The Pay-Off

The General Motors Series VI XC-AC Fullerite armor glided smoothly along the narrow maintenance tube.  The man in the armor was Giarmo Bruno and he wore a grim smile as he moved quietly forward.
He had many reasons to smile, he thought.  This was his first private contract and he’d landed a sweet one. He also wore the finest suit of armor manufactured in the Amero-Euro zone, better than anything he’d ever worn as a professional soldier in the AmEu armed forces.  Even as one of the elite Deep Strike Commandos he’d worn inferior armor, perhaps only slightly inferior, but inferior nonetheless.

The EuroDollar signs he imagined himself earning on this job flashed in his mind, causing his smile to grow.  He’d not only landed a contract that paid an outstanding fee per day, but he’d been assigned to a mission that paid numerous bonuses based partly off of the huge day rate he was bringing down, the biggest bonus being the Deep Space Distance, or DESD bonus, as the other people in the industry called it.  The grunts though had a different name for it. They called it gravy. The gravy bonus went into effect whenever a mission required a team to travel beyond the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.  It was a calculation of total distance in astral units, or AUs, from Earth to the farthest point the team would reach during their mission.  And this mission was farther into the solar system than any Giarmo had ever heard of, officially or unofficially.

His team had been sent to Saturn, the sixth planet orbiting Sol.  Actually in orbit around Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, was a more precise description of his current location. Saturn was 8.5 AU’s from Earth, so while he was deployed, Giarmo was earning 4.25 times his normal day rate because each AU distant from Earth was worth a 50% bonus.  Every mission Giarmo had ever heard of beyond the asteroid belt had been to the Jovian moons, which was only 4.2 AUs from Earth, or roughly half as far as Giarmo was now.

But he didn’t think about the vast distance separating him from the birthplace of humanity.  He thought about the money he was earning.  And the best part?  It was a milk run.  All they had to do was to raid the colony ship he was now on, and retrieve…something.  He didn’t know what the ‘something’ was and as far as he was aware only the Team Leader knew what they’d been sent to retrieve.  But his orders had been clear. He was to take the maintenance tube to the ships engineering section and eliminate any crew members he found within, once that was accomplished and the section was secured he was to report to his team leader and await further orders.

If it sounded like murder to anyone else, it didn’t to Giarmo Bruno.  He’d done similar missions while a member of the AmEu Deep Strike Commandos.  Never mind that there had been an official war on at the time.  That sounded like legal excuses to Giarmo.  Killing was killing, he didn’t see how it mattered to who got killed whether or not the person killing them was acting under orders of a government at war, or whether it was a mercenary that was being paid handsomely by a large conglomerate of Earth bound corporations as he was now.

He shook his head, trying to focus on the mission at hand.  He scolded himself silently, here he was tens of millions of kilometers from Earth and he was daydreaming about spending money he’d yet to receive while he was on a combat mission.  That was a good way to wind up dead.  Not that he was overly concerned.  He didn’t even have his main weapon in his hand, instead it was secured to his back in its purpose built cradle.  Using high powered military slug throwers in a space going vessel was a good way to wind up sucking vacuum.   He was deep inside the massive colony ship now, so the chances of him rupturing the pressure hull were extremely remote, but the chances of piercing something else that might cause a cascading series of failures was somewhat higher, though he didn’t know exactly what those chances were.

He was just a grunt.  A damned good one, but a grunt nonetheless.  He left that techie babble crap to the chipheads.   All Giarmo knew for sure was that this was an unarmed civilian colony ship and it was forbidden under the Solar Expansion Treaty from carrying any military grade weapons or soldiers.  And without military grade weapons, the ship’s crew had basically zero chance of breaching his GM Fullerite armor.

The GM Series VI XC-AC Fullerite armor was a technological marvel. The nomenclature was defined as Series VI because it was sixth in the line, XC for Extreme Conditions and AC for Advanced Composite Fullerite.  The entire exterior of the suit was made of AC Fullerite.  Fullerite was pure carbon, and because of that fact some referred to Fullerite armor as a ‘diamond suit’. The fact was that it would be much cheaper if it had been made of pure diamond.

It had the hardness of diamond but was far less brittle, which allowed the designers to keep the exterior coating thin, thereby keeping the weight down.  Even at 1g the GM Series VI XC only weighed 19 kilos, which was amazingly light for a suit of armor designed for extreme conditions,  which meant the owner could not only survive in a vacuum, but could actually fight in it.

A great side effect of the Fullerite was that the joins were practically frictionless.  Near zero friction was a characteristic of the particular type of Fullerite used by GM, so Giarmo felt no resistance from the numerous armor joints as he moved through the huge ship.

A quick glance at his Eyes-Up-Display told him that he was nearing the end of the maintenance tube and would be coming up to a main corridor that lead straight into engineering.  He checked that his weapon was secure, but ready, pulled his Benchmade Monolecular Composite knife from the sheath on his thigh and continued to move forward quietly.  He instructed his suits computer to inform his Team Leader that he was nearing his first waypoint.  Almost instantly he received two clicks in response.

Affirmative, mission is a go.
It was time to earn his money.

The corridor was silent and empty, which was a great stroke of luck.  His EUD was clear of any threats or contacts.  The GM Series VI armor was equipped with both thermal and acoustic sensors and both showed that it was all clear.

The bulkhead door at the end of the corridor was clearly marked “Maneuvering”, which was a carryover from the old blue water navy days, when a submarines engineering section had been called ‘maneuvering’.   The first deep space explorers had been submariners, picked because of the similarity between space travel and undersea travel.  Those submariners brought their traditions and terminology with them and much of it had stuck permanently.

Giarmo studied the bulkhead and checked his EUD for the schematic of the room beyond it. There really wasn’t a stealthy way for him to open the bulkhead door and sneak into maneuvering, so he did the exact opposite.  He threw the door open and lunged inside, hoping anyone waiting on the other side would be taken by surprise.
It was Giarmo that was surprised.  His EUD still showed no contacts, but he was not alone.  His pulse quickened as his mind processed the data.  There were six bodies in the room.  And they’d died messily.  He quickly pulled his rifle from his back and flipped off the safety, walking forward with the weapon at his shoulder.

He edged cautiously over to the closest body, trying to inspect the wounds.  They didn’t appear to be gunshot or stab wounds, it looked more like shrapnel, but there was no shrapnel damage to be seen in the surroundings.  If someone had thrown a grenade into this space the terminals and monitors lining the walls would have been blown to pieces.  Yet everything appeared to be operating normally.

Flechettes.  That had to be it.  A shotgun loaded with flechettes could do this type of damage.  He’d seen flechettes used before.  They were nasty…but useless against an armored target.  He wasn’t sure what was going on here, but he was confident that his armor could withstand any amount of bombardment by shotgun fired flechettes.  He thumbed his weapon on to safe and lowered it.

He heard a thump behind him, at the same instant his EUD began to flash and warn of an acoustic contact detected immediately to his rear.

Smoothly, with the speed and accuracy of a seasoned combat veteran, Giarmo spun on his heels and raised his weapon.  But he did not fire.

His mind locked up when he saw what had made the sound.  He was having a difficult time coming up with a description.

He could see it, he knew it was there, but it wasn’t registering on his thermal sensors.  As far as his EUD was concerned there was nothing in front of him.

It sat there…staring at him?
He wasn’t sure what it was doing.

“Engage ultrasonic” he whispered, ordering the computer to turn on the suits ultrasonic system, which would allow him to see with perfect clarity in total darkness.  But it wasn’t a lack of light that caused Giarmo to engage the system.  He wanted the suit to confirm that there was something standing in front of him and that he wasn’t staring at a holographic projection.

His visor flashed black for a millisecond as it switched from visual mode to ultrasonic, the computer processed the ultrasonic waves it was sending out and receiving back and used that data to generate a perfect representation of the suits surroundings.  And there it was, still standing in front of him, motionless and if possible, looking even more alien than it had before.  This was definitely no hologram.

“Screw this,” Giarmo whispered and he squeezed the trigger.

A stream of low velocity 6mm high explosive squash head rounds spat from the barrel of his Heckler and Colt assault rifle.  His aim was perfect and had the intended effect.  The thing exploded as the HESH rounds impacted its body. The nano explosives in the 6mm rounds were amazingly powerful, as was demonstrated by the creature’s destruction.  HESH rounds were designed to kill armored targets, like Giarmo, but they worked just fine on organics as well.

He had no time to savor his kill.  He was hit from behind by something else, something that hadn’t registered on any of his suits sensors.

He hit the adjoining wall hard, the H&C assault rifle skipping from his hands.  But the impact absorbent lining of the GM Series VI did its job and cushioned the blow, keeping him from harm.   He managed to stay on his feet and quickly turned to face his attacker.  It was another thing, exactly like the first.  But this one was coming at him at an amazingly quick pace.  Giarmo growled and pulled his Benchmade, holding it in front of him in a knife fighting combat stance.  Whatever the thing was it didn’t stand a chance of penetrating his armor.  “Come on!  Get some of this!” he yelled, as it closed on him.

His last thought before he died, was wondering how the creature had managed to slice so effortlessly through his GM Series VI XC-AC Fullerite armor.  The GM Series VI computer reported his death to the team leader, and then it too went dead.

Once again maneuvering was awash in total silence, the ships system monitors bathing the room in an eerie light.