W.O.W

As some of you may know, I’ve written some short stories here and there and I’ve found that some of my characters really appeal to me. When I wrote “Threats” for Duster’s Blog I didn’t realize those characters would reappear in “What the Sniper Saw.” Giselle Duluth, the shotgun-toting face-punching counter-intelligence expert, soon became one of my favorite characters from those stories. When I first imagined her, I thought she looked like Amy Madigan in the 80s classic “Streets of Fire.”

McCoy was her name in case you forgot.

‘Recently though, Duluth wanted me to tell a new story, one less rooted in the violence and intrigue that usually marks the Eve Online/Dust514 universe. It took me a while to finally get the story written, but she wouldn’t leave me alone until I did and I’m mostly pleased with how it turned out. A couple of my friends are reading it now so it should be ready for publication in another month I’d say. The reason I bring it up is that, while I was learning more about Giselle she started to remind me of another blonde woman from the 1980s one that I barely got to know because her career started not long after I was born, and ended just as I was getting into my teens. I’m referring, of course, to the amazingly talented Wendy O. Williams.

I was fourteen when she appeared on The joan Rivers Show and I was so amazed. This lady was so outrageous that I pretty much fell in love instantly. Which was really unfortunate because Authority wouldn’t let her work and the Plasmatics broke up not long after that appearance.

If you’ve never heard of Wendy, or the Plasmatics, you’re missing out. She was a true Feminist Icon and she deserves to be remembered. Chainsawing guitars, sledgehammering TVs, blowing up cars ON STAGE…that is fucking PUNK, my friend. And she did Metal like nobody’s business.

I fucking loved that song and video when I first saw it back in the 80s and I still love it now. People like her are a rare breed and her suicide was a fucking tragedy. She played Cherry Hill, NJ when I was 10…right in my fucking backyard but come on, I was 10. Even if I knew she or the Plasmatics existed, there is no fucking way I would have been allowed to attend one of her shows.

Look at that smile. How could you not fall in love with her?

I’m not saying that Duluth is a fictional version of Wendy, I never got to know her so I wouldn’t presume to do that. It’s just this is how I see Duluth now. Well, without the mohawk.

So, more like this. Except without the ponytail.

RIP, Wendy. You are missed.

 

What the Sniper Saw

Author’s Note: This story is based on the Eve Online character Tibus Heth and the assassination attempt on him that occurred as part of the in-game backstory. Dusters Blog was asking for original short stories and they wanted a story based on that event, from the perspective of the would-be assassin. Since I felt that the official story was lackluster at best, I decided to give it a shot.

I am not affiliated with Eve Online, Dust514, or CCP Games in any way, shape, or form. This work is NOT to be considered part of the official canon, it is just something that I wrote for my own amusement. I hope this does not detract from your enjoyment of the story in any way.

Tibus Heth returned to the podium preparing to begin the next stage of the rally in the city of Okushin. Thousands had come to see their Hero today, the crowds filling the public square and extending for blocks in every direction. The leader was heavily guarded, a platoon of lightly armored men armed with stun rifles formed a solid wall between him and his adoring public. The threat of political assassination was always a real one, especially with someone as polarizing as Heth. This, however, was his home ground, and the faithful had turned out in force to see their beloved leader.

Tibus Heth

Almost two kilometres away a man wearing a full-body scout dropsuit watched impassively through the scope of a sniper rifle. He was nearly invisible lying in the shadows cast by the air ventilation towers on the top of a 102 story combination hotel and office building. The suit he wore had been designed for just such a purpose; advanced polymers and embedded circuits worked to render the wearer almost invisible to electronic surveillance, and the photo-reactive elements bent light around him to allow the wearer to fade into the background. He had climbed to this rooftop this morning in the predawn hours and had been lying here quietly since.

He had been waiting in these shadows for hours now. The armored suit was designed to protect the wearer from nearly any environment, but they became less and less comfortable as the hours dragged by. The opportunity to shoot Tibus Heth had come and gone several times that morning, but the sniper and his spotter had let each of them pass. The contract called for the killing to be carried out after noon, when Heth resumed his speech-making following the intermission. That meant the order to take the shot would be coming soon.

 “How you holding up?”  Duluth, his spotter, called to him from his suit’s internal comms, breaking the silence. She was waiting several floors down, watching the square through a pair of electronic rangefinders even more powerful than his sniper scope. She would break radio silence once per hour at random intervals to ensure he was awake and alert.

“I’ve been contemplating my life,” he replied quietly, his attention still on the target so far away that Heth would have been invisible without the enhanced electronic rangefinder in his rifle. “Thinking maybe I want to make a change somehow.”

“Oh?  Like what, Gaurav?”

“Well, next time I fall in love, I think it’s going to be with you.”

“Oh, be still my beating heart.” Duluth replied drily.

“I realize how difficult loving you could be.”  Gaurav continued, his eyes focused on his target.

“Knowing how much I love women?”

“That’s just because you haven’t found the right dick, Duluth.”

“Let me guess, your dick is the right one?” she sounded vaguely amused by this.

“How would I know?  I am, however, willing to offer myself up for experimentation. Because I’m a friend, and that is what friends do.”

Duluth laughed out loud and Gaurav grinned. This was an old, familiar game they played. Neither had any interest in the other sexually, which had made them fast friends. Their bond had only strengthened over the years as the result of numerous missions together.

“Get ready, it’s past noon.”

 “Copy.”  the sniper replied, taking a long, deep breath before exhaling slowly.

In his scope Tibus Heth had returned to the podium, basking in the adulation of the crowds, his stern face glowing in the bright light of the sun high overhead. Gaurav tightened his finger slightly on the trigger, taking out the slack. Designed by Ishukone Corporation for use against soldiers wearing dropsuits with full armor and electromagnetic shields, the weapon was huge, it’s size and weight making it impossible for use without the assistance of the tiny, powerful servo motors inside the dropsuit that amplified the wearer’s strength by a significant factor. The magazine only held three rounds, each one made to punch first  through the electromagnetic shields, then the extremely durable composite armor of battlefield soldiers. Even at this range he would have no trouble at all hitting his victim, knowing the bullet would instantly annihilate a mere flesh-and-blood target. Gaurav shifted his posture slightly, the suit scraping on the plasticrete rooftop. THe order to take the shot would be coming soon, he knew.

Suddenly Heth jerked to the side and a swarm of bodyguards moved to cover him, obscuring him completely.

“The fuck?”  Gaurav muttered as he shifted his sight picture, taking in more of the crowd, trying to puzzle out what had just happened.

“Gaurav, somebody is trying to steal our kill.” Duluth sounded distracted.

“Who?  Wait, I’ve got him…”

“I don’t know who this guy is, but I want to be his new best friend.” Duluth said approvingly. “Are you seeing this?”

Gaurav whistled through his teeth. “Look at those moves!  I’m sorry, Duluth, I think I’m in love with him!”

“Hey, I saw him first.”

“You said you wanted to be his friend.” Gaurav pointed out as he shifted posture again, tracking the battle below through the weapon’s scope.

“Never heard of breast friends, Gaurav?  Oh wait, of course you haven’t.”

Gaurav grinned but didn’t respond, turning his full attention to the tableau unfolding so far away from where he lurked.

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The killer slipped through the crowd, holding his cloak close, but not close enough to betray the outline of his pistol. There was no way anyone would be able to smuggle an energy weapon close enough to Tibus Heth at this rally. A carbon-fiber pistol that fired standard bullets, on the other hand..that was much easier to do. So long as one didn’t call attention to himself.

 As he moved among the crowd he scanned the faces of those around him, trying to spot anyone who wasn’t entranced by their great leader. Those would be plainclothes security officers sent there to ferret out people like him. He wasn’t entirely sure what he would do if he spotted any, but it did not hurt to be cautious. He sorely wished he could activate his suit’s cloaking field but that wasn’t an option. He’d left his helmet behind since no hood was deep enough to hide that, and the crowds were too thick for him to navigate while invisible. Instead he had chosen to simply camouflage himself as another admirer. His tunic and pants hid the sleek contours of his exosuit, and his long gloves covered his hands. His name was Ebow DaLetta and this was the first time he would ever murder someone.

Heth stood at the podium, smiling benevolently at the thronged masses, the crowd’s adulation the drug he craved. A phalanx of Provist guards stood before him, silent and watchful, ready should any trouble present itself. DaLetta drew his pistol and aimed it right at Heth’s face, his own a mask of peace. Revenge would be his.

Someone jostled his arm and he reflexively squeezed the trigger, the shot going wild and hitting Heth in his side, just below the arm. There were shrieks from the crowd as Heth toppled, then the Provist guards reacted.

True to their training they immediately began firing stun rounds into the crowd. This of course only made the crowd panic further. DaLetta hesitated, torn for a moment between fighting to his own death, and slipping away with the crowd, perhaps to take another shot at Heth later if he survived. Then the moment passed, and the guards had focused on him.

He reacted without hesitation, firing his pistol at each of the nearest guards, watching two of them fall, their blood spilling out onto the pavement. The others hesitated slightly,the wariness in the face of death revealing that they were simply humans;  apparently Heth did not trust clone soldiers with his life. This definitely counted in DaLetta’s favor, and he intended to take advantage.

Several more Provist guards fell as he emptied his clip then dropped his gun. There was no way he was going to escape this now, he knew that he had let that opportunity slip away. Now he intended to take as many of Heth’s henchmen with him as he could before they ended him. Dropping his now useless pistol he pulled a pair of Nova knives from his belt as he spun, his cloak billowing around him. The Nova knife earned it’s name from the searing plasma that arced along the weapon’s edge once activated. They were widely used by the clone armies of the various factions in New Eden. Designed for close-quarters combat, they were often the preferred sidearm of scouts. He raced towards a nearby statue then caromed off of it, leaping back at the cluster of guards, the weapons slicing through the lightly armored bodies as easily as if they had been wearing saffron robes.

DaLetta moved smoothly, flowing through the forms his father had taught him as a child. As he did he could hear his father’s voice reminding him of the important things:  balance, control, and peace. A warrior who lost his balance would soon lose his control; if he lost his peace then he would be lost entirely. As he danced with the guards among the rapidly fleeing crowds, the killer drifted on a sea of calm, his balance and control evident as he flipped, threw, and stabbed one guard after the other, several of them would never get up again.

His father had been a gentle man who studied the martial arts for the discipline, exercise, and spirituality. He had always taught his son to turn his back on strife and apply himself toward the betterment of his fellows. On the edges of the killer’s calm a sense of betrayal slid past like an oil slick, there and gone. His father had been a good and kind and decent man, and it was those qualities that had made him a victim of Heth’s racist followers.

There was no way he could have gone after Heth directly, not then. Heth was too powerful, too wealthy, too well connected. If he was to be brought down, serious work would have to be put into the effort. After much contemplation DaLetta had decided to enlist with one of the galaxies numerous mercenary training schools. After successfully completing basic training he underwent the surgeries to grant him the ability to be reborn at the moment of death in a new, cloned body. It was a situation that would set him apart from the rest of humanity, consigning him to live with other immortals, never to mingle with the general human population.

Clones have a different view on life and death, since they were essentially immortal. Because of this, some clone soldiers and their pilot brethren, the capsuleers, have been known to suffer psychotic episodes, a major reason for the segregation. Violating that law was going to get him into more trouble, he suspected, than the assassination attempt.

DaLetta had excelled at the warrior training and his aptitude testing, combined with his performance during training, had seen him moving on to Scout school after his recovery from the clone process. For the next six months he was trained in tracking, escape and evasion, and sabotage. He graduated near the top of his class and was highly sought after, eventually taking a position with one of the more respectable security corporations.

For two years he served honorably as a special security operative, protecting the assets and personnel of various business concerns. He had resigned his position last month.

Now, a judgement long due was going to be delivered.

For a moment he forgot his situation, so lost was he in the thrill of this fight. He tore off his cloak and used it to blind one of the Provist guards before jump-kicking the man solidly in his chest. Myofibril stimulants and kinetic enhancers made him stronger, faster, deadlier than the best-trained of mortal guardsmen. Even with his training and years of combat experience, there was no way he could have fought this many without his suit and the cloning implants.With them, however, this wasn’t a fight so much as a slaughter.

His armor’s shields had repulsed numerous blasts from the Provist guards’ stun lances, but the repeated bursts eventually overwhelmed his systems. When the next stun blast hit him dead in his chest he crashed to the ground, the Provist guards swarming him like ants.

Darkness clawed it’s way towards him, and within it he heard his father’s voice whispering “When a man goes to seek vengeance, he would be well served to dig two graves.”

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Duluth and Gaurav watched the unknown assassin fall, brought down by the weight of numbers of Heth’s Provist forces. He had taken down nearly a dozen trained guards, no easy task by the best mercs. Neither of them had recognized the man’s face, but they expected they would know his name before too long.

“Now what?”  Gaurav watched through the scope on his rifle as the square emptied, his face expressionless behind the darkened faceplate of his helmet. The failed assassination had clearly ended the rally earlier than anticipated, putting a major damper on the planned festivities as well as preventing Gaurav and Duluth from fulfilling their contract..

“Wait for sunset then come down. I’ll update Bryce on the situation and he can alert the client.”

The rest of the day crawled by, neither Duluth nor Gaurav breaking radio silence as they waited until after sundown for Gaurav to exit the rooftop, moving down to a maintenance room where they had stashed the shielded containers for his armor and sniper rifle. After that he descended the seventeen flights of stairs to the suite they had rented. Accidental witnesses were a risk, but a minor one, and they really had no choice but to take it. Both of them had made sure they had new clones safely off-world so if worse came to worse, they would just suicide out. Fortunately they had met no one and Gaurav was able to get cleaned up after a long day of waiting in the form-fitting exosuit.

“Planet is under martial law, so dinner is going to have to be here at the hotel.”  Duluth told Gaurav after he had showered. She was stretched out on the bed sipping mineral water and watching a news report on the attempt on Heth.

“That’s cool,” Gaurav shrugged. He wandered past her to his bed flopping down and stifling a yawn. “What did the Boss say?”

“He said to enjoy our time here, it might be a while.”  Duluth  grinned. “Oh, and he asked if we had ever done a jailbreak before.”

 

Threats

Author’s Note:  This story originally appeared in a slightly different form on Dusters an EveOnline/Dust514 fansite.

 

Jordan McNaught scrubbed a hand through a thick shock of ebony hair and shook his head.

“What I’m saying is, if we can’t find a single spot on a Dreadnought thin enough to punch through, then the whole damn project has to be scrubbed!”

“And I’m telling you, you’re not thinking about it hard enough.”  Janus Evanovich shrugged mildly. “Dr. McNaught, if you can develop a method of delivering troops onto an enemy ship undetected, your grandchildren will have more money than they can ever spend. I should think that would be incentive enough for one of the most brilliant minds in the galaxy.”

“It’s not a question of motivation, it’s a question of physics!”  McNaught sighed and slumped into his chair, the supple leather squeaking slightly. “We can hide a drop uplink inside of a projectile, that’s not the problem. We cannot, however, cushion the electronics from the detonation of the shell if we don’t use an inert projectile. And if we use an inert projectile we-”

He cut off as he suddenly noticed that Janus was looking at a datapad, not even pretending to listen to him. “So, I was thinking if we painted them with psychedelics and focused the power of positivity into them that might do the trick.”

“Well, that’s why you’re the engineer and I’m the CEO, isn’t it?  So let’s get this problem resolved, shall we?”  Janus didn’t bother to look up from her screen as she waved at him.

“Right.”  McNaught shrugged and pushed up from the soft leather armchair, one of a matched set that fronted Evanovich’s massive wooden desk. McNaught couldn’t have named the type of wood, but he knew it was probably worth a month of his salary. It was a massive expanse bare except for a large black leather blotter emblazoned with the Qualix Corporation logo; a ringed planet with a starship angled against the rings forming a giant letter “Q.”

Aside from the desk and the chairs, the office was bare of furniture. Massive viewports occupied the rear wall of the room offering a stunning view of a brilliant red planet below. The viewports were photosensitive and computer-controlled to protect the room’s occupants from being blinded by any glare from the world below. Protection that could be subtly manipulated, if one so chose.

“Oh, and Doctor?”

He stopped at the door, surprised. Turning, McNaught raised an eyebrow. “Yes, Ms. Evanovich?”

“I’m going to increase your department’s funding by 30% as I’ll be adding some new personnel from a recent acquisition. You’ll find your new assistant waiting for you when you return to your lab.” Evanovich smiled brightly, a warm glow from the red planet giving her a halo.

McNaught gritted his teeth and forced a smile. “Oh, super, good to hear Ms. Evanovich, thank you for the head’s up.”

A few months earlier and he would have argued with her, he would have raged about the unfairness of being forced to train new personnel without adequate time. And if he was feeling especially bold, he might even have demanded the right to select his own team.

That was before he learned how Evanovich worked. While she never raised her voice, she never let anyone forget who was running Qualix.

 

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What Qualix was trying was unprecedented, a weapon system that would deploy a drop uplink onto an enemy vessel. Once the ship was penetrated, the drop uplink would anchor itself to the bulkhead and wait for the ship’s auto repair systems to seal the breach. Then a specialized logistics trooper could simply create a localized wormhole and teleport onto the stricken vessel. Once on board they would place more drop uplinks to allow a squad-level assault to begin.

If this technology proved feasible it would make the Minmatar Republic the dominant force in the galaxy. Successfully testing this on a dreadnought would mean that no space station could resist it. The Republic would crush its enemies, Qualix would rise to the top, and Evanovich would be the hero of the hour. It would be the culmination of her life’s work.

Janus Evanovich was a fighter, a brilliant and effective mind locked inside a sturdy, athletic body. She wasn’t born to wealth, quite the opposite; Evanovich had clawed herself up from obscurity to graduate at the top of her class in the best schools on the backwater planet she grew up on. When she had joined Qualix, it had been on the verge of insolvency due to poor implementation of projects and other mismanagement. Under her leadership it had become one of the Minmatar Republic’s most promising weapons firms.

This project was top secret, with the highest security measures in play. All personnel involved in the project were under gag orders and had signed strict nondisclosure agreements with Qualix. Evanovich had left nothing to chance on this endeavor.

No communications devices could enter or leave the labs that had been given over to McNaught’s department. No computers in that department were accessible from outside the lab, their intranet was completely isolated. All data had to be brought there in hard copy and scanned by datapads organic to the lab itself.

Some of the engineers had complained about that in the beginning, but then she had annexed three entire floors of the station to serve as on-site housing. That had not only improved morale slightly, it had enhanced productivity as well since the engineers were essentially sleeping in their labs.

It was going to make her the wealthiest,  most powerful woman in the Republic, possibly the Universe. She could hardly wait.

 

********************************************************************************

 

McNaught strolled through the corridors of the Qualix Headquarters space station with a frown on his face. He had never been especially happy with Janus Evanovich. She wasn’t a bad CEO, but she wasn’t the nicest person in the universe. Evanovich was a brilliant businesswoman, no doubt about that…but McNaught was in charge of that lab, damnit!  Even if he couldn’t control the hiring and firing of his staff, he would at least like to be consulted!

There was nothing for it, though. Evanovich was going to get her way and he was going to have to deal with that idea. At least the personnel she had sent him were all top-notch in their respective fields, the best Qualix could afford to hire. In all fairness, Evanovich had arguably created one of the best research and development groups in the Republic. The revenues from various licensing deals and patent royalty arrangements from his department had enriched Qualix significantly, and Qualix kept her best and brightest fat and happy.

As long as they earned their keep and didn’t try to overstep themselves.

There was a soft hiss as the doors to a turbolift opened and McNaught stepped into the nearly-empty carriage. The other occupants were a small blonde woman with a pinched face and narrow, suspicious eyes and a badge that identified her as one of the station’s food service officers, and a tall man with a Van Dyke and large horn rim glasses whose badge was currently turned around backwards. McNaught didn’t recognize either of them but that didn’t bother him, the station housed over four thousand people and had hundreds more coming and going at all hours.

McNaught reached into his pocket and produced a keyring, singling one out and slotting it into the turbolift control panel and keying in the number for the engineering section. All turbolifts in the station had received software updates that isolated those floors from anyone who didn’t have a key. It was another security measure designed to safeguard this project.

With a barely perceptible jerk and a soft hum the turbolift descended. None of the three in the car spoke or looked at one another. When the turbolift stopped at the engineering section McNaught was surprised to see the other two occupants of the car exiting as well.

“Oh, hey,” he grinned. “You two must be new.”

“Yes, just got to the station today.” the man with the Van Dyke smiled and extended a hand. “Mason Pierce, demolitions expert.” Pierce indicated his badge, then turned it around to reveal his picture above a magstripe that would contain his biometric data.

McNaught raised an eyebrow as he accepted the other man’s hand. “Oh, you must be part of the company’s recent acquisition.” He grunted slightly as the other man grasped his hand with a rough, callused paw. Pierce clearly did more than just lab work.

“Indeed.” Pierce nodded. “I’m eager to see the labs, shall we?”

“Yes, of course, I just need to-” he cut off and glanced around, confused. “Where did that woman go?  The one from food services?”

Pierce shrugged his broad shoulders indifferently. “No clue, but I’m sure she’ll turn up soon. Shall we get on to the lab, Doctor?”

“Yeah, sure. I just need to inform security that we might have someone lost on the floor. Ms. Evanovich wants this place on total lockdown and we can’t have unauthorized people wandering through.”

“No, I suppose we can’t have that.” Pierce agreed quietly as he followed McNaught to a security station.

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In financial news, the trade markets in the Minmatar Republic suffered a loss of .2 percent on the news of a catastrophic accident today in the Qualix headquarters in orbit over Maklon VII. Information is still coming in, but as of now sources confirm that the Qualix Station was almost entirely destroyed when a series of explosions tore through the facility, beginning in the engineering section before rupturing the reactor core.

For months rumours have been swirling about the top-secret nature of the work being conducted in Qualix HQ. Qualix, one of the fastest-growing munitions companies in the Republic, was known for making extremely precise targeting and guidance systems for ground warfare units. Industry insiders, however, whispered that Qualix CEO Janus Evanovich had begun work on an entirely new type of weapon system and had moved the company’s headquarters to Maklon VII to personally oversee the implementation and testing of the new weapon in that remote stretch of space.

Tragically Janus Evanovich was present on the station at the time of the incident and at this time is presumed dead. The Qualix Board of Directors will be holding an emergency meeting to determine who will replace her.

The redhaired woman in the Gallente officer’s uniform cut off the video screen and settled back into her chair, tapping a sharply manicured fingernail on the black lacquered desk before her. For a long moment she sat quiet, contemplating this news before leaning forward and accessing one of the three datapads on her desk. After unlocking the screen she accessed an encoded messenger program and leaned back, the glass beads woven into her hair clicking softly.

“Excellent work, gentlemen. You will find the balance of payment has been transferred to your account, as per agreement. Should we have further use for your talents in the future, rest assured you will be our first choice.”

As she finished speaking she tapped the datapad with her red fingernail, sending the communique to the mercenary leader she had hired to destroy Qualix. Pushing the datapad back to it’s previous position, she turned her attention to the next item on a seemingly never-ending list of problems that faced the Federation.

The life of a military officer is a busy one, but she found great satisfaction in protecting her people. Especially from threats they never knew existed.

Copyright 2014 by Vesper Aeon