Marseilles. June 16th, 2148.
The rain beat down on the city night, dancing in the streetlights and car headlights. He preferred the rain, no-one pays much attention when they are getting wet, and right now he didn't need anyone paying attention. He looked around at the gloomy buildings, taking in the difference between the real world, and the mock-up inside the computer back at the facility. It was the dirt, Dabnor decided. Computers just can't recreate the dirt.
Recognising the shop front, he walked automatically along the route he had walked so many times before. The cars, the doors, the bins and most crucially, the gate, were all right there were they had been in the simulation. Dabnor could almost hear Jennings explaining with pride the realism of the program he had created, the thick American accent sliding across the vowels. Jennings had to be good at his job, for it was he who ran the remote MAV control systems from deep within the fortress he called home.
Dabnor silently closed the gate behind him and entered the overgrown garden. Following the wall round, he found the emergency stairs and quickly climbed them to the roof. From here he could see almost the entire city. The towers rising high into the sky, surrounded by shorter, more squat buildings. The sounds of the city were quieter here, but you could still make it out if you listen closely. Lights twinkled amongst the monolithic skyscrapers, making them look like the massive alien ships he had seen on screens and in comics when he was a kid. Scanning the city, he found what he was looking for; A grand, gothic building about 2 miles away from his rooftop lookout. His heart began beating faster, harder. The adrenalin coursed it's way around his body, tightening muscles, sharpening senses.
He swallowed hard, and kneeled to remove his backpack. The water on the roof seeped into his black trousers, making his leg cold, but this was irrelevant. He started to unzip the bag, but the sound made him jump. He stifled the urge to jump up, and remained still kneeling in the rain for a few seconds while he regained his composure. Finally, he slowly unzipped the bag, removed the contents and sat them on the wet tarmac sheeting on the roof. Two unremarkable black boxes, hinged. One was twice the size of the other. Three poles, each about a meter long with a small metal plate at one end. A triangular block, with a socket on every face except the bottom. All present and correct.
Dabnor took each of the poles in turn, and slotted them into the holes in the triangular block with a quiet, but solid, click. When he was done, he laid the tripod on its side. Next he opened the larger of the two boxes, and began to assemble what was inside. A sleek black barrel slid quietly into place on the stock, the trigger unit and handle next. He then placed what can only be described as a massive sniper rifle next to the tripod, and turned his attention to the remaining box. All that was inside was a wire, which he plugged into the trigger unit of the rifle, leaving the loose end free.
Quickly glancing around to ensure he remained unseen, Dabnor turned the tripod the right way up, and slapped the sniper rifle on top. He bit onto the middle finger of his right glove, and tore it off. His hand immediately lifted the back of his hat, and probed his scalp. He located the jack, and held his fingers there as a guide while he inserted the free end of the wire using his left hand.
Indicators came to life in his field of vision. Range, bearing, elevation, ammunition, the time, all lit up on a HUD that was superimposed over everything he looked at. Swiftly putting on his glove, he reached down to the large black box, and extracted a clip of rounds which he rammed home into the rifle. He threw his right arm over the weapon, placing his hand on the trigger unit's controls. His left hand cradled the thick barrel, aiming it towards the gothic structure. Pressing a button on the control was immediately followed by a soft *THUNK* as a single shell was loaded into the chamber. Another button replaced his field of view entirely, with the view the bullet has from the barrel. Using the controls, Dabnor zoomed-in to the building, where a large group of people were gathered, waving banners and calling out whilst heavily armoured law enforcement officers maintained a barrier between the throng and the steps of the building, and more officers encircled them. A pedestal with microphones sat at the top of the steps, flanked either side by the Federated States Flag. Dabnor checked the time on the HUD. 2053. Bang on time. As his attention went back to the steps, a small, tightly formed group of people marched smartly from the hall down to where the pedestal awaited. In the center of the group, was Jeremy Crouch, Chancellor of the Federated States, arguably the most powerful man on the planet. His guards were glancing around nervously as Crouch took up his position at the pedestal. Flashes strobed the area, as photographers earned their pay by providing tomorrow's headlines. Dabnor zoomed his sights in tighter, until Crouch's bobbing, talking, gesturing face filled his view. Dabnor could make out every detail on the man's old, worn face. The wrinkles that had grown over the course of a generation. The 5 o'clock shadow covering his face like a stubborn fungus. The scar where he had fallen from a tree when he was 9, and nearly split his skull.
This man has a wife, children, Dabnor thought. Heck, he probably even has grand-children. He ushered the thought away, the rain dribbling down his face, over his closed eyes and onto his clothes. He looked like a blind man, stood on a roof in the rain, aiming a gun. He reached for the trigger, and slowly squeezed.
Paris. June 12th, 2148.
Dabnor sat outside a cafe, drinking coffee and watching the French women walk by. He understood why the French women were internationally renown for their looks, he just hated the way that they knew it. The sun shone thick and yellow in the sky, warming his face. Soft music oozed from inside the cafe. Life was great. He was on leave. Marching up and down the Nevada strip-mines day in, day out, in a monstrous mechanical beast had done nothing for his spirits, and it was with no regret that he waved goodbye to the control pods to embark on 3 weeks of blissful, deserved, recreation.
The newspaper on his lap was covered in the usual propaganda. The Federated States were the kind, benevolent organisation that showered welfare upon poor nations, whilst the Eastern Confederation harboured terrorists and criminals, ran weapon smuggling and bio-research. "The Freedom" proclaimed all this every day, written differently each time of course, and provided photographs in full colour of the horrors that the EC caused all too often. Of course, there were photos of the FS military heli-dropping aid parcels to the grateful downtrodden civilians.
Dabnor took each story with a bucket of salt. He'd been there when an FS Colonel had ordered an entire town burned to the ground in southern Nigeria. Everyone was killed. Men. Women. Children. Everyone. He never did find out why, instead was spoon-fed the same crap as the media spouted to the masses: A rogue militia had occupied the town, and the FS had liberated the population. He'd also been there when he was ordered to fire upon the Eastern Confederation's medical convoy after they crossed into no-man's-land to aid a disease-stricken village. The EC weren't any better, he knew that. They were probably told the same lies too, but that didn't make him feel better about killing unarmed aid-workers and civilians. He remembered each and every one of them. The hospital workers in Nepal, the nomads in the Sahara, the faces contorted and twisted in death. Some complete, others blown to pieces by explosive munitions. The blood, so much blood. Fire. Screams. Barked orders to continue fire. Crying. Shooting. Explosions. The silence that followed, broken only by a few quiet moans, and the cracks of a pistol as mercy was dealt.
A figure moved in front of him, breaking the strong sunlight. Dabnor, roused from deep thought, looked up at the silhouette.
"Do you mind if I join you, Captain?" the person said in a soft, friendly, and above all, female voice. Dabnor cleared his throat before speaking.
"Err, sure. Be my guess, madam...?", he half rose from his seat, gesturing to the chair opposite and letting the newspaper slide from his lap onto the floor. The woman sat down in the seat, scooping up the newspaper and placing it on the table next to them. Dabnor followed the newspaper with his eyes as it lifted above her long, crossed, legs. She was wearing a dress-suit, dark red, made from a material that shimmered like water in the sunlight. Her hair was brown, cut into a neat bob and a slim pair of spectacles accentuated her strong cheekbones and jaw line. Finally he made eye contact. They were green.
"Amy, I'm Amy" she held her hand out, maintaining the eye contact between them. He cautiously took her hand and shook it gently before releasing it. Women were never this nice to him without reason.
"I'm Ebe...", he began.
"I know who you are, Captain Dabnor. Fact is, I've been waiting for you."
"Waiting for me?". An alarm bell rang inside Dabnor's head. He swung his head around, looking for any potential accomplices. "Who are you? What do you want?"
"As I said, I'm Amy. Major Amy McCaffree of the 403rd Special Forces Battalion." She was his superior, but his previous outings with the 403rd had taught him never to salute his superiors. To do so would advertise to the enemy how the 403rd's chain of command was structured.
"So what brings a Major of the 403rd to this sleepy little cafe? Oh, right. You were waiting for me, weren't you."
"Sarcasm doesn't suit you, Captain. Mind if I call you Ebenezer?"
"Yes, I do. Dabnor, if you please." He hated that name. His father was called Ebenezer also, and he didn't want anything to link the two of them.
"Fine. Dabnor. Look, we have an.... assignment we think would suit you perfectly." Her gaze was piercing. It hadn't even shifted while he looked around, it was as if she was staring directly at the implant on the back of his head. "Are you interested?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Of course you have a choice, they're just very..... limited." The friendly smile on her face didn't even slightly betray the obvious meaning behind her words. They stayed, eyes locked on each other's for more than a minute. This wasn't the stare of two people who were attracted to one another, although Dabnor's animal self had to admit that she was very attractive. This was more the kind of stare that is shared by two predators meeting in the wild, calculating each other's weaknesses and strengths. Judging whether to attack, or retreat. The world outside ground to a halt while they remained engaged in a battle of dominance.
Suddenly, Amy stood and thrust out her hand again. Dabnor automatically rose and shook the hand once more. This time, her grip was like steel.
"I must be going, Captain Dabnor. It's been a pleasure doing business with you." She released her grip, turned and walked away briskly down the street. Her suit glinting like the wavelets on a lake as her body moved underneath it. It was as the arms grabbed him roughly from behind and applied a chemical-ridden cloth to his face that he realised why they always sent the lookers to recruit him for missions. He couldn't spot the pick-up crew coming for him while he watched them leaving the meeting. With this thought, he passed out.
When he came to, he couldn't move. He wasn't restrained as far as he could tell, he just couldn't make his muscles work. A light blinked on the back of his closed eyelid. He'd been jacked, and paralysed. He tried opening his eyes, and they at least responded. He shut them quickly as several thousand candles worth of light hit his optical nerves causing a jolt of pain. The indicator blinked on, surrounded by the visual echo of the light that could have blinded him, or so he believed. Footsteps sounded behind him, stopping about 2 meters from where he lay.
"Open your eyes, Captain Dabnor". The voice was English, a Yorkshire accent.
"The...light..." Dabnor replied weakly. The unknown man sighed, and the footsteps walked away, in front of Dabnor. He heard some strange sounds, and the footsteps walked back.
"Now open your eyes, Captain Dabnor". Dabnor did as he was told, ready to slam them shut again if the light was still there. It was not. In front of him, a grand pair of curtains hung from the ceiling right the way down to the floor. They were closed. The room was half-lit by sunlight leaking around the edge of the curtains, light beams catching swirling dust as it slowly meandered around the room. The floor was wooden, and the ceiling was ornately artexed. An unlit chandelier hung almost immediately above him, but he couldn't see any other furniture. There was a man stood over him, right where the footsteps had ended. The man wore a long lab-coat, and was seriously balding. As he spoke, small flecks of spittle were ejected from his lips, and Dabnor prayed that none landed on him, despite knowing that a man in a lab-coat only meant bad things.
"Welcome to our facility, Captain. I trust you had a pleasant trip?" The man laughed, as if to a private joke.
"Yeah, peachy." Dabnor retorted. "Look, why did you jack me before I woke up?"
"A security measure, Sir. Annoying for you, but necessary for us."
"Oh right, I get it. You want me in a position where you guys can hit the kill switch if I refuse to co-operate. Look, I know the S.O.P. I can assume from this that the job is, well, delicate?"
"I wouldn't know, Sir. I'm merely a medic at this facility. My superiors just wanted me to make sure you woke up."
"And where are 'Your Superiors'" Frustration was getting the better of him, and it was clear in his voice.
"I am here" chirped a familiar voice. Dabnor tried to turn his head to look, but his neck was also disabled by the jack currently inserted into his cerebral cortex.
"Jennings?" he wasn't sure, but the way he said "Here" struck a chord.
"Yes, Dab, it's me. Victor, please leave us." The man in the white coat looked across and opened his mouth to question before thinking better of it, and promptly left the room. Once the door had automatically shushed itself closed behind Victor, Jennings continued. "You've already worked out that this mission is, as you put it so succinctly, 'delicate'. I'm going to lay our cards on the table here. This is your one and only chance to ask questions. As you may know, Chancellor Crouch is due to make a speech in Marseilles in three days time. The 16th."
"The 16th is in three days...?"
"Yes Dab. You've been under for about twenty hours." It hadn't even crossed his mind that he would have been unconscious for more than a couple of hours. Six was the longest 'Recruiting KO' he had suffered, until now.
"Twenty hours? What the hell?" Dabnor was more than frustrated. He was getting angry. "TWENTY HOURS?"
"Please, calm down Dab. You were under for so long so we could configure your implant to communicate with a new device. That's all."
As Jennings began to explain, Dabnor moved from anger to outright shock.
"You see, this mission is to assassinate Crouch when he gives his speech" Dabnor was silent whilst Jennings told him how Crouch was nothing more than a puppet politician, holding no power at all, prancing on the strings of his masters. Those masters controlled everything, except the 403rd. The 403rd was special, requiring no mandate from the Senate or the Chancellor, their hidden status allowing them to watch all that occurred. Jennings spoke of how the previous chancellor had established The Political Strategic Taskforce, and then buried them in the same way as the 403rd was buried by his predecessor. The PST grew more power with each day, siphoning funds from the Human Aid purse, marked only on the spreadsheets as expenses and hardware. It was made up of the leaders of military manufacture and commerce, from the companies that provided the MAVs to the men that shipped them to the various regions of the Federated States. Their original purpose had been to promote peace by strengthening the Federated States perceived military capability - they jokingly referred to themselves as the Smoke and Mirrors Department. Soon greed began to take root, and the roots began to spread. Instead of promoting peace, The PST began to actively encourage violence, both on the domestic front, and amongst other nations. Violence takes weapons. Weapons need people to make and sell them. Before long, the members of the PST were as rich as Kings and Queens. Their reach became ever greater, their purpose ever darker. Crouch's speech was supposedly to announce the increased aid being given to the poorer African countries, where people have starved for centuries. The true reason was increased state aid for The PST.
"But why assassinate Crouch?", Dabnor interrupted.
"It's simple. When a new administration is required, all funding decisions are frozen by the interim government. The PST need this money, now." Jennings slowly walked around where Dabnor was laid out.
"If the members are so rich, why do they need government funds?", this didn't make a whole lot of sense to Dabnor.
"Well, remember Missouri Mk5?"
"How could I forget?". The Missouri was the largest man-made craft to date, and Dabnor had watched it launch. Not on a screen or in VR. He had actually been there, patrolling the surrounding areas in an exoskeleton.
"Yeah, well, The PST has its eye on some research that stemmed from the Missouri Project. Cyber-Tronix is one of the few corporations that do not have members in The PST. They were commissioned to come up with ways of aiding the crew's survival in space. One of their primary research avenues was something called 'Cybergenetics'. The PST want this research, and to get it, they are willing to buy out Cyber-Tronix. Mind, Cyber-Tronix is worth multiple trillions, all of The PST's members wealth combined isn't enough. They plan instead on taking the entire aid budget that will be announced on the 16th."
"All of it?", spluttered Dabnor.
"All of it. If we can delay The PST's accessing of those funds, we may be able to prevent them from acquiring Cybergenetic technology. At least in the short term."
"I understand.", he didn't quite understand it fully, but he knew that it's not a soldier's job to understand. Just to do. "What's the method?". Jennings was taken aback.
"Woah, I thought I'd have to run it by you a couple more times. OK, the method. Long distance sniper just as Crouch opens his speech. Ceramic rounds, of course". Of course, ceramics. It was a little known fact outside the military that everywhere the Chancellor goes, so does an electro-magnetic field generator. Its function was quite elegant, in that it deflects any metallic object that strikes it. Every single previous assassination attempt on the Chancellor had failed because the snipers used regular rounds. Jennings was smarter than the average assassination plotter, and he undoubtedly had some of the best advice available on the globe. "Training will be conducted via virtual reality. We have an impressive recreation of Marseilles in our databanks, Dab. You think the MAV scenario relay systems were lifelike? Wait until you see it."
"I can't wait." Dabnor sighed.
"You don't have to" came Jennings' reply. The light that had blinked in Dabnor's vision faded away, taking reality with it. Digital blackness filled his sight, and was quickly replaced by the streets of Marseilles. The road stretched out in front of him, houses and shops flanked each side. Glancing up revealed the dark night sky, it's stars almost totally smothered by the artificial lights of the city. Dabnor habitually searched for Orion. His unseeing eyes flickered under his eyelids as his brain took visual feed directly from the jack in the back of his head. He reached around to feel for the jack, and was concerned when he couldn't find it. Total Immersion.
"Can ya hear me Dab?" crackled the voice of Jennings, seemingly across a dodgy radio. This was a deliberate touch, as no communication systems sounded that bad anymore, the only thing it could signal to someone in Total Immersion was a real person, in the real lab, in the real world.
'Yeah I hear you.' Dabnor sub vocalised, as he knew those thoughts would be interpreted into speech in the lab by one of Jennings' marvellous programs.
"Follow the path until you find a sweet shop" fizzed Jennings' voice. Dabnor could see the shop in question already. Brightly decorated with a large glass front, it's sugary wares on display. An ancient Barber's Pole was attached to the walls, it's paint flecked and peeling. "Next to the sweetshop are some commercial refuge containers..."
"Yes, Dab, bins. Look behind them, you will find a gate. Enter the gate, and look for some emergency stairs. They lead to the roof. Go there."
Dabnor had to admit, this was the best simulation he had ever seen. Leaves tumbled down the street, stopping to rest in the gutters before continuing their erratic travels. Tower blocks loomed in the sky, dwarfing everything around them. He skirted the bins, and entered the garden. It had been neglected for years, the shop-owners probably had no use for it. Climbing the stairs, he paused to feel the flaking rust under his hand on the rail, smirking to himself at how twenty years ago he would have loved a game as detailed as this. But this was no game.
'I'm there' he thought as he reached the flat uneven surface of the roof.
"OK. You see the Town Hall? It's the cream coloured building about two miles to your west."
'I've got it.' A status HUD imposed itself onto Dabnor's eyes.
"This is the view you'll get when you are plugged into the rifle. That's why we had to adjust your implant. Normal sights won't do the job at this distance, and we can't afford for you to miss, even once. Zoom in on the steps." Dabnor did as he was instructed, mentally urging the view to get larger. His implant was connected to the rifle, as far as it was concerned. The lab's computers ensured that. His view magnified until the stairway was a large as his hand held in front of his face. "That's where it's going to happen".
June 16th, 2148. Marseilles.
The gun was wet and cold in his grip, the trigger cutting into the flesh of his finger as he held it half in. Dabnor sucked in a breath and held it for a second before firing. There was no bang, no crack as the bullet left the rifle, instead there was a gentle hiss as the barrel closed itself off behind the bullet, just ahead of the acoustic shockwave. Silencers really are silent these days. He watched the round get smaller very quickly as it travelled away from him at supersonic speed. It took less than a second to strike it's target, cutting into the flesh, smashing the bone. Crouch's head rocked back as the bullet ploughed it's way through his brain, shattering like a broken glass star striking the floor as it hit the bone at the back. Dabnor saw a spray of blood, bone and grey matter erupt from behind Crouch's head before the man fell down, dead. People were screaming and trying to run away from the gory scene, but the officers surrounding them were following procedure, locking down the area and preventing the suspected assassins from escaping. The security forces were acting within seconds of Crouch falling, those that weren't locking down broke out their weapons and ducked behind every piece of cover while scanning the immediate vicinity for signs of a shooter.
Dabnor knew he couldn't be seen, so he calmly packed away the rifle and tripod into the backpack, before stripping off his black outer layer of clothing, and stuffing them in too. He descended the stairs, headed out the gate and rejoined the streets, blending in with city life in his freshly exposed jeans and shirt. He strolled along until he reached the white goods vehicle that had delivered him. He got in, and Amy drove him out of the city without a word.
When they reached what was the French border with Germany, Amy pulled the van off the road, and up a disused farm track into some trees. The ground was rough, and the van's suspension was very soft causing Amy and Dabnor to bounce insanely in their seats. Dabnor swore each time his head struck the roof. After an arduous five minutes on their bouncy-castle ride, the track smoothed out and the trees alongside it opened out. They came to a halt next to a white-painted wooden toll-booth, complete with road barrier. Amy wound down the window, leaned out and pulled a wire out from under the booth's windowsill. She leaned forward in her seat, and pulled her hair forwards as she inserted the wire into her jack. A moment passed, and Amy pulled the wire from the back of her head and threaded it back through the van's window, into the hidden hole under the sill. As the barrier lifted, she turned to Dabnor and winked before putting the van into gear and continuing down the track.
The van rounded a corner, revealing in front of them what appeared to be a derelict farm cottage. It's whitewashed panelling was cracked and broken, none of the windows held a complete pane of glass and tall grass was forcing it's way through the gaps in the paving. To it's side lay an equally ramshackled barn, one door hanging by a single hinge. The other was missing entirely. Amy drove the van into the barn and got out, beckoning Dabnor to do likewise. She led him to the cottage's front door, where she inserted two separate keys and turned them simultaneously. The door slid open, the smell of stale air poured out to greet them. Inside was as neatly decorated and as well kept as any hotel you would find in the city. The hall was painted white, with an off-grey carpet. A single door led off each wall, one to the left, one the right, and one at the very end directly opposite them. The door slid shut behind them once they had stepped inside, and Amy gestured Dabnor to the door at the left while she went towards the one on the right.
"At the end of the hall is the bathroom. In your room you'll find a small kitchen, a bunk, and a receive-only screen. Good night, Captain", and with that the Major stepped through the door and closed it. A faint sequence of clicks told Dabnor that she had locked it tight, too. He walked into his room, and found exactly what he expected. A small gas-powered stove next to a cupboard jam-packed with tins of food that would never go off, and pans to cook them in. A sink and drainer held the only plate, knife, fork and spoon he could find. The bunk was simple, with 2 sheets and a pillow. There was no mattress, just a thin foamy rubber mat on top of a wooden block that made up the base. At the end of the bed was a twenty-four inch screen which flicked into life when Dabnor walked near it. Adverts sold their luminous goods to an ever eager public, dowsing the room in a flickering light. A bare forty watt bulb burned in the middle of the ceiling, and there were no windows.
Dabnor locked the door, and killed the light before stripping down. He climbed onto the bunk, and found the remote control for the screen under the pillow. He flicked around the channels, searching for news of his exploits. Nothing. When Longwalker resigned from his position as Chancellor, the screens were blanket coverage of the event, and the subsequent speculations as to his successor. Childhood friends who hadn't seen him in decades were dragged in front of the cameras to give their account of why they thought Longwalker quit. His associations were questioned, and his credibility attacked. Dabnor was expecting twice the media frenzy for an assassination, but he found nothing. After an hour of scouring the hundreds of screen channels, Dabnor switched the screen off, and curled up into a foetal ball to sleep. The day was at an end.
Tomorrow he could go back to his holiday in sunny Paris. The theatre was playing Shakespeare's MacBeth, and Dabnor had made a point of booking tickets for it when he started out on his leave. Habit made him buy two tickets to every show he attended, yet he always went alone. He'd convinced himself this was so he had 'room to spread out' when seated in a large audience, the truth was he had always bought the extra ticket for his wife. Fate had stolen her from him, and part of his subconscious fought the loss every day. Amy's eyes were just like his wife's, but then he found similarities to her in every woman he looked at.
June 17th, by the Franco-German border.
He awoke to the noise of someone banging on the door. Amy was calling his name, demanding he open up. He groggily swung his legs over the edge of the bed, and rubbed his temples while he orientated himself into the now. The banging was incessant.
"All right, don't get your knickers in a twist, I'm coming" he murmured as he lurched towards the door. His fingers fumbled the lock, and he pinched the skin between the bolt and the frame. Swearing, he shot the bolt back and whipped open the door. Amy burst in, brushing him aside.
"Have you switched on the screens?" she stuttered. She was shaken, and didn't look like she had slept much.
"I saw a little last night. They didn't mention Crouch once." he replied as the Major grabbed the remote from where he had let it fall by the side of the bed. The screen buzzed to life, and she switched it over to the New Paris Network News channel. A middle-aged woman was reading from the autocue into camera. Amy boosted the sound.
"....worth over six-hundred trillion in aid packages, Crouch announced the move in a speech he gave in Marseilles last night. The Red Cross Internationale said this morning that they welcomed the pledge saying that it would alleviate the suffering of thousands of people in the poverty-stricken countries. In other news, a cross-channel ferry sunk last night on it's voyage from Calais to Harwich. Coastguards report that no-one survived what has been dubbed one of the worst ferry disasters in recent years, which has killed at least two-hundred and fifty people including members of the international press who were heading to Engl....", Dabnor snatched the remote and stabbed the off button. The newsreader promptly disappeared.
"What the hell? He never gave the speech! He barely said two words before I took his head off!"
"I know, I know. Somehow they have covered it over. There were hundreds of people at that speech, what did they do with them all?" Amy was as concerned as Dabnor. They both turned back to the screen as they realised. Dabnor hurriedly turned it back on to find it showing the shadow of the ferry lying under the water, lifejackets and bodies floating on the surface like a gala flotilla. The camera view slowly rotated as the helicopter shooting the images banked around the scene, circling like a waiting vulture that has spotted a traveller on his last legs.
When he turned to face the Major, Dabnor noticed that the blood had drained from her face. His wife's eyes, AMY's eyes gazed at the scene as if in shock. He reached out and touched her on the shoulder. She spun around, grabbing his wrist and wrenching his hand from her shoulder.
"Listen, Captain. This is no longer your concern." she no longer looked worried, she looked like his superior, and he listened. "For you, this mission is over."
"Yes Sir". Females were no longer addressed as Ma'am. Equality included title where appropriate, and in the military, it was.
"In the barn, you'll find another vehicle. Take it, it's a rental hired in your name in Paris. The glove box contains your cover-story."
"Well? What are you waiting for?" She yelled. Dabnor wondered for a minute what indeed he was waiting for before he realised that he was naked. He hurriedly pulled his clothes on, and headed out the door leaving Amy stood in his room, looking stern.
A rental was indeed waiting in the barn, the driver door open. He climbed in and examined the contents of the glove box. A receipt was the only thing in there. He read it, and discovered it was from a five-day pass to one of the many "adult" entertainment ranches to be found on the outskirts of Paris. Apparently someone had a pretty good time while pretending to be Dabnor to create this cover story. Dabnor sighed. He never got that job. He started the car and began the long drive to New Paris. He headed straight for his hotel, ordered room service and spent the day finally relaxing his body, whilst his mind fought to work out what exactly was happening. The job may be over, but that didn't stop him wondering. He slept fitfully, waking early the next morning.
June 18th, 2148.
A combination of habit and curiosity made him switch on the screen before even getting out of bed. The story on the news made him freeze solid. The screen showed a large crater in the streets of New Paris, still smoking, with a twisted lump of black metal sat in the center. The caption read "Crouch killed alongside aide in terrorist car bomb this morning." Dabnor thumbed up the sound to catch a reporter live from the scene, which he watched with all the attention of someone watching their own funeral.
"That's right Jill. Here on the Sade boulevard the scene is one of utter dismay. The bomb that killed Crouch and his aide has devastated the car they were travelling in, and I am sure you can see for yourself the tremendous destruction laid out before me. People are leaving flowers at the scene already, and The Court of States has announced that Astolpho Knight will take over from Crouch, at least on an interim basis. His first action was to declare a State of Mourning, and has opened a memorial fund which will add funds to the generous Aid increase announced by the late Chancellor Crouch on the 16th...."
"Bruce I'm going to have to stop you there, we'll come back to you soon. News just in: The aide that died alongside Chancellor Crouch has been named as Major Amy McCaffree of the 2nd Homeland Brigade. We'll keep you informed of any further developments as they break. Bruce, back to you."
In 2149, the members of The Political Strategic Taskforce used the money siphoned from the Aid programs to purchase a majority share in Cyber-Tronix. Using the increased cash-flow, Cyber-Tronix were able accelerate the research into Cybergenetics. They introduced the technology to the military as part of the Block Wars campaigns in 2151, essentially ending them.
No-one ever claimed responsibility for the car bomb that killed both Jeremey Crouch and Amy McCaffree.
Jennings was never seen again. It's believed he is still performing duties for the 403rd, but no-one knows where.
Captain Ebenezer Dabnor returned to his duties operating MAV's from a secure location. He remained with the military until the end of the Block Wars in 2151. It's believed he now works as a mercenary, performing tasks for whoever pays the most.