Curated Reading Soundtrack
(Set Spotify to Loop Song)
Inside a condemned prewar warehouse of obsolete Ruyat Wahida virtual reality headsets, Rezende anxiously scrapes off the last specks of nanogel gunk from the Venom-6 Ammo Printer in her black and orange MWX Precision Rifle. She leans on a crate, up on the interior office roof, getting a better view across the city from its high windows. By now, the day’s heat is baked into the walls, still hanging in the thick air between slow dust and the smoke of her last Xióngmāo brand benzo cigarettes.
She tilts her head, cracking her neck, loosening up the tension.
The two other members of her Echo team, field analysts Edvard Møller and Yveta Lange, are down at the warehouse floor below, manning their mobile setup of operational surveillance and intel workstations. They stand in anxious silence by their armored truck inside, telepathically manipulating data on an array of eight huge glowing panel screens and three smaller screens.
For Møller, despite his seasoned experience, this is his first time out behind his desk at headquarters and into the field, with Lange his protégé.
Against the setting sunlight, Rezende triple-checks a full, round-edged, semi-transparent nanogel cartridge. It holds one-hundred seventy-seven milliliters, enough to nanoprint about six-thousand steel-tipped, armor-piercing rounds from inside her rifle, continuously on-demand, before needing to eject the expended cartridge and reload. The opened barrel of the rifle is part of the nanoprinting system, able to materialize the bullets out of what seems like thin air, instantaneously firing them out along its twin-nozzle rails like spitting sharp-toothed jaws.
Rezende tucks two more nanogel cartridges inside her jacket, for a total of eighteen-thousand available rounds.
She nods, thinking that should do it.
At their workstations desk, a Großesbild nanoprinter cage unit is already at work, shifting slightly from side to side as its nozzle builds an object nanometer by nanometer. It is downloading and streaming out a mil-spec ballistic body armor vest from slick-ivory nanogel. It’ll be hot enough with that on, so Rezende isn’t wearing much under her light jacket, worn mainly to protect from sunburn.
Beyond her high-up window, her sight traces how monolithic towers and mechanical piping wrap grafted over century-old, half-ruined buildings in Tahrir Square and the edges of the Nile. Waves of sand grains in wind bristle palm tree leaves and push suspended photons of advertisement holography, slurring three-dimensional product visuals and corporate logos. Alleyway cables loom like dark jungle vines, connecting the countless barnacles of cooling metered air-cons everywhere.
She checks the time on her smart-vision HUD.
By now, an operative of the ecoterrorist group GaiaDAT should be in their custody, one who identifies by the handle ‘Invasive Snare’ in the Darknet negotiations Rezende herself successfully orchestrated. He’s a known mercenary militant hacktivist, who once shut down the smart-city systems throughout all of Beijing for a full year, effectively ruining the entire city.
Nevertheless, corporations on the COMUDEX cryptocoin stock market were quick to swoop in and remake the city in their image, replacing the government with their own flavor of superseding corporatism. Just like Cairo when Egypt imploded with the rest of the Middle East and Europe.
Let no serious crisis go to waste.
Finally, Rezende re-establishes coms with their employer, Infinidyne Risk Control Systems.
“This is Echo Zero One,” she thinks in her mind over the Nexus global mental network. Her cerebral connection runs from the Advanced Mental Processes chip embedded inside her brain through Infinidyne low Earth orbit satellite firewalls. “I have eyes on Grid Kilo Four Niner.”
AMP chips like hers used to be classified military tech during the War, since the 2020s, but are now ubiquitous to the public. Everyone is chipped these days for fear of being left behind or unable to access basic services and needs. Those that don’t have one surgically installed at thirteen might as well be ghosts for the rest of their lives.
Rezende’s smart-vision implant works with her AMP chip and sorts through a maze of eighteen percent of the world’s towering cranes outside. With other construction drones, they’re autonomously rebuilding the region of among the first civilizations for the last. The noise of constant reconstruction outside defines the postwar period, an era still lukewarm.
She toggles to therm-optics, seeing in zoomed view through the walls of the brand-new, six-star Meridias Osiris Hotel on the shore of the Nile. She gazes right into the Executive Suite.
But what she sees drains the color from her face.
Red Team is down.
All of them.
Therms on three bodies, bodies Rezende knows personally, are dropping rapidly.
The therm of the fourth body, Invasive Snare, is up from adrenaline, and his compact sub-machine gun in hand has a suppressor and barrel reading hot off the charts.
The only way to draw out GaiaDAT was to actually possess and offer the real security codes to the nearby Giza Magnewave Plant that they wanted so badly. GaiaDAT’s operation is too smart to not verify the codes’ authenticity before agreeing to meet out in meatspace. They are probably risking whether it’s an ambush or whether AMSEQ’s Infinidyne RCS wants to co-op GaiaDAT for a proxy attack against the COMUDEX. Even Rezende wonders if this may be the case too, their teams left in the dark. GaiaDAT will attack either side.
But now, Rezende watches, horrified, as Invasive Snare transfers their baited codes for the meeting from the AMP chip of Red Team’s leader, Duarte, to the AMP chip of his own brain.
Rezende climbs down from the office roof inside the warehouse and approaches Lange and Møller below. They all exchange nervous glances.
She waits for her boss to make the call.
Abort or double-down.
The voice of their executive covert milestones director, Cerys Sinclair, is mindlinked into Rezende’s internal monologue from Infinidyne RCS headquarters. The signal streams all the way from Último Cielo, up in the Aconcagua Mountains of former Argentina, the principle AMSEQ market stronghold where the world’s elite have concentrated in their attempt at a post-labor utopia on Earth.
Her heart leaps up into her throat when they all hear Miss Sinclair say, “Echo Zero One: Initiate.”
Lange and Møller look at each other with dread as Rezende stares off into space, leaning on the armored truck, knees suddenly weak. The full implications of the order are sinking in.
“This is Echo Zero One,” Rezende says, clearing her throat. “Request demo site.”
She knows they have the Executive Suite rigged with charges in case they fail, like they have by now. One of their agents can even self-destruct upon death. She wonders why he hasn’t already detonated by now, if he is still holding on.
“Negative,” Sinclair replies. “Recover target’s AMP chip at all costs. Repeat, you are go for any and all collateral damage.” It’s clear now the operation is completely botched. A lot of innocent bystanders are about to die in its wake.
Rezende flicks her cigarette out through a cracked window, out at the city, almost in offense. She mentally replies, “Then request drone support, Crane Five, Fifty-Three.”
A bead of sweat rolls down her cheek.
Møller lights up a Xióngmāo and Lange downs three-hour cold coffee from a styrofoam cup.
This will affect Rezende’s performance review back at headquarters. But with Red Team already down, she knows damn well this request is entirely justified now.
Finally, Cerys Sinclair sends her an activation code, its gigabyte worth of encrypted digits audibly trickling into Rezende’s AMP chip and fleshy cortex engrams. She feels herself subconsciously learn them, like settling into a warm bath, but can never consciously express the sequence, even if her life depends on it.
Then, lastly, Sinclair confirms, “Crane Five, Unit Fifty-Three authorized: Echo Zero Four. Weapons free.”
“Hard copy,” Rezende replies, heading over to the back of the armored truck.
She opens the rear cargo hatches and pulls out a six-and-a-half foot long black weapons trunk with the sharp, angular Infinidyne logo stamped on it next to ‘CRANE 5-53’, various warning labels of corrosive materials and electrical shock hazard. A long barcode runs along the lower half of the lid.
Lange and Møller walk from their desks to the case to watch.
With a grunt from Rezende, the casket-sized heavy trunk slams onto the ground, tough enough to get jostled in a warzone without damaging its very expensive prize inside.
Sensors on it recognize Rezende’s AMP chip ID signal from within her skull, match-reads the code Sinclair had just sent, and scans Rezende’s thumbprint on its front locking plate. With that three-step verification, the trunk locks all flick open in a sharp unified snap that reverberates against warehouse concrete.
She reaches down, surprised how even touching this specific trunk makes her nervous. She is about to meet a legend, a copy to call all her own.
Møller helps her lift the bullet-proof lid and set it aside.
Beneath nanoprinting machinery in the case, LED lights automatically switch on, illuminating a yellow-tinted vacuum sealed plastic bag within. Spools of solid state nanogel line both sides of the machinery and mechanically jerk forwards and backwards for a second, their rotors warming up.
Rezende pulls the rip-cord on the plastic bag’s seal. It hisses, sucking in air, while nearly gassing her face in a rancid factory chemicals smell.
Defibrillators in the case automatically fire.
Several thousand volts surge into a slick, semi-featureless, semi-formed bioprinted weapon inside, an ivory nanogel pre-printed mannequin.
The electric-pulse passphrase triggers the nanogel to begin re-arranging its own molecular structure into something else, completing the suspended printing process that saves tremendous time for field activation. This way, in under a minute, the mannequin shapes up more completely into its loaded digital design and synthetic materials, inside and out, molecule by molecule.
The solid-state ivory nanogel begins to shift before their very eyes. The florescent magenta synthetic blood of counterfeit beings begins to glow through the now rubbery figure, becoming semi-opaque in metamorphosis. Artificial, designed bio-mechanical organs like the Valvtra V8 Heart Turbo form up and start pumping the magenta blood through coalescing veins. Muscle fibers grow and wrap together, obscuring the organs and blood, and the surface of the figure changes again to the opaque tan flesh of a Caucasoid.
Watching the metamorphosis, Rezende feels a very specific thrill of very expensive power surge through her. She just spent billions of AMSEQ Repval cryptocoin, compliments of Infinidyne shareholders, to do some serious damage. She can feel it, that her pull of the cord maybe just guaranteed the milestone operation, like striking a jackpot. INFDYN stock will skyrocket at the next quarterly profits conference, when the weapon pays for itself a hundred fold. She’ll get a raise, Repval pouring into her account and a social ranking bump up the ladder. She might finally get promoted out of the North African sector, might finally get a seat at the table in Último Cielo.
Like putting it all on red at the casino and winning.
But, remembering why she has to do this, it all comes crashing back down, that, just minutes ago, Red Team is wiped out. Her gut instinct to call for help from a Crane unit in the first place is an equally bad omen.
Who is she trying to fool, she wonders.
The more Crane 5-53 develops in front of her, the more the feeling develops deep down in herself that she probably won’t survive this now.
None of them will.
None, except him.
Cerys Sinclair at headquarters is clearly running the same cost-benefit analysis, realizing in seconds that risk for intel on GaiaDAT is still within the acceptable milestone purchase-price, even if they lose Rezende too.
Rezende closes her eyes again, draws, and exhales smoke.
In a way, she’s now realizing, Sinclair’s authorization to activate a Crane unit might as well have been her eulogy.
She shakes her head.
Fuck this job.
Curated Reading Soundtrack
(Set Spotify to Loop Song)
Crane 5-53 gasps in the clear plastic bodybag.
He lifts his eyelids, a glow of white digital overlays emerging through the nebulous fibers of grey-blue, steely imitation irises. He blinks as his internal systems boot and initialize.
Waking from what he thinks has been a vague dream of walking through a wheat field, his stupor fades now from a basis of programmed fictional memories fast forming his active upward cognitive psychology. He knows he isn’t human, but with these memories, he is forcibly pushed to think like a human, feel that he is one anyway. This user interface feature not only makes him more relatable to his human teammates, but it more essentially makes them more relatable to him, a mid-level AI in a bioprinted human-shaped tank.
Crane scratches his short white hair, above thick black eyebrows and a striking face of late-thirties. A slight five o’clock shadow has formed under strong cheekbones, around wide, thin lips.
It’s a face etched with bio-luminescent inlaid embossing around his square jawline, up to his temples. On his left temple, the Nuaxon logo is outer embossed to brand his AI neural net, and on his right cheekbone, the Infinidyne RCS logo stands for his design, manufacture, and nature as private military corporation (PMC) product. Both marks are in what look like burnstyle on tan skin in the latest facial corporate fashions, which humans use too.
When Rezende was eighteen, she got a logo burnstyle of her favorite band, Laser Kill, along the front of her bikini line. But on Crane, these markings are actually brazen advertisements to the opposition, during whatever mission, taunting their management to drop their current PMC contractor and switch to Infinidyne instead, to maybe switch sides from COMUDEX to AMSEQ too— the winning side, they will have it believed. The proof is in the performance, as Cranes can sneak like ghosts or tear through whole battalions to inspire brand defection in sheer terror.
Crane sits up with his eyes closed, feeling himself move through gravity for the first time.
His leather gloved right hand pushes the nanoprinter machinery out on its railing away from himself and reaches into the custom cargo pocket holster on his jacket. He pulls on the polymer grip of a Diamondlast Vertex CR-40 semi-automatic pistol and slides it out into the beams of dusty window sunlight.
Rezende, Møller, and Lange all step back and exchange glances mixed with awe and intimidation, watching this thing move like a person, watching him think about and marvel at the gun he holds in his hand.
He ‘remembers’ the ‘familiar’ sense of the Vertex CR-40’s well-designed barrel and suppressor front-weight to dampen recoil. He immediately knows it’s a custom-made exclusive, elite, signature edition for Infinidyne and their Crane 5 series, which curiously makes him marvel at it.
Crane’s jacket is tailored to accept the pistol with the suppressor always attached, aligned with a slot inside his torso. This enables fast draw and for him to keep it perfectly hidden inside his own chassis. His internal structure is fitted with stealth technology that can counter most metal detectors and even some full-body scanners, appearing to them as nothing more than a meat sack like any other human.
Rezende nods at Crane, watching how his gaze seems odd, somewhat vacant. Yet already, she notices how it rapidly starts to improve through machine-learning algorithms, becoming more and more lifelike with every passing second.
She swiftly turns and walks to her finished fresh armor vest cooling inside the Großesbild cage. Lange and Møller take a few steps back, eyes wide, then return to their workstations.
“Good to have you with us,” Rezende says to him, looking over her right shoulder from her smart-vision implant. She can feel Crane immediately sync with her internal AMP chip, downloading the milestone and target dossiers. She realizes that he’s imprinting her as his partner in the op.
“I think I just got a new puppy,” she snorts, breaking the tension. Møller and Lange smirk in reply, turning back to their screens.
Crane steps out of the bodybag packaging and case, checking the pistol’s single-stack magazine of eight .380 ACP cartridges.
Reviewing an online map of Xīn Cairo streaming into his own wholly synthetic cortex, where he doesn’t require any other prosthetic neural chip, he’s already calculating the most efficient path to the zone of action.
Rezende zips up her jacket and takes the armor vest from the nanoprinter cage. She pulls it down over herself, ready for action.
She says to Crane, “We have about five minutes until the target completes transfer of the security codes. Management wants his AMP chip for intel over the risk of him doing the worst with those codes. Get the AMP chip, we get both his mind and the codes back. Demo site is a no-go as long as he’s in there.”
“Codename Invasive Snare,” Crane confirms and slaps the magazine back into the Vertex CR-40. His first words. His voice is deep and confident. It nearly startles them all, at first sounding slightly inhuman, synthesized and composed. Crane pulls back the brushed-metal slide and chambers the first round. “Four minutes, twenty-two seconds.”
“We were never supposed to let him actually get the codes,” she sighs, turning. “Now you’re going to stop them from…”
But she sees Crane has his hand held out, prompting her to pause.
He looks up towards the ceiling at nothing in particular, his eyes fixed, listening to something faint.
A mechanical rolling sound.
They all see it.
A fist-sized sphere, with a gyroscopically stabilized pinhole compound-eye camera, rolls towards them.
“Get down!” Crane dives and pushes Rezende to the ground behind the armored truck.
The self-driving grenade explodes, blowing apart their command center setup and almost rocking the armored truck on its side. Gunfire erupts all around them from the far end of the building.
On their stomachs and elbows, Rezende shouts to Sinclair at headquarters over coms, “Black site is blown! Repeat! Black site is blown!”
Crane lifts his head, scanning the area.
Through the smoke and fire, he enhances his vision to spot several men with black augmented reality visor implants in their skulls, glowing red glass scanner beams for eyes, and red suits with dragon and cloud patterns. They’re all wearing respirators with cartridges on the sides that fill their transparent plastic masks with a glowing red gas, Lóng Xuè, Dragon Blood— a synthetic hyper-amphetamine. It gives them superhuman strength, speed, reflexes, pain tolerance, psychotic aggression, and overconfidence. Beneath their respirators are the unmistakable menacing skull mouth tattoos spreading from ear to ear.
“Táifēng,” Crane mutters. “Twelve.”
Pulling up intel on them, Crane and Rezende both know the Táifēng are a megacorporate crime syndicate spanning the COMUDEX, keeping the public squalor under control and always paying. They’re less of a PMC and more militarized employ-level organized crime at massive global scale, in their own corporate feudal system, operating beyond the law meant only for the proles. While there is an outsourced city policing unit to handle the grunt work of regular law and order, everyone knows the Táifēng have the real control on behalf of the real power behind the scenes of COMUDEX marketspaces.
These Táifēng Enforcers make their way inside the warehouse, all but one of them dual-wielding pistols in their black gloved fists. The other has a chrome metal meteor hammer on a chain connected to a motorized augmentation at the elbow of his right arm. Some assume martial arts stances, Feng Shou Wind Hand or the Tian Mountain System combined with various gun katas, moving quick with coursing adrenaline. Blood from some previous raid or heist or sharking was still spattered over all of their faces and masks.
Covering her mouth in shock, Rezende spots Lange’s charred remains laying over wrecked and flaming workstation gear. The field analyst lets out a hideous scream of pain beyond any threshold.
A Táifēng approaches her, grabbing her by the neck and raising her up. She stares into his AR visor embedded in his face. A cracked glass digital display glows as a red beam with the word 良心被狗吃了 suddenly flashing over it, an old Chinese vulgarity for ‘conscience was eaten by dog’.
He shoves his pistol into her mouth, down into her throat, gagging her. She spits up bile, flooding up along the cold steel barrel.
He pulls the trigger.
The Táifēng all laugh.
Møller desperately crawls on the ground towards them, away from the busted and sparking Großesbild nanoprinter, moaning, pissing himself. His body and skin are half-burned, black Infinidyne coat still on fire.
The Táifēng with the meteor hammer casually walks up behind him, swinging the chrome sphere on its chain, supercharging its momentum with a motorized electrostatic build-up. Its whirling makes a sharp buzz, screeching louder as it picks up speed.
Faster and faster.
The other enforcers continue giggling, gitty with deranged excitement. Møller is kicked in the side, pushed on his back, boot mashing his severely burned face, forcing out a scream.
“可悲” the Táifēng says in disgust, swinging the meteor hammer faster and faster and faster.
“No!” Møller manages to spit out, lifting his trembling hands up to the looming killer. “Please… Please!” The Táifēng removes his boot from his face, still swinging from his arm. “No…” Møller whimpers. Rezende can see it in his eyes, and he can see it in his executioner’s eyes.
Crane has already calculated the force required to cave-in Møller’s skull and looks away out of his empathic programming.
Møller cries, “No! No! No, no, no no no!”
The Táifēng swings wide and slams down the meteor hammer, then discharges electricity into Møller’s crushed head, burst open like a watermelon of brain and blood. His body convulses and smokes, smells like battery acid.
Rezende clutches her MWX rifle and pushes herself up to charge into battle, but Crane grabs her arm, pulling her back. He points to the truck they’re hiding beside, that it is their only chance out alive.
“嘿! 出来和荣耀死! 懦夫!” shouts the hammer-swinging Táifēng. Crane automatically can understand and speak any language, but Rezende must mentally active her AMP chip translator. He said, “Hēi! Chūlái hé róngyào sǐ! Nuòfū!” Or, “Hey! Come out and glory die! Cowards!”
He’s daring them to die with honor.
The other Táifēng fire their guns, spitting rounds that spark and ricochet loud off of the truck chassis. Crane quickly eyes over the edge of one of the massive carbon nanotube tires, which take a few hits without blowing out, to see all eleven of the other Táifēng closing in.
He figures he needs to create some quick diversion so Rezende can even move, let alone get into the truck without getting shot. Her flesh is less durable than his, more like the tires of the truck.
“GaiaDAT sends their greetings,” one of them says. There it is, the Táifēng clearly paid off by Infinidyne’s target enemy. More counter-ambush. “We’ve been played from the start,” Rezende grunts. Through the mindlink, she can feel Cerys Sinclair overcome with the same sinking panic.
Crane rolls out from cover behind the truck, dodging gunfire, darting behind a rack of VR headset packages covered in old Arabic.
The meteor hammer Táifēng casually pursues Crane down a dimly-lit isle of product, while the others watch with giggles. They’re toying with them, enjoying the kill, trying to draw it out slowly. To savor it.
But at the end of the isle, the meteor Táifēng sees Crane is nowhere to be found. If only he knew he was perched up on the racks directly above him.
Suddenly, the Táifēng leader’s meteor hammer levitates right in front of himself, then bashes him in the forehead, caving in a hole into his skull. It then whips around, wrapping the chain around his neck, squeezing, choking the life out of him until he turns blue.
Crane was using his limited magnetic abilities against him. He knows he could’ve just simply shot him, but a more dramatically violent execution of the pack leader would tactically impact the rest of the gang’s psychology more in Crane’s favor for battle.
The meteor hammer drops down onto the floor in a hard metal thud, followed by a released excess of chain.
But before the body itself can even fall to the ground, Crane drops down and grabs it by the back of the red suit jacket and holds it up in front of him.
The other Táifēng are getting close to the truck and Rezende, but Crane magnetically throws a loose pipe from across the warehouse into one of their skulls. It gets stuck halfway through.
They all turn to see Crane moving out from the isle of product, holding the dead body of their lead enforcer, blood-dripping meteor hammer dragging behind them both, leaving a dark red trail.
With his right arm wrapped around the dead Táifēng, gripping his pistol, Crane extends his left hand with palm open at the others. The Táifēng fire at him, but he magnetically deflects some of the bullet paths in mid air in front of him, flinging them back. A few enforcers catch them in their flesh, thrusting back and crashing into racks of tumbling product. The other bullets strike into the body of the Táifēng carried in front of Crane in red bursts.
That is the last of Crane’s charged energy for now that he can use for weaponizing magnetism. Simulated sweat covers his brow.
His human shield takes another wave of bullets in explosions of carnage. While Crane could take the hits, there’s no sense in it if he can avoid it. Crane switches hands, still holding the body up, and now begins firing back with his Vertex CR-40.
Rezende jumps up from behind the truck and fires her MWX at them, striking a few Táifēng in the head. They pop in warm, wet, red bursts.
She flings the truck driver’s side door open and dives in. The bullet-proof windshield is fractured instantly by a hundred rounds. Her trembling thumb mashes into a scanner push-button beside the steering wheel. “C’mon!” she shouts at it, demanding it start.
Finally, the truck’s engines spin up and roar.
Táifēng notice while firing and some step back.
Rezende puts it in ‘drive’ and mashes her foot down on the accelerator pedal, plowing over Táifēng ahead.
Crane drops the human shield and dashes towards the truck as it speeds closer to him. He leaps up onto the foot mount and climbs in as it ramps out of the loading dock doors of the warehouse in mid-air.
The remaining Táifēng stand at the opened loading dock, firing their guns at Crane and Rezende racing off.
The last two Infinidyne operatives in Xīn Cairo soar through the narrow streets towards the Meridias Osiris Hotel, hoping they’re not too late to catch Invasive Snare.
The fate of the entire city and, more importantly, Infinidyne’s brand reputation depends on it now.
EPISODE WORD COUNT: 4,600
SEASON 1 WORD COUNT: 4,600
VERSION: 1.0.8 (GOLD)