Author : Asher Wismer

Jack realized he’d been shot. The pain lanced up his leg, shooting through his hip into his chest, and for a moment, he thought that another of the flying bullets had struck home. Instead, the pain receded, only a slight twinge as his armor took over and tightened around the wound, and he took two steps and launched himself into the sky.

The flying drones surrounded him. He ignored them — they were more for distraction than for damage, and they couldn’t do anything to his armor anyway. At the apex of his jump, he activated the graviton thrusters and powered over the building, turned at speeds that threatened whiplash, and landed with a bone-jarring thump on the roof.

The drones pulled off, not programmed to operate in the building’s defense sphere. For a moment, Jack was safe; he flicked the auto-medic on and felt relief as morphine flowed into his leg. Not enough to slow him, though; he took a quick look around and saw the stairwell door, which shattered under his foot.

Down the stairs and into the main lab. Around him, the lab’s automatic defenses activated and he shot them out, one by one, wincing as electricity slammed into his armor and flowed around the Faraday shell down to the floor.

Behind him, the main door cycled open. He spun and leaped behind the wreckage of a desk as the security team, themselves encased in armor, opened fire. They had weapons that would cut through his armor like butter. Instead of waiting for a break, he scuttled to the side and blew a gaping hole in the wall ahead. Before he fired his graviton thrusters, propelling him through the side of the building, he activated the contingency bomb and let it fall to the floor.

He was three floors down from the lab, falling fast, when the entire lab floor vanished in a pounding explosion.

The graviton generator saved him from pancaking on the pavement. Emergency vehicles circled into the parking lot, and for the moment, no one noticed him, standing up in the bulky armor that added two feet and one thousand pounds to his small frame. The comm in his helmet pinged.

“Did you get it?”

“Couldn’t get my hands on it,” he said. “I had to blow the whole floor.”

“That’s not what I paid you for.”

“That’s all I could do,” he said. “At least no one else will get it.”

“Fine,” the voice said. “Come back for debrief. I want to see the tape as well.”

Jack signed off without answering. Someone shouted and he started to run. Nothing on land except another armor unit could catch him when he went flat out.

It would take a few hours to fabricate the tapes, showing a much larger force in the lab, proving that he couldn’t get the virus out before he had to bail. His employer didn’t need to know that he never intended to steal it, but to destroy it. The virus was a horrible thing, and he knew personally what it would do if his employer got hold of it. He would never leave the armor, would die still inside it after, he hoped, a productive life, long or short.

Inside the armor, Jack felt the itch start up in his lower back, even though there was no skin there to itch. He ignored it; it would go away in time. His leg would heal as well, inside the metal skin that had replaced so much of his body.

Better this way, Jack thought. Much better.

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