Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

We were getting pasted in a dogfight off Agnos IV when Team Havoc dropped out of subspace and chewed up the Havna interceptors that had been giving us grief. The thirty-two of us left were damn happy to see the cavalry.

“Marduk Leader to Havoc Leader. Cheers for the assist.”

“No problemo, Marduk. Happy to help.”

At that moment, the jaws of the Havna trap closed and seventy-two Crusis Class interceptors appeared in four ‘eighteen wheels’ formations.

“Marduk Leader to all Marduk units. Looks like we get to celebrate on the run. Havoc, you got flank?”

“Hell no. I got the latest version of Combat Assessor online. Predicts over eighty percent losses. Havoc Flight, reset to start of zone in three,-”

“Reset what?”

“Oh man, you’re realtime? That sucks. Havoc out in two, one… Seeya.”

Team Havoc vanished into subspace and the dying began.

The merging of flight simulators, multiplayer combat games and drone technology started back in the mid twenty-first century. When man went into space via the discovery that subspace could carry more than communications, ‘simdrones’ became the new frontier. Billions of young gamers could reconnoitre actual new planets, all from the comfort of their recliners and gameshelms.

When negotiations broke down with the Havna, we nearly won. A million simdrones piloted by teenagers from across the world had the Havna outnumbered and out-insanitied – there are no limits to what you’ll attempt when you can’t die.

Havna technology advanced and subspace feedback missiles gave the simdrone community their first casualties: 196,547 in two days, to be precise. Cocky became cowardly. So much so that ‘training missions’, supposedly in virtual environments on Earth, were actually live missions, pulled off without the knowledge of the all-too-aware-of-their-mortality little darlings safe at home.

Occasionally, clusterfucks like the one that killed all bar three of Team Marduk happened. Apparently, Team Havoc received a ‘stern’ reprimand.

We hear the chime within the house. It’s a fine day and people are sunning themselves by their pools. Stacey and I, we look summer-ish. Get too close and you’ll see angular outlines under our jellabiya.

The door opens and a woman who could be anything between fifty and ninety smiles at us, revealing teeth to match her million-credit bodywork.

“Can I help you?” Her tone indicates mild curiosity.

“We’re from SD Monitoring, Madam. Can we speak to the resident SD Warrior?”

She sighs: “Warrior? Pain the neck is what he is. CECIL! People from the base to see you!” With that, she leaves us standing there and saunters off, calling for the maid.

A few moments later, a well-built teenager in a silk dishdasha ambles out: “You two my new handlers?” He focuses on Stacey: “Oh man, they sent a babe.”

I rest the foot-long suppressor that fronts my Morgan .60 cal on the tip of his nose: “Marduk Leader to Havoc Leader. Karma time.”

The kick shocks my wrist, elbow and shoulder. Cecil’s head sprays across four metres of parquet and stucco. I look at Marduk Seven – Stacey. She nods.

“Next?”

She checks the datapad on her wrist: “Two houses down on the other side.”

“Law enforcement window?”

“Nine minutes.”

Three minute walk, one minute knock and wait, one minute kill.

“Send subspace co-ordinates for the road outside the next house to Marduk Twenty-Three. Evac in seven.”

Jimi’s that good. Put him in a captured Crusis Class and we become oni: unstoppable demons of vengeance. By the time questions are asked about surveillance suppression and the like, we’ll be back in our quarters on ISS Twelve having left no traces of our little field trip.

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