**NEW** Sneak peak of Payback


A thunderous barrage of gunfire rocked the alleyway, forcing Nanami’s crew to take cover. The fusillade of bullets indiscriminately blasted chunks from asphalt and the walls of encroaching buildings and shredded the heaps of garbage and detritus that had accumulated over the years. Their crew was seriously outgunned, and the operation was in imminent danger of going disastrously sideways.

Who the hell thought it was a good idea to mix it up with these freaks? Nanami wondered as she huddled in the slim cover afforded by the barricaded entryway to some nameless building.

The bloodied remains of the two Borgers they had managed to drop lay sprawled in the street a short distance away, bodies as much chrome and steel as flesh and bone. Orange sparks fizzed like a sparkler from a live wire in the cyberarm of the nearer one, its wiring hosed by a bullet or three.

Though few in number, the Borgers were a powerful Sector Five gang that was growing in influence. Their claim to fame was their cybernetics fetish, a lunatic drive to become as fully machine as possible. The more primitive and clunky the augs, the better in their philosophy, or so it seemed. Much in the same way a person might fulfill a craving for body modification with tattoos and piercings, these gangers took it to another level, hell-bent on replacing perfectly good flesh with augmented limbs and assorted weaponry. Nanami had heard a rumor that somewhere inside their base was a chop shop with a storehouse of cybernetic parts and an industrial laser cutter to slice off meat limbs to be replaced with mechanical ones.

With the gang’s fearsome reputation, they weren’t a group anyone ordinarily wanted to mess with, yet here Nanami and her crew of outgunned Drifters were. The plan to stealthily infiltrate the Borgers’ base had gone tits up almost immediately upon being spotted by a sentry with night vision optics, who then sounded the alarm.

“Nanami, need you to move in and draw their fire,” Janssen ordered over the comm channel. “Draw them out of cover so Yeti can get a good shot.”

Yeti was the team’s tank, in possession of a heavy machine gun. The rest of the crew were armed only with AKs, submachine guns, and handguns, like Nanami was.

These guys are gonna get me fucking killed. She was realizing, not for the first time, that the crew she’d joined up with were largely a bunch of posers. Sure, a few of the members had some merc experience, but going against a gang of Borgers on their home turf was suicidal. Just taking out the two Borgers they had dropped had cost nearly half her team already, four Drifters down in those first desperate seconds of the firefight. Smart move now is to cut our losses and pop smoke.

Until this op, Nanami had thought life in a merc crew beat running with the gangs. She’d given up the ganger life two years before and never missed it. She often dreamed of making it big time with some respectable gig, a nine-to-five that required dressing in a skirt and pumps rather than outfitting herself in cybernetics and firearms. Not that she really had any marketable skills, other than as a striker, but having a nice apartment in a good sector, a hefty credit balance, and a gig that didn’t require having to duck bullets in shitty alleyways while taking orders from incompetent assholes would be a nice change.

Just when she was thinking the situation couldn’t deteriorate any further, something began to unleash even heavier-caliber bullets. The huge rounds—she guessed .50 caliber—shredded the overflowing dumpster across the way like it was a piece of aluminum foil, sending white puffs of what looked like upholstery stuffing drifting through the air like fat snowflakes. Janssen and Spider were forced to throw themselves prone to avoid being cut in half. By the time this latest barrage let off, the structure of the holed dumpster seemed more air than actual metal. A pregnant silence hung over the alleyway a long moment following the basso thunder. Then some piece of heavy metal clanked on the asphalt, servos whirring. Clank clank clank. Nanami could feel the vibrations through the ground as it advanced.

Whatever that is, it’s really bad news. A small chill ran down her spine as she imagined what kind of cyborg monster was emerging from the lair now. Who am I kidding about dreams of cushy apartments and fat bankrolls? This is the life. Nanami couldn’t help grinning like a lunatic even though her chances of surviving the next minute were very slim indeed.

Anja looked at her with concern, but also a fragment of hope that Nanami could somehow salvage this disastrous op. The two were taking cover in the narrow alcove to some abandoned commercial building, its back door welded shut, maybe a former drug dispensary, judging from the heavy-gauge steel door. Anja was young and not particularly sharp—naive might be a kinder term—but she exuded a rough-around-the-edges sexuality Nanami found hard to resist, at least while drifting through whatever phase of life she was in. The two were occasional lovers, at least when Anja wasn’t warming Janssen’s bed. Nanami was fond of the girl, she supposed, but not interested in anything more than the casual relationship they enjoyed even though Anja was quite good in the sack.

“Janssen, that’s a pretty shit plan,” Nanami finally answered over the comm.

“Yeah, you got a better idea?” The retort was quick and angry, that of an insecure frontman, young and green and on the verge of losing his shit and getting everyone killed.

The Drifters’ previous frontman—Dex, a seasoned merc Nanami had respected—had been gunned down in some swift act of street vengeance a month past. Dex’s death had caused the crew disarray and internal strife, to the point the Drifters nearly broke up. Nanami was forced to pinch her creds while hoping to line up another gig. She’d been keeping her eyes peeled for another crew in need of a striker. Her recent investment in pricey augmentations had proven ill-timed, and she was strapped when Dex went down.

But then Janssen stepped up. He rallied the crew and lined up this gig, with the promise of a nice payday. All they had to do was take out a few of these Borger freaks and claim a nice stash of Moon Rocks inside their den, already prepped for distribution all over the city. They would then hand over the Moon Rocks to the mysterious benefactor and all go home rich. That had been the plan, at least, and Nanami had been stupid and desperate enough to swallow the bait. The prospect of narco distribution hadn’t sat particularly well with her, but money talked, and it had been incessantly shouting her name recently. Janssen’s worthless intel had indicated the majority of the gangers were out this night and their base lightly guarded. If that was the case, Nanami would have hated to see what “heavily guarded” looked like.

In all honesty, to answer Janssen’s question, she couldn’t say she had a better plan other than retreat. And her bills couldn’t wait, just as they couldn’t for any of the others either. One of her former mentor’s lessons haunted her: haste and desperation were a street mercenary’s true enemies, for they led to mistakes, which in turn could result in a quick and brutal death.

But Nanami knew that, with her augmentation, she was the only one who had any chance to make it through the kill zone in one piece. The others would be rendered into paste if they so much as tried. But that didn’t mean she had to like the plan.

Clank clank. Whir—clack. Clank clank. The Borger heavy was advancing, the dreaded metallic footfalls drawing nearer.

“Anyone got a visual on that thing?” Nanami asked.

“Yeah,” came Yeti’s reply. “Whatever it is, it’s fucking big. Looks like a piece of military hardware.” He sounded more excited than worried, matching Nanami’s own curiously mad desire to go balls to the wall and assault the thing head-on.

Anja’s face was pale and sweaty beside her. “Hey, be careful, koibito.” She squeezed Nanami’s knee affectionately, obviously sensing she had reached her decision.

Nanami gave Anja the most confident smile she could manage. “I got this. Standby.” The latter she said over the comm channel.

C’mon baby, hit me. She tightened her grips on her twin Fujikos and, with her tongue, pressed and held the feedback nub behind a molar that activated her nervous-system upgrade—the Boost, as she called it.

Nanami had always been tiny, a hair over five feet tall barefoot, and though her body was chiseled muscle, honed to almost zero body fat, she was well aware she’d never be able to rely on strength alone. That was simple physiology—she’d never be able to match strength with a powerful man, let alone anyone with augmented strength. So back in her ganger days, she had convinced the gang boss, Piro, to spring for a nervous-system implant to give her an edge—the deadly speed a successful striker needed. She’d been a stupid little sixteen-year-old slag who was dying to earn some serious street cred and move up in Piro’s Tigers as a striker. Piro laughed at her at first but, after much persistence on her part, eventually granted her wish.

The implant was a cheap knockoff of cutting-edge tech, the install performed in some back-alley cybernetic chop shop. That experience had been a real eye-opener for her, and she learned the hard way about cheaping out on augs. Much like an especially harrowing trip might sometimes cure a drug addiction, the peripheral neuropathy resulting from the surgery scared her, and she vowed never to get knockoff tech from disreputable dealers ever again. The neuropathy came in the form of sporadic tingling and numbness in her extremities when the aug was inactive, as well as occasional stinging pain with its use, but she feared it would grow worse over time as it caused further nerve damage. Despite the drawbacks, she’d gotten used to relying on her nervous-system booster, and it was reliable enough, for the most part. Using it was like an instant drug high, with the world taking on a rare beauty rendered in extreme slow-mo, much like some blockbuster vid’s slick special effects. The experience as she slashed through it was indescribable.

The cascading rush, like shotgunning half a dozen energy packets all at once, hit her, then a shaky wiredness that told her the Boost was dialed up.

“If there’s enough left of me after this, donate a few creds so I get decomped, will you?” Before Anja could answer, Nanami backed against the wall of the alcove. “Moving,” she barked on the comm. She thrust her feet off the wall, launching herself forward like a bullet, an angling trajectory right into the kill zone, twin Fujiko 10mm semi-auto pistols in hand and tracking for targets.

A split second elapsed, and she was tearing full-bore down the alleyway, the sole approach to the Borgers’ base. All the other possible approaches they’d scouted had long since been blocked off by the city’s endless cycle of construction, demolition, reconstruction, and eventually, urban decay. Her crew had already determined the surrounding ruins were wired with explosives—hence, their foolish direct assault.

The Boost was peaky, like a poorly tuned turbo engine, spooling up with a bunch of lag and then unwinding with a blistering rush that could cause her to fall if she wasn’t expecting it, a literal swift kick in the ass. She grinned as the sudden rush hammered her. Splashes rose into the air in slo-mo as her feet danced across puddles, dark oil-sheened droplets strangely beautiful as they reflected the light.

The Borger boss, for this must surely be the apotheosis all Borgers sought out, resembled an armored mech straight out of a manga, a twelve-foot-tall, quad-armed monstrosity. Pile driver legs supported a tanklike torso. Its arms were massive-bored artillery pieces. In addition to the guns, it also had a pair of regular arms with huge robotic clamps for hands. If the thing had any remaining human meat left, likely only a brain, it was encased deep inside the armored chassis. The Borger boss had a nifty paint job too, reds and blues over gunmetal, like a freewheeling piece of corporate military hardware on display.

Nanami tried her best to mess up that nice paint job, rapidly popping off a burst from each Fujiko, bullets boring contrails through the air, visible to her as she moved under effects of the Boost.

As expected, the mech’s sensors detected her the moment she left cover, its targeting software locking on with weapons. One howitzer arm, an auto grenade launcher from the look of it, boomed, but Nanami was already juking sideways. The gigantic muzzle flash unfolded like a fiery flower in bloom, lingering in the air for a couple heartbeats. The massive round plowed through the air, a small shock wave rippling in its wake, then struck asphalt behind her, creating an explosion when the shell impacted. The muzzle bloomed again after another of her heartbeats, a fraction of a second unboosted, as the next round chambered and fired.

She was already pouring more rounds into the Borger. Her 10mm bullets plinked off the armored chassis, sparks flaring like tiny fireworks in the nighttime gloom. The mech’s second round chugged past her just as she reached the edge of the asphalt. As the round exploded somewhere behind her, she kicked off a curb and leaped, snapping her Fujikos together and squeezing off a few tightly grouped shots at the mech’s sensor array mounted in its flat head. Her bullets glanced harmlessly off thick ballistic glass, not unexpected.

Anytime now, Yeti. Light this mofo up.

Struck by a sudden flash of inspiration, Nanami changed her aim to the belt of grenades feeding the launcher arm and squeezed off a couple more rounds. The shot was a tough one, but she had closed half the distance in a handful of seconds and knew from the contrails her shots were good. The mech launched another grenade just as her rounds struck. An explosion bloomed, a lovely bouquet of fire unfurling, and the mech’s grenade launcher arm went limp, spitting sparks and spewing smoke.

Nanami didn’t have time to celebrate. She realized her mistake as she was caught in the middle of her leap much too long. The Borger’s third round slanted down inches from her left foot and struck practically beneath her—much too close for comfort. The mech had anticipated her moves with microprocessor speed. The explosion’s shock wave changed her trajectory, spinning her in the air. No pain registered yet, which was good, but she had plenty of time to think, Oh shit.

She tried valiantly to pull off the landing, but her ankle turned awkwardly from her great velocity, the jolt of pain now shooting up to her brain like an accelerated lightning bolt. Then she fell—hard. Nerve-booster augs tended to do that, giving an incredible burst of movement speed but doing nothing to help one’s agility or balance, unfortunately. Nanami was naturally agile, but she could do only so much to fight momentum once her ankle gave out. She braced herself, knowing from experience that eating pavement with the Boost dialed up wasn’t pretty.

Nanami hit the ground on her shoulder, skidded a few yards, then rolled and tumbled. Her pleather coat saved her from some initial road rash, but she felt the garment tear in the elbow and shoulder. Her knee barked painfully against a piece of crumbled asphalt. The curb ultimately ended her slide, popping her a good one in the jaw, reminding her of Piro’s fists when he was angry.

I’m dead. Once her head cleared of stars, that realization flooded in. It wasn’t as scary as she would’ve thought. Instead, it was kind of a peaceful revelation, as if she’d become privy to some higher truth. Nanami had always been a fighter—she’d gone down fighting, and that was what mattered. Better to flare out spectacularly in your prime than to slowly gutter and waste away.



Excerpt from The Twilight City

Nera whistled quietly to herself as she made her way down the street. Easy half hour worth of work. That poor boy didn’t know what hit him. She tried not to think of how he’d end up by morning.
She slipped in with the thickening crowds, and other locals streamed around her as she entered the market. A city like Nexus never slept. The Twilight City, it was sometimes called because it never really had a daytime or nighttime, just a persistent dusky gloom. Glowing pillars known as chroniker masts contained illuminated runes indicating the time. Most businesses, at least the more respectable types, wound down during the evening, but there were always food stalls open at the Magelight Market. Unsavory business never wound down. The blue magical fire issuing from the streetlights cast a soft glow over the plaza, for which it was named.
Deciding to splurge after her easy score, Nera purchased a leg of turkey and a fresh loaf of bread in the market. She bought a small bottle of mulled wine to wash them down with.
As she was leaving, she felt a tingle on the back of her neck. Someone’s following me. She slipped around the corner of a booth and took a quick peek. The human mage was about fifty paces away, eyes scanning the market.
Balor’s balls! How the hell did he find me? He must have some locator spell. Either that or dumb luck. Her fingers caressed the heavy ring in her pocket, and she briefly wondered whether he could track it somehow.
Nera darted around a couple stalls, putting them between her and Malek. She sprinted out of the market and took the first alley off the main street. Unfortunately, it dead-ended a hundred paces away at a brick wall. She could’ve sworn the alley cut through to the next main thoroughfare. The city must have reoriented itself—it did that occasionally. Cursing, she slipped into the shadows and hoped the young mage wouldn’t find her.


Malek marveled at the marketplace. Even at what he determined was a late hour by the time pillar, the square was lively. A variety of races mingled about, purchasing all manner of goods from the stalls, simple food or exotic animals, clothing and furs, and all manner of trinkets. The raw magical power of the unusual streetlamps illuminating the market were bright sparks to his senses. Such a glut of magical power in this place.
His musings were cut short as Nera’s essence suddenly moved rapidly away from him. “She must know I’m here.” Malek wasn’t surprised as the thief had good instincts—rogues didn’t have very successful careers without them.
I wonder if I can bluff her into giving my possessions back. I don’t want to hurt her if I don’t have to. He shook his head at his own foolishness in trusting the woman. He had made an easy mark of himself. It wouldn’t happen again.


Nera was just swallowing a bite of the warm, juicy turkey leg when a shadow blocked the light entering the alley. She recognized the young mage. So he can track the ring somehow. She cursed quietly to herself. Foolish mistake—never underestimate a mage, even if they are young and green. She’d made that mistake before, and it had turned out badly—enough to have a noose put around her neck.
Malek entered the alley a few paces, looking around as he searched for her. After a moment, he put his hands to his temples and squeezed his eyes shut. His head swiveled, and he reopened his eyes, staring right at her hiding spot. “I know you’re there. Just give me my ring and my coin back, and I’ll let you go your way. I don’t want to hurt you, but I’ll cast a spell if I have to.”
He seemed cool and collected. Although he was young, Nera wondered if he truly had the magical skills to back up his threat.
Ninety-eight more years. I need this ring… I can’t keep working at the foundry that much longer.
Her mind made up, Nera concentrated on the space between her and the mage, who was now a mere dozen feet away. The shadows billowed and flowed out from the walls as if a vial of ink was spilling over the alley. The alleyway was enveloped in a magical darkness. Although the darkness was absolute for others, she could see his shape as if through a muddy window. Nera moved as quickly as she could past the mage, her footsteps silent. No way he can see me now.
“Nice trick, plane-cursed. I don’t want to fight you. I just want what is mine.”
The darkness was suddenly swept away as if a blast of wind scoured it away although it seemed to be absorbed into Malek somehow. A trick of the light, perhaps. Malek was standing an arm’s length away from her, and he reached out and seized her arm.
That nagging feeling that something was different… wrong, even, with the man surged back, and Nera was suddenly aware that she might have pissed off the wrong mage.
“Oi! What have we here?” called a man with a gruff voice from the mouth of the alley.
At first, Nera felt a moment of panic, thinking it might be the Nexus Watch, but she was somewhat relieved to see the three thugs from the tavern. Nexus Watch spelled big trouble if they found out she was still thieving. The gang members were a different type of trouble altogether. They held weapons and were advancing. Somehow, they had managed to follow the two of them. Must have spotted the green back in the market.
“You’d better defend yourself,” Nera muttered, twisting out of the mage’s grasp.
Her hand went instinctively to her belt for her daggers, but they weren’t there, of course. The conditions of her parole prevented her from wielding weapons, which made her buggered in a situation like this—a situation she wouldn’t have been in, had she not been foolish enough to reengage in thievery. She cursed her stupidity for getting involved.
“It’s not your concern. Leave now, and I won’t be forced to use my magic on you,” Malek told the cutthroats.
The young man looked scared, and Nera thought he was bluffing. Great, a mage who isn’t only green but also worthless in a fight. That nagging feeling about him still bothered her, though. She instinctively knew he was somehow dangerous.
“Sod off, arseholes,” Nera told them. “You don’t want to get magicked by this wizard, do you?”
The three thugs approached, smiling. “I think you’d a done somethin’ already if you were goin’ to,” a scrawny human said with a nasty grin revealing missing teeth. “The boy’s green as a leaf. He can’t do shite.”
“Why don’t you piss off, demon bitch?” The larger man scowled at her. “We don’t want to cross yer gang—get the hell outta here. We’re after the green mage’s purse is all. That and the shiny ring he’s got.”
The half-orc leered at Nera and smacked the haft of a spiked cudgel against his hand.
“Good thing you aren’t as dumb as you look. You don’t want to cross the Night Wraiths,” Nera replied, referring to the thieves’ guild she belonged to. “It’s your lucky day, arseholes. I woulda made you three sorry.” She tossed her hair back and swaggered past the three.
“Yeah, yeah. Get yer arse outta here before we change our minds,” the scrawny man snapped. His beady eyes were focused on Malek. The other two thugs glared at Nera but let her walk away.
She could feel Malek’s eyes on her back. Sorry, but most greens don’t make it past the first day here.

Excerpt from Extensis Vitae: Empire of Dust


Rin realized she had reached the entrance to the massive underground Galleria mall. Her condo was about a mile away—cutting through the mall would be a shortcut. A shortcut with plenty of watering holes. A slight smile formed on her lips as she walked through the automated doors.
Rin threw back her hood and let her coat hang open. The warmth of the mall was a stark contrast to the blustery weather outside. She stepped on the escalator and rode down to the crowded atrium.
People strolled through the mall—couples holding hands and young mothers chasing small children around. A handsome man chatting on his Datalink smiled at her as she stepped off the escalator. She looked away from the man’s lingering gaze and headed for a bar she knew well.
These people live their comfortable lives having no idea of the things that go on beyond the borders of Pac-Rim. Good people fight and die for honorable causes while they can’t see past their triple lattes and designer handbags. I don’t belong among people like this.
Holograms seemed to cascade downward like slick waterfalls as personalized advertisements appeared outside the storefronts. Facial recognition systems processed millions of calculations per second, and iris scanners flashed as they tried to identify the shoppers strolling by.
“Welcome back, Ms. Takahashi. Would you be interested in checking out our new line of women’s spring business attire?” A pleasant-looking woman’s image appeared in front of her, smiling and showing off the clothing line. Rin ignored it and continued on. Other holos appeared, trying to sell her clothing, jewelry, and perfumes. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d bought any of those items, let alone gone shopping for them herself. Servants had always made the arrangements when she required clothes or personal effects.
“Ms. Takahashi, wouldn’t you like to drive a new Lexus today?” A panoramic holovid wrapped around Rin, moving with her and giving the convincing illusion of sitting in the cockpit of a luxury sports car. The view panned out, and she saw the sleek red car carving through the twisting turns of a wide-open country highway.
I wonder where the hell they found a road like that? Must be CGI.
The elaborate holo suddenly flickered and pixelated. It stuttered and refreshed several times before freezing on the spokesmodel’s face, with the parked car in the background below the astonishing price tag. The holo suddenly started flickering rapidly again, the audio crackling loudly. Annoyed at the malfunction, Rin shook her head as she was jostled out of the momentary illusion.
“BEHIND YOU!” Huge red letters suddenly appeared above the frozen image.
What the hell is wrong with this thing?
“TURN AROUND—NOW!!!” The video unfroze, and the spokesmodel shouted, “Drive a L-L-LOOK OUT!”
Rin’s instincts kicked in while her mind was still trying to process what was happening. She spun around just as a woman screamed nearby.
Two large military-looking men were approaching, dressed in dark trench coats. Rin noted the assault rifles aimed in her direction just as they opened fire. People screamed and began to scatter for cover, but their cries were drowned out by the deafening thunder of the AK-47s in the confines of the mall.
Rin’s hand instinctively went to the hilt of the katana at her waist, but it found only air. The sword was collecting dust back on the mantle at her condo. A curse came to mind just as she was riddled with bullets.
Her HUD blazed an angry orange from the damage as several rounds hit her in the chest and stomach. Rin pirouetted and fell through the plate-glass window of a men’s clothing store. Shards of glass rained down as bullets whizzed past her. She fell through the display, tangling up with a mannequin as she tumbled into the store.
For a moment, she was back in another mall, after the cataclysm. Looters were rushing everywhere, but Rin ignored them, intent on avoiding some thugs chasing her. One of them snarled at her and grasped her arm, spinning her around and throwing her through another store window. She fell to the floor, glass shredding her hands and forearms. A shard of glass slipped through her ribs and pierced her lung. The exoskeleton was an anchor on her numb legs as she lay there in agony. Glass crunched as the thug slowly approached her. Realizing she was fighting for her life, she searched for something, anything, to use for a weapon.
“Cease your hostilities immediately! The Sea-Tac Police have been summoned.” The automated voice blaring over the PA system snapped Rin back to the present.
Things were different—she wasn’t nearly as helpless as she had once been. Her wits collected, Rin rolled under a rack of suits, which provided some concealment.
The attackers ignored the warnings blaring over the PA system and approached the shattered window. “No blood. The woman’s unhurt,” one of the men remarked.
“Of course she is, you fool. You think the pay would be this good if that bitch wasn’t a class-one target?” the other man snapped, scanning the store cautiously. He hopped into the display case. “Where did she go?” The question was addressed at a frightened store clerk peering over a counter.
“I… I have no idea who you—”
Bang. Smoke trailed from the barrel of the AK.
“Too slow, dickhead. Get in there and start searching. I’ll cover you.”
The second man entered the store cautiously, gun barrel moving slowly side to side as he looked high and then low, trying to get a view around racks of clothes.
“Target cornered in a clothing store. Converge on my position,” the first man called into his Datalink.
Who the hell are these people? Hit men sent by Thorne’s people in retaliation for the Skin City incident, most likely. Wonder if they’re behind the bombing campaigns also? Rin crouched lower and waited for her chance.
As the first hit man approached her position, the lights in the store suddenly cut out. The man cursed and jerked back in surprise. She assumed he would have low-light augs, but the momentary distraction allowed her to make her move. She reached out from under the long rack of clothes and seized the man’s ankle.
“Wha—” the man cried out as Rin pulled his feet out from under him, yanking the man under the rack. Before he hit the ground, her forearm blade was out and stabbing her attacker through the ribs repeatedly. The man gurgled and tried to grapple with her, but she was too fast. With a strike under the chin, the blade pierced the man’s brain.
Not skins, then. Just some augmented mercenaries. Immediately, the clothes above her were shredded by bullets as the second merc cut loose. A couple rounds grazed Rin before she pulled the dead man over herself as a shield. She dislodged the AK-47 from his grip and fired a wild burst in the direction of the other shooter.
Hoping he had dropped for cover, Rin rolled out from her position and sprinted toward the rear of the store. Gunfire resumed behind her. Bullets tore past her, and not seeing an immediate door, Rin lowered her head and dove through the rear wall. The polymer burst apart around her, and she found herself in the rear of the shop, stumbling over crates on the floor. Boxes and racks of plastic-covered garments filled the space. She fired another burst from the AK over her shoulder to cover her retreat and shouldered the rear exit door open.
Rin found herself in a long corridor with blank white walls. She sprinted down the hallway to put some distance between herself and her pursuers. She briefly considered calling her brother for an enforcer team but knew it would be all over before they would arrive.
I can handle a few mercs. I hope.
About fifty meters ahead, another door burst open. Two more figures in black tactical gear darted through, a man and a woman. They turned in her direction and opened fire immediately. She realized they knew her exact position.
This lot are a bunch of pros.
Rin crouched and returned fire, seeking to present as small a target as possible. Bullets tore into the floor and walls around her. One slammed into her kneecap, and another hit her shoulder. One of her attackers staggered and fell as a few rounds hit the man in the chest. Rin’s AK clicked abruptly as it ran dry of ammo.
She sprang across the corridor and kicked the wall hard, hoping to break through again. The polymer shell cracked, but the core was solid brick. Rin staggered back awkwardly. Shit, I’m in trouble here. The other one will shoot me in the back any instant now.
The woman reloaded while the man got back to his feet, obviously wearing body armor or having dermal plating. The woman gave Rin a nasty smile as she leisurely aimed at her.



Excerpt from Extensis Vitae: City of Sarx


Mason was awakened by a rumbling boom from somewhere in the base. The bunk rattled beneath him as the walls and floor shook from the blast. Explosion, he thought, instantly awake and sitting up. Concrete dust drifted down from the ceiling. A crack he hadn’t noticed before crossed the concrete ceiling. He saw by his HUD that the time was 03:00.
The steel door to the prison had been shut the night before after Keeva had brought him his dinner. He dialed up his augs to try to hear what was going on outside. A siren went off throughout the base, and a red light on the ceiling flashed. Footsteps raced by in the hall outside, and voices were raised in fear and excitement.
I have to get out of here. He wasn’t surprised the base was under attack. The rebels had been acting too cocky the prior night, and their overconfidence had likely allowed themselves to be tracked.
Gunfire rang out, light at first and then quickly becoming a heavy barrage. For an agonizingly long time, Mason stood at the bars, listening. The once-confident voices had turned to panic. Come on, let me the hell out of here. He gripped the bars of the cell and willed someone to open the door and release him.
Another, smaller explosion that sounded like a grenade came from somewhere nearby. Mason felt the floor shudder and the bars vibrate in his hands. Somebody screamed in pain from what sounded like the hallway outside the prison. Another flurry of gunfire followed. Light footsteps approached rapidly, and then the door burst open.
Keeva darted into the room and slammed the door shut behind her. She frantically worked the mechanical deadbolt and then leaned against the door, breathing heavily. Her eyes were wide with fear, and blood trickled down her forehead. Her blue hair had turned partially gray from cement dust. Her eyes locked with Mason’s when she noticed him standing there.
“Keeva, let me out of here,” he said calmly. “Let me fight—I can help you.” He didn’t want to panic the young woman and send her running away, so he kept his voice confident and even. “If you don’t want to give me a weapon, that’s fine. I will try to distract them.”
The young woman caught her breath and he saw her nod as she made a decision. “Yeah, you’d make a good distraction. They may want you more badly than they want us, but I’m not going to make it easy and give you to them gift wrapped like this.” She started over to the controls to release the cell doors.
Mason heard the tread of footfalls outside the door—slow, unhurried, and very heavy. They stopped outside the door. Shit, this won’t be good. Keeva had apparently heard the tread as well and froze halfway to the control.
“Hurry!” he hissed, his eyes fixed on the door.
The door suddenly exploded off its hinges, steel shrieking in protest from the powerful force that hit it. Mason jumped back a split second before the twisted steel door slammed into the bars. The door was buckled, and one corner jammed between the bars of Mason’s cell, keeping it upright. Mason took advantage of the cover and crouched behind the door, waiting for a glimpse of who stood outside. The heavy footsteps entered the room, and peering around the door, Mason saw the tank.
The heavy assault skin, or “tank,” as they were often called, entered the room. The skin was a massive man with a heavily muscled physique, wearing thick poly-ceramic armor and carrying a pulse rifle. The rifle looked like a toy gun in the huge man’s hand as he slowly scanned the room. Keeva, who had been frozen in place, quickly dove behind the desk across the room.
The tank spun and fired, the pulse rifle wildly blasting holes through the wall and tearing the desk apart into smoldering cinders. Mason got up and kicked the steel door as hard as he could. It dislodged from the bars and struck the tank in the shoulder, knocking his aim off. Energy bolts flew wildly into the wall and ceiling, just missing the cell door release control. The tank turned, and Mason reached through the bars and grabbed the scalding hot barrel of the pulse rifle with his alloy hand and yanked on it as hard as he could. The big man took a couple steps forward before regaining his balance. Mason hammered on the man’s wrist, but even with his strength augs, his blows didn’t faze the tank. The skin squeezed the trigger, and bolts blasted into the wall of the cell, sending chips of concrete flying and choking the air with dust. Mason pinned the barrel of the rifle under his arm against his ballistic vest.
“Keeva, open the fucking door!” he roared. He hoped the woman hadn’t gotten shot, but he couldn’t be sure.
The tank hauled back on his gun, slamming Mason hard into the bars of the cell. “James Mason,” the skin grunted in surprise as he got a good look at Mason’s face for the first time. He hauled on the gun again, and Mason could feel it slipping through his grasp.
With his left hand, Mason fumbled at the weapon and managed to hit the release button for the energy cell, but it slipped out of his hand and bounced off the booted foot of the tank before he could secure it.
The big man grunted in annoyance and punched at Mason, who released the rifle barrel and ducked. The tank’s fist slammed into the bars with a loud clang, leaving a bar bent from the mighty blow. The skin stooped to pick up the energy cell and Mason knew he was done.






Excerpt from Obsolescence:

Obsolescence is a short story which takes place in the world of Extensis Vitae and focuses on events shortly before the Cataclysm.

Mason leaped out the hatch of the drop-ship, his team following close behind.  His power armor easily absorbed the impact from the drop, and the roof of the building shuddered under his landing.  The rest of the squad followed him down, the skins and more heavily augmented grunts not needing any power armor.
Bethany landed a few feet away as light as a cat.  She wore only her assault helmet and a vest of lightweight body armor over her uniform.  She nodded toward the door, indicating that she was ready.  “Got you covered.”
Mason sprang toward the steel door.  He gave it a powerful kick and the door buckled and tore free from its hinges under the might of the power armor.  Bethany darted through the opening, weapon ready.
“Stairwell clear,” she called.  She raced down the steps and Mason followed more slowly, careful that he didn’t miss a step in the bulky armor and lose his balance.
He heard cries below in the corridor.  There was the rapid popping of a submachine gun and Bethany leaned back inside the stairwell casually as a spray of bullets tore into the doorframe next to her.
Mason stepped brazenly out into the corridor and brought his gatling laser to bear.  Small arms fire bounced harmlessly off the breastplate of his power armor.  He saw a couple thugs with SMGs firing as they backed away down the hall.  He squeezed the trigger.  The weapon whined for a few milliseconds as it powered up and then it began firing repeated laser blasts down the corridor.  Blat blat blat blat.
The first thug dropped as large cauterized holes were blasted through his torso.  The second managed to duck through a doorway to the left.  Mason took a step and threw his shoulder into the wall, bursting through into the apartment in a shower of plaster and debris.
He found himself in what appeared to be some type of narcotics lab.  Even through the power armor’s filtration system, he could faintly smell the stink of chemicals and burnt substances in the room.  A complex assortment of vials and tubes were strung together along a countertop and an orange liquid was bubbling in a large flask over a portable burner.  Looks like a Rage lab, he thought.
Rage was the newest and hottest drug on the street, granting its users nearly superhuman speed and strength for short periods of time.  It was popular among a lot of the street gangs’ muscle.  The fact that it eventually burned out the motor cortex in the brain was apparently lost on its users.
Narcotics had been legalized decades ago, and the pharmaceutical companies had naturally zeroed in and quickly attempted to take over the narrow market of what had previously been illegal drugs.  Once corporate profits were added into the accounting equation, street prices had soared.  As a result, homegrown narcotics labs continued to flourish just as they had for the past century or more.  It seemed there would always be a demand for cheap and readily available drugs on the street.
Mason heard shouts and the clamor of heavy footsteps in the hallway as his grunts swarmed the corridor in both directions.  There was no sign of the man with the SMG.
Mason advanced toward the next room.  Motion to his left drew his attention as a man with a shotgun popped through the entrance.  He swung the gatling laser around, but the man was already dropping dead from the neat hole that appeared between his eyes from Bethany’s railgun.
“C’mon Captain…reflexes getting a little slow in your old age?” she taunted as she slipped past him and into the next room.  He heard the kerang of her railgun as she fired again.
Mason jogged forward into the next room, footsteps thudding in the heavy armor.  One man lay dead in front of Bethany and she faced off with another.  Her eyes were narrowed in concentration and made Mason think of a cat toying with a mouse.
The Rage junkie came at Bethany with a curved knife in hand.  Their movements were a blur to Mason as the junkie stabbed at her.  Faster than Mason could follow, Bethany quickly disarmed the junkie and stabbed him in the ribs with his own knife.  She lifted him off the ground by the throat one-handed, his fingers clawing at her hand futilely as she held him with ease.
“Where’s Userov?” Bethany demanded.  She shook the man to emphasize her question.  The junkie gurgled in her iron grasp and kicked at her.  Blood soaked his side around the knife protruding from his ribs.  “He’s not talking,” she remarked and casually tossed the man against the wall.  She snapped the railgun up and put a round through his heart before he even hit the ground.
The spit of SMG fire drew their attention.  The thug that had escaped earlier crouched in an inner doorway, unloading his clip at them.  Bullets pinged off Mason’s armor, and Bethany grunted as she took a couple rounds.
Mason turned and began squeezing the trigger of the gatling laser before the target was in his sights.  The powerful weapon began firing, the pulses of energy carving a horizontal line through the wall.  The hood futilely dove behind the wall in the next room, but Mason merely held the trigger and swept the next room with a concentrated stream of energy blasts.
He eased off the trigger and listened for any signs of the gunman.  Embers glowed at the edges of the groove he had burned through the wall.  Poking his head inside the room, he saw that the thug had been cut in half across the torso.  The corpse was nearly bloodless; the intense heat of the laser beams cauterized the wounds instantly.
Mason and Bethany finished clearing the apartment and rejoined the rest of the squad in the hallway.  Resistance was fairly light and the other tenants were in the process of surrendering to the heavily armed CorpSec squad.  They lined the tenants up in the hallway and put them on their knees amongst the trash and broken glass.
“We are looking for one Alexei Userov…who knows where he is?” Mason asked.
“Fuck you, pig!” one of the thugs spat at him.
Mason turned and backhanded the man.  The blow from his armored fist shattered the thug’s jaw, sending him airborne and slamming into the wall.  The brittle polymer wall dented and cracks began spider-webbing outward.  Several teeth spilled onto the filthy floor as blood gushed from his mouth.  As simple as that, the fight went out of the thug.
“Do I need to keep asking?”  Mason looked around at the people lining the corridor.  There were the usual thugs, junkies, and degenerates, but a lot of them looked like normal poor folks, some more desperate than others.  A few looked defiant though, and he saw loathing on more than a few faces.
Mason was about to ask again when an old woman spoke up.  “Next floor down,” she croaked.  “Take your trigger-happy cowboys and let us be.  Nobody goes down there because of that asshole and his goddamn robot.”
“Thank you, ma’am.  Be happy to oblige,” he told her.
“Shall we take the quick way down?” Bethany asked him with an eager grin.
“Sure, why not,” he replied with his own smile.  This part was always fun.  “Mills, take half of the squad down the east stairs, Johnson the west.  Leave two men behind to cover this lot here—we don’t want any surprises out of them.  Follow our lead and meet us in the middle,” he told the rest of the squad.  Mills and Johnson formed up their squads and began jogging toward the stairwells in opposite directions.  Two grunts kept their rifles trained on the tenants.
Bethany came up to Mason and stepped lightly on his armored foot, slipping an arm around him to hold on.  Mason fired up the gatling laser and turned in a circle, the weapon cutting an arc through the floor, which collapsed in a neat circle under their weight.  The two of them dropped down to the next level.
His Lieutenant stepped free and moved to cover his back.  Mason squinted, and at the end of the dark hallway he detected a glowing red light.  His HUD illuminated the robotic form in the gloom, and a moment later, a hulking shape moved in the shadows.
“Robot 12 o’clock,” he called out.  “Looks like an Enforcer Bot of some type—heavy caliber too.”  Servos whirred loudly and the massive mechanical form began to lumber forward with a heavy tread.
“Copy.  This side is clear,” she replied.
The robot took a few more steps and the glowing red “eye” brightened in angry intensity.  It was broad across the armored carapace, with stout legs and a flat head containing its sensor array.  The bot’s arms were massive auto-cannons.  Mason was expecting it to call out a warning, but it raised its arms and the clack of cocking weapons was loud in the hallway.