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Live and Let Die

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In a drop pod far above the surface of a war-torn planet known by its inhabitants as "Sirrus," its invaders as "Objective 44-Alpha 2," and the pod's sole inhabitant as "the job site," a small viewscreen lit up suddenly. Across an encrypted battle-comm channel, the tinny voice of one "Major Isaac MacDougal" explained via narrow-band broadcast to the silent figure in the pod how the battle was going, where the enemy was dug in, and where they'd drop the resupply pod that he could replenish his ammo from when (not if) he breached the enemy lines. The figure stood emotionlessly motionless as the face on the viewer droned on about how he'd come "highly recommended" and how expectations were high, how if he had a platoon of "soldiers like you, the war would be over," all the standard semi-sarcastic drivel that field commanders told mercenaries whose purpose was to succeed where they themselves (along with all the men they commanded) had failed.


Finally, the briefing ended, and the screen went blank once more. The darkened cabin of the pod, built to be just large enough for two men and their equipment, was lit only by the orange glow of the pod's ablative heat shielding burning away as it streaked through the atmosphere. The light came in through a small viewslit in the door designed to allow the occupants to ascertain that they'd landed, though the concussion of the pod hitting the planet's surface usually clued them in that they'd reached their destination. From the outside, it looked just like all the other shock trooper drop pods that had delivered the advance and special forces troops to the surface; it had the same markings, the same half-burned shielding, and the same downward trajectory into the entrenched forces opposing the spaceborne assault force. Also, it possessed the same penchant for attracting antiaircraft fire, its presence on radar causing gunnery crews to leap to their station and adjust their firing solutions to intercept the pod en route to the surface. More than a few gunners wondered about the presence of a single pod in the otherwise empty sky, but none wanted another invader to land on their soil, so they launched their ordinance skyward and waited for the blossoming explosions to consume the tiny vehicle.


Moments before the deadly projectiles exploded and reduced the pod to scraps, the door flew open and the occupant jumped out into the air. Moments later, the armor-clad, gun-toting, freely falling figure was obscured by the dust and metal left over from the pod's destruction and was assumed to be just more detritus cascading down across the battlefield.




Dismounting from the control platform of his flak cannon, one gunner lit a cigarette and watched as the varied panels and armor scraps clunked harmlessly off the transparent canopy above him. Puffing the tobacco's internal flame to life, he glanced back at his radar screen, which shoed nothing but the last bits of the destroyed target. He glanced back upward just as the canopy shattered under the impact of a high-explosive grenade, which was a concussion far more devastating than the transparent dome had been rated to withstand. The gunner yelped in surprise as a booted foot crushed his sternum, but lay still after the foot drove him into the plated floor of the observer's dome. Shouldering a rifle as he stepped off the corpse and onto the still-lit cigarette to extinguish it, the booted foot's owner smiled ironically. "Smoking kills." he muttered off-handedly to the dead man as he strode toward the control platform.


The next two minutes were infused with unmitigated chaos as the flak gun with a broken observation canopy suddenly fired its payload into another gun's contol platform, incinerating the gunner and igniting its unspent ammunition. The explosion destroyed the adjacent communication relay, cutting off six cannons from the network. Dumbfounded operators looked about wildly as the voice of their superiors was silenced, then in terror as another cannon fired on the one with a broken canopy, having witnessed it destroy the relay. Other cannoneers, unable to communicate with the rogue cannon that was in fact the only one with any clue as to what was actually transpiring, assumed the worst and blasted it out of commission. More cannons fired in the melee, unable to distinguish friend from percieved foe, and fire blanketed the area in a fierce maelstrom borne of confusion and assumption.


A damage control and assessment team was sent in a hoversled to ascertain what was going on, but the saboteur, having extricated himself from the conflagration left by the flak cannons annihilating one another, destroyed the vehicle with an anti-vehicle grenade from the underslung launcher on his rifle. Reports of ground troops firing on one another spread throughout the already-confused ranks still flabbergasted by their anti-aircraft support guns destroying one another, and it was a simple matter for the lone orchestrator of the chaos to toss a grenade into a trench then fire a rifle round at the sergeant of a nearby company. Units began returning fire on targets that had not actually fired upon them, and it wasn't long before entire companies were wiping one another out regardless of what their commanders were telling them or who had initiated the actual firefights. Meanwhile, in the thickest of the fighting, a figure clad in grey body armor scythed his way through the serried ranks, dispatching targets with ease and dodging fire with superhuman agility. Grabbing a comlink from a downed battalion commander, he fitted it to his ear with one hand while firing single rounds from the heavy rifle in the other. "The fire's getting heavier... who's responsible for this?" came the staticky voice of, judging by the respectful but harried responses of various sergeants and commanders dodging rifle bullets, the force commander. Nobody seemed to know what was going on, which was the plan.


In a flawless imitation of the force commander's voice and a low-power comlink broadcast that lacked the strength to carry all the way to the command center, the running, gunning man ordered troops in his area to fire on the aforementioned command center housing the actual owner of the voice. The words spoken through the purloined communicator had their desired effect, and a tank battallion opened fire on the command center following a hasty explanation in the commander's voice that "unknown saboteurs" had apparently taken over the command center and started the chaotic upheaval that was now obliterating the entire battle force. A pillar of flame erupted from the armored command center after a vicious pummeling from the assault vehicles, and the broadcasts from the real force commander ceased.


The saboteur, having effectively beheaded the enemy battallion (and destroyed a large part of their ordinance to boot), hopped over the crest of a hill and rolled stealthily into a depression on the other side. Extracting a line-of-sight transmitter from his pouch, he beamed a message straight upward to the ships waiting in orbit that he was ready for supplies and that the anti-aircraft capabilities of the enemy force had been "reduced." He imagined MacDougal's expression as news was relayed about the success of his mission and almost smiled.


Then, suddenly, his phone rang.


Of course, his "phone" was far more advanced than Alexander Graham Bell had ever envisioned when he first communicated at a distance via sounds transmitted through wires; indeed, the only parallels between that device and the one carried by the mercenary were that it was used for communication at a distance and that they were both innocuously called "phones." Phone, in this case, actually stood for Personal Holographic Orbital Network Emitter, and was chosen more for its nostalgic tie to the word "phone" than the actual meaningful description it offered about its function. It indeed interfaced with orbital networks strung across worlds and galaxies, but didn't "emit" them as the name implies when read as such. It emitted the personal holograms instead, though the device was popular enough with the general populace that nobody really cared if the words the acronym stood for really made sense in order.


"What is it?" the man snapped angrily, as callers interrupting him on missions was one of his pet peeves. Only a few people actually had his Personal Holographic Orbital Network Emitter Code Number, and they knew not to contact him unless it was important. Still, even if it was important, it was annoying.


"Got a hot one, Sug. Somethin' big this time." replied the voice on the other end of the connection as the image materialized on the hologram projector. A purple-haired, violet-and-blue-skinned female sporting robotic vines on her back appeared in holographic miniature as her terminal synced up with its target on the distant battlefield.


"I told you before, Warchord, it's 'Kane,' not 'Sug' or 'Sugar' or whatever you keep calling me." replied the man, restocking his ammunition from the supply pod that had unceremoniously thudded into the planet's surface while he was talking via the holographic network.


"Kane, kinda like Sugarcane, thus, Sugar. Sug to your friends." was Warchord's smirking reply. She loved to press Kane's buttons, so long as she was safely located on the other side of a long-distance communication signal with some scrap of information he might consider not killing her for.


"I don't have any friends." was his curt reply as he slid a fresh clip of ammunition into his rifle and chambered a round. "What is so important that you..."


"Interrupted you?" she interrupted, pushing another button in Kane's violence-filled mind. Deciding to quit while she was ahead (and while she still had her head), she continued. "It's something big... there's a 'client' interested in someone 'procuring' a powerful or valuable object from some forgotten corner of the cosmos. Lots of other people are loookin' for it, it's on some ancient space station or planet or some-such... the pay is phenomenal. You interested?"


"My brother's the one that goes chasing mythical knick-knacks, girlie." he replied quietly. Surprisingly, she heard him over the omnipresent sounds of battle going on all around his small haven.


"They asked specifically for you, not Spacey." she explained, her holographic figure turning its head toward a miniature datapad and furiously typing away. She looked up as an artillery shell destroyed most of the hillock Kane had chosen as his resupply point.


"It seems someone may have found me." he said through a somewhat unsettlingly wicked grin. "Guess you'll just have to send Insaney after all."


"But like I told y..." Warchord began right before Kane disconnected the transmission and headed out. Warchord wasn't the only person who could 'press buttons.'




"So, the legendary Psychopathic Space Hunter has agreed to obtain our item?" asked the three-inch holographic figure adjusting the jacket of its business suit as it looked up at Warchord.


"Uh, yeah. One psychotic bounty hunter, as you requested." she replied, gesturing to the silent figure clad in a suit of grey armor behind and to the left of her. Sporting a dark blond ponytail and a heavy assault rifle, his grim demeanor was that of a soldier fresh off the battlefield of some war-torn planet.


"Excellent! We'll rendezvous with you in the Rigel system as agreed, and provide transport to the location of the object in question. A pleasure to do business with you." replied the suit-clad man as the transmission faded.


"Okay, cool, we did it!" exclaimed Warchord in a relieved, yet far less businesslike manner than she'd adopted during the transmission. "Good job, Spacey!"


"No problem. I always wondered what it'd be like to be Kane." replied 'Spacey,' otherwise known as The Insane Space Hunter. Clad in a spare set of Kane's battle armor and carrying one of the many weapons his warlike sibling had tucked away in a corner of the cargo hold, he'd slightly recolored his hair to resemble that of his twin during his impersonation.


"How is it?" Warchord asked, punching in a course to meet their employer.


"I seem to talk a whole lot less." the Hunter replied, quietly contemplating the fact that not only did he need to talk less, he needed to not talk about the things he usually did (such as obscure penguin languages, French martial arts stances in relation to modern blaster combat training methods, and bovine organisms sporting varying hues not generally noted to occur on Earth). "I guess I should probably sound like him, too." he mused, switching to Kane's voice. Both he and Kane had the ability to mimic voices flawlessly, though situations where they employed the other's voice didn't come up too often.


"Sounds good... you have to really sell the fact that you're Sug on this mission; they specifically requested him and downright refused to work with anyone else." she warned him. "Good thing you guys are perfect body doubles of each other."


"Right! The proof of the pudding is in the details!" he exclaimed helpfully, reminding Warchord of how uniquely imperfect Kane's 'perfect body double' really was.


"Try again, Spacey." she admonished, planting her hands and all her vines on her hips in a show of disapproval.


"Oh, right. I mean, uh... live and let die?"


"Okay, that's better... I think."

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