript in appearance that Nika stole her first from Ducati after swapping it with a thin wetsuit. They were prohibitively expensive and at 15, she was not yet a millionaire.

Perhaps it was stubbornness, or maybe it was the respect in O’Roark’s eyes but Nika never told the priest how she was able to control the flight system. She’d never heard of anyone else using it successfully, nor could she imagine briefing people with a straight face.

...the proper deployment of your PEWP… No.

Almost a decade had passed, a couple of hacked market upgrades and some open source coding later had the assassin happy with her PEWP suit.

Currently she had developed programs to stabilize the freefall enough to pick off ground threats with her rifle d'sniper or simply scout the terrain from above without having to deploy microdrones. Those little buggers were expensive!

Scouting the area via freefall, the FLIR filters of her Heads Up Display pinpointed the Atharim hunter team’s positions at her target landing zone as well as the ambient temperature, altitude, rate of fall, etc. She’d synced a throatmic into the neck of her jammies and microwired the connections after a mishap with bluetooth connectivity last year nearly got her killed. It was via the throatmic she issued commands to her computers' systems. Can’t have that go down again. There was a touch interface on her arm too but her hands were otherwise occupied. And sure, there were ways to beat thermal imaging and things that didn’t show up but a cycle through movement sensors left her reasonably satisfied nothing nasty was lurking. If it was? Well, Geronimo!

Edited by Nika Raskov, Jan 29 2018, 04:06 AM.
The little Atharim’s favorite part was landing. Yes, in daylight if one knew where to look, you’d see the final approach, but at night? She just appeared. It scared the bejeezus out of people. That was awesome.

Getting shot again by your own people? Not so much.

Above lesson learned a couple of years ago, Nika opted to bypass the FEBA sentries. She just didn’t feel like walking that far. Plus this location had the perfect driveway approach. Her HUD program indicated she knew the door guard too. Well, had encountered him before. He’d called her a ‘blue-eyed, soulless demonic plague’ among other nasty things and crossed himself so many times he probably wore a hole in his gloves.

She touched down about ten feet from the door which was admittedly cutting it close momentum-wise, and carried onward (because you can’t just STOP after landing like that) smoothly through the open doorway. Doorway instead of door because that had been blown to smithereens by some idiot. However thanks to said idiot she was able to enact a little payback.

To further compound her undetected incursion, Nika had retracted her faceshield’s eyeports. When she strode past the man guarding the door she looked at him casually. While he couldn’t see her face, he most definitely locked eyes with ‘soulless demonic blue…’ or whatever he’d said. He jerked in surprise, knocking his helmet into the wall behind him and as she passed the threshold she heard him curse.

“Jesus!...Holy Mother of…”

She chuckled to herself. Dickhead.

These were common folk, or whomever had built the house had been. It was constructed of that practical mud/brick/plaster whatever material from this neck of the world, she couldn’t know everything after all, and it had been a tidy home. Squared away and cared for. Tidy people recognized other people’s tidy habits too. Inside there had been a bit of a struggle. Okay an epic struggle. Yet despite the splintered table, charred rug, soup-whatever-meal-long-cold-now-and-splattered-on-ceiling-and-floor ... the window sill over the broken countertop had not a speck of dust and there were three pairs of shoes neatly lined up by the door. Tidy. There was also one body, rolled in charred rug, man-toes sticking out.

The next room contained debris presumably flung at the Atharim intruders, an upended stool, dislocated bookcase, bored but wary guard looking at her and another doorway. The remains of a beaded curtain also littered the area. Is it cliche if it’s accurate? The guard nodded his head toward the doorway. Oh really? I should go that way? Thanks. Man I’m grumpy today...low blood sugar? Stepping over a book someone had mercilessly shot, she blinked up her vitals and dismissed them just as quickly. Nope, just naturally grumpy. Must be the cold.

Ah the bedroom. Another guard, more suspicious than the last but dismissive, mostly, as her rifle was slung-safely-for-him on her back. She still had her sidearm though and would love to draw against him. No really, she loved practicing a quick draw. Is it a full moon or something? Right. Bed, concussion blast evidence on the floor, a spat of anti-channeling/suppression whatever-name-they-were-this-batch darts in the corner, bullet holes, blood splatter and dead guy.

On the opposite side of the room a rug had been flipped aside and in the floor was an open hatch. Nicely made. So the dead guy drew the attention while whomever had gone down there had time to escape. Because there were three pairs of shoes. Probably a woman from the size difference. Woman or child. That’s why she was here, apparently.

When Nika received dispatch orders, and she just assumed it was like this for everyone, she never really knew the details. Not with something like this. The Atharim or anyone really, couldn’t broadcast information like that for fear that it would somehow be intercepted. Not that she’d heard of any, not a single instance, of their encryption being compromised.

She keyed off her head gear. The aperture armor withdrew section by section, folding neatly into her vest collar within two seconds, revealing the simple black balaclava of her jammies. Nika did not show her face as an Atherim. Not without a little subterfuge anyway.

There was an aluminum ladder that creaked worryingly even with her insignificant weight and she was happy to disembark. Next came a chute that widened into a hand-dug cellar. Roughly 10 by 12, ceiling sixish feet tall, lined with market crates of canned goods and sundries. Dead guy must have been cramped in here, the two Atharim looked cramped but the woman on the floor probably was comfortable enough. Except maybe right now given the circumstances. Nika didn’t like it either. Being cramped. Mainly because as a kid, she’d been trapped under a dead guy for six fucking hours.

A deep breath sent that away.

Perturbed, the assassin swung her head to the guard on her right.

“We wait for Honcho.”

Nika leaned a shoulder against the wall and the other guard sidled out.

The woman was silent for almost two minutes. She spat. “What did you do to my husband, you dogs?” As she shifted angrily on the floor her loose djellaba pulled around her middle, revealing a very prominent bulge.

She was pregnant.

Whomever was in charge keyed in over their com line, Nika’s system had synced with the Atherim when she’d gotten in range.

“Do it.”

Brave words for someone not in the room. The guard looked at her then, his eyes were blue too. He felt guilty. Holding his assault rifle one-handed on its sling, his free thumb fiddled with the ring hidden by his glove. Married, his gaze said. Nika sent a reassuring look before stepping past him. It’s not on you, man. She heard him move to block the exit.

The assassin closed the space between them and knelt. The woman slapped at her face, as Nika figured she would. That attack was intercepted and the assailant’s open hand was injected with the contents of two needle-tipped vials. Quick. Practiced. Precise. She had no idea how long ago the other Atharim had hit the house and didn’t feel like being in an enclosed room with some crazed, pregnant channeller. The woman gasped sharply and pulled free as she was released and rubbed her palm, looking offended. Tears welled from her hazel eyes.

Nika spoke quietly. “The men upstairs, the channelers, one is the father?”

Who knows what the other woman thought but hope flashed briefly upon her face.

“Yes! Salaam is the father. My husband. He is...alive?”

Nika held her gaze. Blue eyes intense. “You know who we are?”

The other woman nodded, but the movement was exaggerated somehow. “You are the Atherim.”

“And you are a channeler, correct? The men upstairs, they are channelers.”

“Yes.” The air in the room seemed to stale.

“Your kind,” though it was not a curse the way she said it, “destroyed the world.”

The woman understood now. Her husband was dead. The realization had dawned. “But my baby?” Her voice cracked.

“Atharim hunt to protect the world from what happened before. We do not stop. Is this the life you want for your child? Always to run, to be hunted?”

Tears leaked from her eyes. She blinked them free yet more came. The woman cradled her stomach. “Help me,” she pleaded, “please, please.” Pleading, she rocked. “I will do what’s right, please, I will do it. Let me do it.”

Nika looked at her, compassion and understanding in her gaze. She withdrew a worn but well cared for .380 from a holster at her back and placed it at the woman’s folded knees. She stood smoothly and backed away a respectful distance.

The woman sobbed. “Thank you...Azriel...thank you.” Dark eyes closed and she prayed, rocking, then carefully retrieved the weapon, the barrel aimed toward her own body.

Until it wasn’t. A flash of defiance crossed her features and the gun swept forward.

Nika was lightning fast. Three suppressed shots; two chest, one head, ended the encounter. Quick draw. Holstered. Done. She retrieved her .380 and tucked that away too, turning to see her wide-eyed compatriot. A brow arched. “It wasn’t loaded,” and patted his shoulder as he stepped neatly aside.

Nika scaled the rickety ladder and met the operation’s commander on her way out. The man was embarrassingly tall. He eyed her curiously, clearly he had not expected her to be so...small. Used to the look and frankly tired of it, she maintained her pace through the house. He fell in step.

The man bent and spoke, something in his tone but it wasn’t rude or judgemental. Something else…

“How do you do it?” He was serious. It bothered him that he couldn’t pull the trigger.

They were outside then, surrounded by the frigid night air.

She stopped abruptly and looked up at him. The light from inside angled across her hidden features, highlighting her exposed eyes.

Soulless-blue demon eyes.

“Little channelers,” he heard the assassin say so coldly it seemed his blood froze, “turn into big channelers.”

Then she disappeared into the darkness.
Edited by Nika Raskov, May 8 2018, 07:29 PM.

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