Work in Progress
BROKEN FURY: Katharina Danielsen is selling secrets from the cyberspace research division of her employer, Relux. Her clandestine buyers decide they would prefer not to deal in bits of intel but rather have the source, so arrange a covert extraction to grab her from the Relux facilities in Tromsø, north Norway. Massimo Pandev is called in to do the job. Things don’t go entirely to plan leaving Pandev holding a debt he is reluctant but obliged to repay.
Djr note: I started this last month. Currently on 11,000 words (Chapter 4). It started as a “fun project”. Just some fast-paced action scenes to enjoy whilst working on Oakfield. It starts Massimo Pandev, a new character who also appears in another back-burner project called Sunder Gloom (sequel to Living in Flames).
This is a rough edit. Straight from the machine. Ignore typos and glitches.
NOTE: featured hero image is a still from the movie Heat (1995) and is used for visual flavour only; it has nothing to do with this work.
The Chinese didn’t play nice. If the job didn’t go as planned, Andre advised, he’d be lucky to be gunned down in the corporate lobby. If they caught him, he’d be whisked off to some isolated rural place and have his throat cut. They wouldn’t kill him straight away but slice him deep enough so it took time to bleed out. They’d watch him squirm, let him clutch his hands to the wound, but in the end nothing would save him. These were the stakes, Andre explained.
Massimo Pandev didn’t have choice. He needed the money.
“I could get lucky.” Pandev suggested with a hangman’s humour. “They might decide to just cut my head off for Xin Zhou’s collection of rotting skulls on spikes.”
Gaze fixed ahead, Andre displayed a slow sick smile and muttered, “They might also decide to skin you alive.”
It was not long past 9 p.m. and it had been dark for an hour. Outside the IR-absorbent fabric of the cammo-wrap, the air temperature was just below 10c. The first snow wasn’t due for a few weeks. This was Tromso, far north of Norway and the Polar Circle. The small chemical-heat pack against his lower back was still warm but he could feel the chill working its way into the rest of him, creeping through the fibres of his big puffer jacket. Not even the layers of the Wulf armour vest he wore beneath was going to keep the cold out tonight. His backside was as cold as a side of frozen beef. He couldn’t feel anything between his legs. His bollocks had probably shrivelled up like prawns. He had given up trying to clench his buttocks to generate some heat.
The two of them had been sitting as still and quiet as statues for the last two hours. Brief banter was often a necessary vent after so much inaction. They were stationed on the flat roof of a two story commercial premises that was closed every evening after six o’clock, apart from Sunday’s when it didn’t open at all. The building was empty. The rear gate was concealed by shadows: Pandev had disabled the public lighting there eight days earlier. A portable hook-and-climb nylon ladder gave them access to the roof.
They were a moderate distance from the stubby Relux building, home of the Relux Cyberspace Division. The street lighting was widely dispersed and not very powerful, creating large pools of darkness that helped to conceal their nocturnal residency. The cammo-wrap was like a tent, adjustable spines giving it support and rigidity where needed. It was amazing how much it could be made to blend into the upper architecture; even the trained professionals out on the streets below would have a hard time spotting them. That was the plan, at least.
They were pointing down the slope of Jens Olsens Gate, looking onto Strandvegen a hundred and fifty metres from their station. Strandvegen was a main thoroughfare through the small city. It was still busy at this time of night, a steady trickle of well-behaved traffic trundled through their line of sight. Apart from their observation point, the area was mainly residential; two-story weather boarded properties with low sloping roofs hugged each side of the quiet road.
The few people that walked past looked like locals heading home from after-work engagements. Most of them had their heads down against the arctic gale that was blowing around outside. The wind rocked two of them every now and again, in between sucking hungrily at every crack with a shrieking whistling sound.
Demons are singing, Pandev mused. He wasn’t superstitious but did have an unusual interest in the occult. Personal experience had taught him not all things in life could be explained with science, or killed with a knife, gun or grenade.
He visualised the op and what he would do if things went bad. This was an extraction. Fancy way of saying kidnap. Their target was a senior researcher, some boffin in a white lab coat who had got her hands dirty selling company secrets. Now her buyers wanted more.
Andre’s chief role was driver and pilot. There was a Mitsubishi All Terrain Warrior parked one block away. And a Cheyan Slipstream waiting at a commercial aerodyne park just over the bridge in Kvaloysletta. Thinking about the ATW’s heated seats made Pandev feel the cold a few degrees more than he should. The rear compartment of the ATW was usually fitted with three extra seats but right now it was an empty void, everything flattened down, ready to take the target who was going to be grabbed and bundled in there like a bad wrestler. The ATW was sterile: no prints, no DNA, and entirely empty apart from the Batron medikit sitting in the passenger. The contract stated the target had to be delivered alive. The medikit might make the difference between getting paid or getting fucked by the client who had ordered the extraction.
The brief had come through three weeks ago. Pandev had been approached by a bunch of expensive suits with the tight smiles and blank eyes of sharks. High-level corporate execs. Money men. Fixers. There were three of them, one Euro and two Koreans, but the only name he got was for the Euro – Mr Gordon, the only talker of the trio.
Pandev had been recommended, they informed him. A former colleague of the Orbital Drop Marine Corps now working full-time for one of the big private security contractors tearing up the Middle East in Operation Metal Hammer; too busy destabilising an entire region to be bothered to pick up a European gig on the side.
They had taken him to a swanky restaurant and a private booth overlooking the Thames.
Mr Gordon never offered a first name.
“Relux is pulling in 12 billion credits a year through its online and cyberspace assets, with a focus on R and D converging on sim-stim services.” Gordon said as he sipped a martini from a freezer-chilled glass; the drink was extra-dirty, olive juice sliding around the bottom like something to be avoided. “They’re starting to give Zendori a real run for their money on market share. Naturally Zendori don’t like that. RoGong don’t like that.”
Pandev knew fuck all about Zendori and RoGong, other than RoGong owned Zendori and both companies were rivals to Relux.
Gordon went on to say that Relux had started to leak core R&D data roughly six weeks ago. Somebody inside was selling. But neither Zendori or their parent corporation RoGong were getting any of it. Gordon and his associates had identified the source of the leak: Katharina Danielsen. Their proposal was straightforward. Lift Ms Danielsen, thereby having direct access to her knowledge and depriving Relux of a key asset.
It sounded like Ms Danielsen was something to be squeezed dry and thrown away. Pandev didn’t give a shit. All he cared about was the twenty-thousand credits Gordon and his pet sharks were paying for the gig.
He looked over at Andre. His English cohort had the looks of somebody who could have been a French movie star if it hadn’t been for too many rounds in a boxing ring. The shadowy streetlight spilling through the view-patch didn’t make his face look any prettier. Pandev grinned and went back to watching their objective.
The Relux building was to be the stage for a surprise announcement being made by the corporation’s CEO, due to take place in three days. A new product launch. That piece of bad news had cut short Pandev’s planned preparations and brought forward the whole schedule. Pandev’s handler wanted to know what the announcement was about: Katharina Danielsen was going to tell them.
Relux security drones already patrolled the private air-corridors between all Relux buildings in the city. Company executives were now being ferried between meetings in large black convoys with Norwegian police motorcycles outriders providing local support. Senior management enjoyed aerodyne rides that blasted off from roof-side blast pads. The police had started to deposit roadside diversions in preparation for controlling traffic flow around Tromso once the announcement ceremony got underway. Pandev had been forced to adjust contingency plans several times because of it.
It was like playing chess with unseen Grand Masters. Relux security advisors were in daily dialogue with local government and police representatives. Manhole covers, utility access points and roadside recycling machines had all been sealed from use to prevent explosives being planted. They were preparing for all possible events, including armed attack.
Worse, Relux had recruited a regional crime boss to provide additional security cover, closing off black-market options within this part of the Polar Circle. Xin Zhou was Chinese and as ruthless as a whore at a priests’ convention. Armed Chinese gangster in civilian clothes now patrolled the streets outside all Relux buildings.
Andre had a Gaestel LR – a Eurofederation semi-automatic pulse rifle – lying beside him. His dark crop of hair was buried beneath a Russian tank hat, and the hard segments of American body armour he’d attached to his upper torso made him look like a bug. He was tough and dependable, which was all Pandev cared about when working with other freelancers. They weren’t going to be best budies after this. This was business. Do the job, get out, move on.
Pandev had checked up on Andre’s file before their first meet in Oslo. He had been a member of Legion, a European thug collective who hired themselves out to local governments requiring heavy hitters; typically to break up the usual peaceful demonstration bollocks that spilled into public areas when activists got together about some point of liberal values or other. Sometimes though, Legion got involved in anti-UTOC activities, typically when UTOC was leaning hard on elected government officials to commit to agreements that would reap a few more micro-percentage profit points but likely get said officials quickly un-elected.
What really made Andre stand-out was the Trondheim Incident. A legendary piece of politics gone bad, when Legion was recruited by a bunch of pro-UTOC lobbyists to disrupt the efforts of Magnus Moen. Moen was the Norwegian finance minister and successfully steering Norway through complete independence from UTOC’s much hated Fluid Investment Medium agreements. A situation that left Norway remarkably strong rather than isolated. Andre’s unit were groomed to assassinate Moen and so allow for pro-UTOC policy makers to step into the void, but Andre and his compatriots decided that UTOC had grabbed enough of the global powerbase – they quite liked Norway. Ignoring their brief, they informed Magnus Moen of the situation and were rewarded by being recruited on the spot as personal bodyguards and security advisors.
Andre liked the result but didn’t enjoy the work. He got out and began to cut his cloth with skills for hire – managing to maintain a steady squeeze of juice from his political and security connections in Norway. It was why Pandev had sought him out as a partner for the Relux gig. Andre was a perfect asset for organising transport, weapons and securing cooperation of cross-border guards at short notice.
Two hundred metres south-west from the Relux building, stationed in a stolen van that would be dumped and burned out once the extraction was over, were two more of the five man team that Pandev had put together for the job. Roma and Othmar were both carrying a PSikO F-60, a highly specialised weapon that was perfect for the kind of large volume target control they were looking for. The F-60 fired steel jacketed pb-Orillium core flechettes with explosive needle tips; painful and moderately dangerous with a low number of hits, the F-60 carbine was capable of incredible rate of fire with high muzzle velocity and considerably low recoil. Soft targets and most armour tended to rapidly reach end of useful life after the shredding sweep of the shortened barrel.
Roma was Russian and thought anybody could save the world with a gun and bravery; Pandev wasn`t sure if he was stupid or just pure crazy – but his file read like a man who had learned to dodge raindrops. Othmar was German and had the looks of an aristocrat from the old-fashioned black and white movies; even down to high-forehead, slicked back hair and hard cheekbones. Both of them were using hardwire links to chunky smart-goggles for increased accuracy and target tracking. The cables would be a dead giveaway once they were close up but by time they’d been spotted the shit would already be flying through the fan. Both men had the F-60s slung from combat rigs hidden beneath cold-weather jackets that made them look like any other resident keen to stay warm in the Arctic wind. They were good weapons for close-range work and taking down crowds. With an uncertain number of Chinese mobsters likely to get involved in the action, the F-60s would help to keep any initial response contained.
Pandev didn’t know Othmar – there wasn’t a file on him. Roma had brought him in and Roman vouched for him. So far Othmar – or Mothman, as Pandev liked to call him hadn’t screwed-up but he hadn’t shown flying colours either. The guy always seemed a little high, a bit too smiley, prone to giggling outbursts which Roma would always silence with a first thump to his chest. Pandev didn’t know their history; if it wasn’t on a file then it wasn’t etiquette to ask, but it seemed like they were old-time best friends rather than associates from jobs prior. It made Pandev uneasy but there was nothing he could do now. They were in the fold. They were committed.
The final member of the team was Ângela D. A four-foot Portuguese woman with a quick smile that was as disarming as her small frame. The smile rarely got a show. She was serious, neither attractive or unattractive, just hard working and not interested in any of the men she had encountered on the job to date: including Pandev.
Right now she was camped in a hotel room on Strandvegen, dialled-into local cyberspace with an encrypted link to a Wind Walker SD – stealth drone – currently clinging to the hull of ship moored in the fjord.
Ângela had eyes-on the company’s Quick Reaction Force that were based in a stubby warehouse next to the Polaria, with four black BMW 4x4s parked outside. The Polaria was an exhibition centre focussed on entertaining tourists about the joys of the Polar Circle, situation in a building that looked like toppled slices of glacial ice. All very pretty but if the QRF got involved then Pandev and the rest of the team were going to end the night looking like bags of mincemeat dropped on the ground. Ângela was there to make sure the QRF never got a look in. The Winder Walker SD was fitted with two mini-Hades fire-and-forget missiles, a 7.62mm GP machine gun and a bucket load of armour-piercing incendiary rounds. It could operate a high altitude from two kilometres away, had AI-emulation software running the fire-stabilisation systems and could make its own decisions if comms ever went down.
Like Roma, Ângela was another one of Andre’s options. Pandev had never heard of her and her file was pretty thin but Andre said that was because most of her work was unaccountable. She rode the ghost lanes of the shadowNet, cloaked in encryption shells that rarely allowed a trace back to her physical reality – where CCTV and other surveillance drops could be mined for a description, or even an ID.
Despite the flakiness of Mothman, it was one of the more professional freelance gigs Pandev had worked on. Andre obviously wanted a successful op, rather than recruiting B-team players to keep costs down and pocket a bigger cut of the fee Pandev was paying him.
Small comfort in the bigger scheme of things. Xin Zhou connecting with Relux was like a monkey wrench thrown into the jet turbine. People were going to die tonight. Pandev just hoped he wasn’t one of them.
He exhaled another slow breath. Dim streetlight caught the expanding cloud in front of his face. A mental reflex brought up time via his synaptic bridge implant: a digital green display briefly flashed up within the top right of his field of vision then melted away again. It was just coming up to seven minutes past the hour. Radio check was scheduled for seven minutes past and thirty-seven minutes past. Pandev reached to the collar of his puffer jacket and found the ski-radio clipped there. Nothing fancy, this one was a SONY; they could be bought in any electronics store and were so common to be inconspicuous. They could be configured for voice-activation, constant stream or button push and send; most importantly they were reliable up to a mile and wouldn’t attract attention to anybody monitoring chatter on digital channels. All five of them had one, each sync’d to their ear-clip implants.
His thumb closed over the send button and pressed twice; a fuzzy squelch coming through his ear with each jab. Andre nodded and raised a hand: he was getting it. Pandev counted to thirty and bang on cue Roma and Mothman responded with three quick static-crackling clicks. Another thirty seconds passed and Ângela pressed her send button four times.
It confirmed everyone was still in place. Nobody had been compromised.
Whilst Andre had gone for heavy-plates of curved, segmented armour, Pandev needed to be more mobile. Beneath his fancy puffer jacket, the Wulf armour vest had a thick-stitched sleeve over the chest area, so a carbo-plastic panel could be inserted for extra protection, but Pandev had opted not to wear it because it would have been a dead giveaway to anybody watching him approach. It meant the plan had to avert all attention from him when the hammer came down.
He was carrying a Boris 55, which looked like the stumpy cousin of the classic Israeli Desert Eagle. It was Russian export and kicked like a Cossack but the zerbret FD-core rounds could punch through even heavy-plate body armour and left the kind of wounds that people getting get up from.
The silent waiting gave Pandev time to think.
Katharina Danielsen wasn’t the first employee of Relux to try and sell secrets but she had so far evaded internal security, because she had learned from the get-go that it was important to have people in powerful places watching her back. The deals she had brokered to date weren’t a few tens of thousands, they were in the tens of millions bracket. There would be others on her payroll, including members of Relux security who were willing to turn a blind eye in return for a cut. Andre said that a business analyst had been digging into her department a few weeks earlier and had wound up dead; along with her husband and two small children. Police had declared it as murder but been unable to progress it as an investigation due to lack of evidence. No official trails led to Katharina Danielsen. But somewhere in that statement of death and mutilation was a message to whoever may have been working with the business analyst: back off.
Andre nudged him. Pandev focussed and saw the now-familiar routine of a high-profile employee transfer starting to wind into gear. A glossy black Nissan Rhino swung into the bollard-protected driveway outside the Relux building; two company goons in long black lambswool coats got out and headed towards reception: close protection bodyguards for a valuable employee.
There was no indication the ride was for their target. But then…
A female voice came over the radio, subtle modulation removing any voice-print that could have been traced back to Ângela. “I’m about to walk the dog.”
It was a coded statement: Katharina Danielsen was leaving her office.
Pandev checked time 21:25. It fitted the profile he had built up from over a week of surveillance. She had worked late every night including both Saturdays, but excluding Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, no doubt weaving in some stealing of secrets into her busy schedule whilst preparing for the big announcement. Leave work between 21:00 and 21:45 to be driven directly home. Home was a two-story apartment in a corporate community that contained an Olympic-quality sports centre, multiple bars and restaurants, cinema, bowling alley and gun range; and was very high security.
Pandev reached up to his lapel and thumbed the send-button two times to confirm he had received the message. Three fuzzy-clicks came through from Roma and Mothman, signalling that they were leaving the stolen van to start walking onto target.
Placing a gloved hand on Andre’s shoulder, the surly Brit just nodded and kept his eyes on the Nissan. Pandev smiled grimly and slowly eased backwards out of the cammo-wrap, careful not to knock the spines and cause the fabric structure to collapse. The wind grabbed a handful of his face and gave his cheeks an icy kiss before he got down off the roof with the nylon ladder. Once on the ground and hidden from view by the absence of working street light, he checked the Boris 55 was where it needed to be: clipped to a tactical holster fitted to the left side of his waist, above his hip so that the hem of the puffer jacket came down over it.
His nerves gave him a little shudder but he kept the fear in check. Too late to get scared now.
There wasn’t a back lane as such, just a car parking area shared by some of the other properties. The gate opened onto this. Old asphalt and a few bits of debris, but kept clean and not much risk of kicking a piece of trash to wake up the neighbourhood. All of the windows overlooking this spot were dark, as they had been every night he had come here to observe them. He made his way out onto a side-street and then took a left, heading north east, parallel with Strandvegen and away from target. He walked for another hundred metres before hitting a crossroads. A right turn took him onto an intersection with Strandvegen, another right started him towards target.
He could see the Nissan waiting outside the brightly lit lobby. Driver was a shadow. Inside the plate glass lobby, the two smartly dressed close protection guards stood beside leather sofas and the reception desk. A third guard, wearing Relux security standard issue, was shooting the breeze with them. Something funny said. Knowing smiles. Pandev figured if they found out their principle was selling secrets the smiles would drop from their faces.
The whole building gleamed in the wash of indirect lighting planted amongst undergrowth that bordered the short driveway. Fresh paint covered the rendering. Every Relux asset had been given the ‘spit & polish’ treatment since the big visit had been announced. The building was only two stories, apart from a four story tower bolted onto the rear, next to the water moorings, like an afterthought. The bulk of Tromsø was built on an island. The mainland lay only 500 metres away, beyond a narrow stretch of the Norwegian Sea. The humped form of Bruvegen, a ridiculously narrow bridge for two way traffic, provided a nearby connection.
Roma and Mothman would be turning onto Strandvegen now, starting their approach with the stolen van. Ângela would be watching the QRF and Andre would now have the Gaestel pulse rifle in-shoulder, set to tight-beam and lined-up ready to take out the bodyguards.
Traffic slid past him without any rush. The majority of premises here were closed for the night. A few private houses. No late bars. No restaurants. There were maybe a handful of people ahead and behind him. One or two of them would be Chinese mobsters on patrol. Pandev didn’t make any effort to check. He kept his walk at an easy pace: he was a tourist heading back to a residential apartment-share – no point using a taxi when the city was this small. That was the vibe he had projected every time he had walked this route. If Relux security were switched on – and they were, then somebody would have noted him. That was okay. He would have become a familiar face now. Local CCTV would likely pick up his image but that didn’t matter: Ângela could tidy up loose ends after the op from anywhere in the world – interrupt and dissemble wide-broadcast alerts carrying his face. What would matter was if anybody had decided to run a check on him already – and then dug past the vanilla veneer to find he had run black op gigs (freelance and contract) all over the planet and off-world. This was the roll of the dice. Lady luck was either smiling or the mood was about to get bitching.
Fifty metres from target he stopped at lights to cross the road. The Wulf armour vest was trapping the heat radiating from his torso and making him sweat. He was grateful for the blasts of chill wind whipping around his face and neck. His arse was still frozen. The lights changed and gave him the green to cross. Reaching the opposite side he noticed a small-built figure rotating 180 to start walking towards him. Difficult to see with any clarity in the gappy street lighting. Pandev didnt adjust his speed or direction, just kept plodding on. Three static-mush clicks went off in his ear: it was Roma and Mothman, signalling they had just pulled over and were in position ten seconds drive from target. Pandev wasnt required to respond.
Glancing up at the right moment, passing the figure who approached him, he saw a young male Chinese face, mean-features, hard questioning eyes. Pandev gave him a quick return look that said: what? Kept walking. He sensed the Chinese kid stop to observe him but did not feel he was an immediate threat. He reviewed the image of him in his mind; the lean of the punk’s shoulder, the stiffness of his gait – packing some kind of weapon tucked into the right-side of his jacket without any kind of sling or rig to hold it in place. One mushy-click came through his ear-piece – standby-standby– a short pause then another single click: confirmed, target in play. This was from Andre with eyes on the lobby.
Looking ahead of him, Pandev could see the upper bodies of three people moving briskly from the lobby to outside. A low stone wall and manicured shrubbery obscured his view of the waiting car at this point. He pulled open his jacket and got ready.
The plan was brutal in its simplicity. Andre was the trigger. The Brit would kill the driver when the target was between the lobby and the car. Then pick off the two close protection guards before widening focus to kill anybody who looked like they were moving in to interfere. The tight beam and use of a stable firing position would hopefully avoid him blasting the target into shock-wave ripped chunks of gristle and shattered bone. Killing the driver was the cue for action. Roma and Mothman would accelerate hard and crash park the stolen van across the entrance of the short driveway. Their role was to use flechettes to control the ground around the van, including any Chinese mobsters, whilst Pandev ran in with the Boris 55 to grab Ms Danielsen. If she fled, he would chase.
During all this, Ângela would keep the QRF busy with the Wind Walker drone.
Once he had a hold on Ms Danielsen, he’d drag her to the back of the stolen van and get her inside at gunpoint. While either Roma or Mothman drove to DP1 (first drop off), Andre would close down his station, exit and relocate to the Mitsubishi ATW. DP1 was on Holtvegan, heading towards the west shore of the island; a very quiet road between residential estates, with trees on either side. Pandev would haul out Ms Danielsen and keep her quiet with the Boris whilst the stolen van scooted off. Andre would pick them up in the ATW; Pandev down flat with Ms Danielsen in the back until they reached DP2: the commercial aerodyne park in Kvaloysletta. There they would swap the ATW for the Cheyan Slipstream and blast off – bound for a private rorbuer (fishing cabin) on the east coast of the Lofoten Islands. Meanwhile Roma and Mothman would ditch the stolen van and clean all DNA with ½ a KG of C-9i, sticky incendiary explosive. They had another vehicle ready to collect Ângela and would start the drive towards Harstad via the E8, E6 and E10. Harstad was where Andre would return once the gig had concluded, to square away final payment and maybe debrief; they were Andre’s team and Pandev wouldn’t see them again.
It was a couple hours fly time to the rorbuer, which was where they would exchange Ms Danielsen for cash with their clients.
That was the plan.
Pandev eased his hand gently inside his jacket; using the same body language he might use if extracting a PA or something. His fingers wrapped around the butt of the Boris 55.
A dull – crump – from ahead. Sound of a windshield cracking into crazy paving. Instantly followed by a female scream and men starting to bark quick commands.
Andre had just blasted the driver.
Pandev started running.
Pistol in hand, Pandev was covering the distance quickly even with the Wulf armour vest slowing him down. He had a clear line of sight on the lobby area ahead and to his left: one CP bodyguard was still standing – had a hold on the principle and was propelling her back towards the entrance. Windshield of the Nissan Rhino was all cracked to fuck. Gory mess spattering the insides.
The stolen van came in at the top end of ten seconds acceleration, bouncing up onto the pavement and braking hard, nearly wrecking itself on the freshly-painted low wall bordering the Relux grounds. Mothman was driving. Maybe it was adrenaline but the gig had nearly been fucked at the first hurdle. Pandev made a mental note to give him and Roma a bollocking after this got done.
Other figures were running in. Roma was already out, PSikO F-60 up and firing, quick and almost silent bursts – the chunky smart-goggles doing their thing. Running figures started tumbling. Mothman nearly fell out of the driver’s side door; he looked like his brain was scrambled on fear and exhilaration – that dumb fucking grin was wobbling all over his face. Down onto one knee, F-60 in front of him, sustained bursts with no real targets in sight. Pandev saw passers-by who had stopped to gawp, now staggering, falling to the ground. Cries of agony and terror. Passing cars started taking hits. Chaos began to unfold.
Taking down security was one thing, but murdering Joe Public meant unnecessary heat from the police.
Pandev leapt the low wall and started crossing perfectly manicured lawn towards the Nissan Rhino. A gust of arctic wind nearly knocked him off course. The second CP bodyguard’s right leg flew apart above the knee. A spray of blood and shattered bone. The bodyguard shrieked and toppled to the floor, writhing. A moment later his chest imploded with a sickening crunch. Andre was doing his job with the pulse rifle.
Katharina Danielsen, short, tubby, with shiny black hair in an arty cut that was all different lengths, looked like an animal caught in the headlights. She had stalled only a few strides from the lobby entrance, her eyes, wide like saucers, rooted on the two gunmen with their backs to her by the van.
Pandev saw the Relux security guard inside the lobby dashing towards her.
That couldn’t be allowed to happen.
“Ms Danielsen!” Pandev roared, instantly snagging her frightened attention. “Down, get down!” He was the saviour. He was the Relux Ace in the Hole. At least that’s what he wanted her to think.
She complied and hurled herself to the ground.
Pandev raised the Boris 55 with his right hand, slotting it between his focus on the security guard, waiting for the moment everything lined up. He took the shot. The pistol barked. Muzzle flash reflected off the glossy Nissan Rhino. The security guard dropped as his legs buckled. Didn’t move again.
He reached Danielsen. She was scrabbling up onto her knees, flecks of blood on her face, staring at him with hope fading into confusion as he shoved the Boris against her neck. She would feel the heat of the barrel on her skin. She tried to recoil. He grabbed her roughly by the soft flesh of her upper arm and started to drag her down the short drive.
Ahead of him, the scene on Strandvegen was mayhem. Patchy streetlighting and the increasing rage of the wind added to the chaos of the scene. Several vehicles had veered off the road and come to halt at random angles. Other vehicles were stopped dead in the road, headlights glaring. Some traffic was still cruising through, unaware of the gangfuck unfolding around them. Half a dozen bodies were lying sprawled on the ground. One of them was being cradled by a young man – looked like it was a teenage girl: sister, girlfriend, who knew but the young man cried out as if she had just died in his arms.
It was too late to do anything about it now.
“Door! Door!” Pandez yelled.
Roma appeared from the far side of the van, visibly furious – about his mate – and frightened, of Pandev. Roma wordlessly yanked open the rear door of the van then swung round to cover Pandev getting inside with Danielsen; she was sobbing and fighting at the same time.
Then Roma slammed into him, screaming, arms flailing, dropping the F-60 so it dangled from its combat rig inside the open cold-weather jacket. Roma staggered, clutching his neck, blood pissing through his fingers. Then the back of his skull went pop. Front of his head exploded across the van. Danielsen screamed, bucked, tried to run.
The abrupt movement probably saved his life. Silenced bullets began to slam into the van where he had just been. Pandev span, struggling to control Danielsen. Saw the Chinese kid he’d eyeballed on the street earlier, skulking across the manicured lawn at a steady crouch, a punk weapon held out in both hands with a massive suppressor screwed onto the barrel.
Where the hell was Andre?
Pandev held onto Danielsen, tried to raise the Boris on the Chinese kid but couldn’t get a solid aim. He let off a couple shots to try and keep the kid down and hopefully flag his need for help.
It worked. Andre got straight onto it. The Chinese kid’s head nearly came away from his body as his neck and upper torso erupted from a solid hit from the pulse rifle.
A siren started to wail from the Relux building. Shutters started rolling down across the ground and first floor windows.
Pandev twisted round. Saw Mothman still on one knee, slamming a fresh magazine of flechettes into his F-60.
“Drive! Drive!” Pandev yelled. Mothman either didn’t hear him or didn’t care; he pulled back onto the pressure-release handle to engage the new mag into the firing system; raised the carbine up and started with quick controlled bursts, sweeping the stopped cars, the people on the pavements. Pandev couldn’t believe it. Everything went into slow motion.
Steady, large calibre reports echoed down from the Relux rooftop. Somebody had put a shooter up there. The van took a couple loud hits. Then Mothman got the good news from a round that punched him over onto his side. Mothman started squirming, wriggling like something that had just been skewered on a hot poker, shrieking like an animal, breath pluming around him like a steam geyser. Another round made a mess of his left leg. Mothman went into ballistic howling mode. Then part of his head vanished and he just went still.
Reality snapped back into full-speed focus.
He got an arm around Danielsen’s neck and pulled her close; using her as a shield and making sure he didn’t lose his only guarantee of a pay check. She didn’t like it and started to make choking screams as he started to move, dragging her backwards – her spine arched to try and take the weight of her body off her throat. Her hands grasped his forearm, trying to claw loose the vice-like lock.
There was no way he was going to risk trying to use the van. And hitting the street felt instinctively like a bad plan. Heading back towards the Relux building, he followed the short drive where it led into a turning area. All the shutters were down now. There was a narrow walkway leading to the edge of the water. He moved that way, as quickly as he could, nearly falling over at one point as Danielsen lost her legs and crashed to the ground.
“Get up. Get the fuck up!” he hissed at her, arm around her throat, hauling her up as she found her legs again.
Andre’s voice came over the ear-piece. “I see you. Ground is clear. Closing down. Go to D-P one. D-P one.”
There was no need for him to respond. Gripping tight, he kept moving; Danielsen wheezing and sucking in air like she was drowning.
Andre’s continued, using the call-sign for Ângela reserved for if things went wrong: “Dog Walker this is Eagle. Dog Walker this is Eagle. I am flying the nest. Your ride is gone. Find your way home. Over.”
Four rapid clicks came back in response. Ângela had received and understood.
The heavy calibre weapon started barking from the rooftop again. Pandev hurried his pace. Sound of a distant scream. Sounded like a man. Andre? Maybe. No time to find out. Pandev had a hold on his pay cheque and he wasn’t going to let go for any reason other than being dead.
He got onto a public path that followed the edge of the water, heading away from the humped Bruvegen bridge. Mainland Norway twinkled on the other side. The sounds of hysteria rapidly faded out of hearing range. Going towards the bridge on foot was bad for lots of reasons; the main one being it would have taken him directly past the warehouse housing the QRF.
Dragging Danielsen, he entered a quiet apartment zone; lots of tidy four story buildings with wooden cladding. This was plan B. Pandev knew where he was going. Although the fear and exertion was making it tough to breath. Not as tough as for Danielsen though. He maintained the pressure and stress on her; it would keep her busy and reduce the chance of her finding an opportunity to break away.
Looking over his shoulder wasn’t going to do him any good. He had to keep moving forward. If trouble came up behind him, he’d know about it.
A few of the local residents had come outside to investigate the recent flurry of noise, hurrying over towards the main and pulling on jackets. The lighting was minimal. Steam escaped from ventilation systems and the air murmured with the hum of generators. None of them saw him towing the woman along, clutching a pistol.
His breath was coming out like a marathon runner in a deep freeze. Danielsen was gasping overtime.
There was a car park to the right, bordering Strandvegen on one side, with apartment buildings blocking in the rest. Well-lit with lots of surveillance. It was a car thief’s nightmare but Pandev didn’t have much of a choice. With Danielsen lugging behind him, he stepped into the bright lights to reach a Ararve TE; a white carbo-plastic bubble with two seats, electric motor, common and anonymous enough to quickly blend into any stream of traffic.
He could almost imagine the twitching blinds and muttered gasps of shock as eyeballs started to notice what was happening below the apartments. Twisting sharply, he slammed Danielsen to the ground and jammed the barrel of the pistol into her neck. Leaning against the Ararve, he had to stop to suck in a few ragged breaths. She wasn’t doing much better.
What a total cluster fuck.
He reached into his open puffer jacket and pulled out a stiff but flexible strip of electronics with one side slightly adhesive. Hacker magic; he’d had Ângela prepare it for him before the op. Slapping it sticky side down on the car door’s print-scanner, he jabbed the power-stud that would set it to work. It only took a couple of seconds. Locking bolts snapped open.
Better still. The engine would start when he asked it to and the inbuilt tracking system would be broadcasting a fake ID, but not at the expense of disabling the ATG systems or rendering the car illegal.
Pandev stood up with the pistol pointed firmly on Danielsen. She glared at him. Defiance wasn’t a good thing in a hostage. He gave her a few hard kicks. She screamed, curled up into a ball to try and protect herself. He stooped in low and struck the top of her skull with the pistol’s grip. She moaned and started to whimper. He grabbed her by the hair. “Up. Get up!”
Keeping the Boris 55 under her jaw, he yanked open the driver’s side door, then shoved her inside. Pushing hard, he got her to slither across into the passenger side whilst he scrambled in beside her.
The engine start button was green. He thumbed it and smiled briefly as the engine purred. Navigation and driver-assist systems spilled across the windshield. “Voice. You speak English?” He demanded.
The Ararve’s generic female chip-voice responded, “Yes. Confirmed. I speak English. Do you have a destination in mind?”
“Drive. Take me to Kvaloysletta. Further instructions when we get there.”
“Confirmed. Destination set for Kvaloysletta.”
The Ararve accelerated niftly from the parking bay zipped onto Strandvegen, bearing left, away from the fucking nightmare blocking the road to the right.
He wondered if Andre had gotten away. He hoped so. The Brit wasn’t somebody he’d put on his Christmas email list but he’d come to like the bloke over the last nine days.
Plan B now relied on Ângela getting to the aerodyne park. If Andre was a gonner, it meant there was nobody to manually fly the Cheyan Slipstream; but Ângela could run an AI-emulation rig with enough skillset to take them to the rorbuer.
He focussed on Danielsen. She was staring ahead, smeared in blood and looking like she was about to cry.
Not his problem. She was just a package now, and he was committed to delivery.
Once they were moving, Pandev applied pressure with pistol against the tender flesh beneath her jaw and forced her down into the footwell. She curled up in there without complaint; the fight had gone out of her, she was just waiting to see where this went now. His breathing was still ragged from all the effort. The Wulf armour vest felt like a hot iron wrapped around his chest. Heat was building up and making him sweat again.
The Ararve swung right, crossing the oncoming traffic, up a steep hill that took them into a dense tangle of residential streets and closely pressed detached houses. It was dark, the street lighting even patchier than down on the main. Blue flashing lights sped along Strandvegen behind them. The island was about to get busy. He hoped to hell the police and Relux security teams didn’t try to close the bridges before he made it to Kvaloysletta.
Shit, what a total cock and balls mess. Mothman… he cursed himself for not spotting the signs earlier. Whatever gigs Mothman had done before this must have been nowhere near as heavy. Some idiots can’t pass on the chance to be a psychopath. Roma paid the ultimate price for vouching for a clown who wasn’t ready.
Plan B. If he made it to the commercial aerodyne park then he could use the pre-paid sleeping pods as a place to lie low until either Andre or Angela materialised. Contingency said wait 24 hours and then bail out. Tromsø wasn’t a huge place but if the authorities did close the bridges, then it was going to be tough to get across.
The Ararve slowed, took a precision controlled corner and began accelerating towards the prow of the hill that divided Tromsø into two halves. He liked Tromsø. The city had grit, spit and sea salt rubbed into its soul. Some folks called it the Paris of the North. Mainly because it had more than two cafes and nice places to eat – it actually had a lot of places. But there was also a hardy fishing and marine engineering vibe that offset any flabby tourist nonsense. The Norwegians had done really well not joining UTOC, especially with all the money they had stashed away from decades of oil and natural gas revenues. Great quality of living. The only thing that spoiled the place, in his mind, was the immigration. But that was a separate conversation.
The Chinese had been smart too. They managed to resettle large populations of their undesirables into Europe and Scandinavia in return for western companies getting access to China’s lucrative, expanding middle-class market.
Xin Zhou controlled everything to do with underworld in this region. If Pandev couldn’t get out, Xin Zhou was going to be a problem.
Pandev felt a flutter of unease. He was vulnerable and at the mercy of others. Either Andre or Ângela turned up to fly the aerodyne or getting to the private rorbuer was going to be a realm problem. Getting to the rorbuer, on the east coast of the Lofoten Islands, was the only way to convert the woman curled up in the footwell into cash.
Red and white lights spattered the brow of the hill ahead of him; the Ararve slowed and eased to the side of the road as emergency response vehicles raced over and down the slope towards him. They blasted past without even a pause. So far it looked like the vehicles hacked codes were passing any kind of automated scrutiny.
The Ararve pulled away quickly and crested the hill. A brief glimpse of the bridge connecting Tromsø to Kvaloysletta, which was a mass of lumpy darkness edged with a few street lights where urbanisation had crept along the coastline. Then the Ararve was deep into the streets on this side of the hill. Heading downwards. A couple of minutes later he hit Kavaloyvegen, the main drag on the north west side of the island, heading towards the airport. The Ararve swept through the flow of traffic heading through two roundabouts and hugged the wide lane filtering into the road for the bridge. A dense cluster of blue flashing lights spanning the narrow bridge made his heart sink.
The Ararve kept going. Pandev jabbed the barrel of the pistol against Danielsen’s neck and pressed down hard. She made a sound of fear but didn’t even try to resist. Up ahead, he saw four local police vehicles coming to a stop near the Tromsø side of the bridge. They were still deploying. Looked like they were getting ready to set up a stop and search. The Ararve glided past without incident, whilst the Norwegian cops purposefully got out of their cars and began waving down traffic further back. Only a few seconds had separated him from total disaster.
The bridge was narrow, steeply humped and curved. The Ararve accelerated and up and over, g-force tugged him to the right as the small vehicle swept along a shallow curve. Traffic was almost non-existent on this side of the bridge and the Ararve didn’t need to slow as it approached a broad roundabout. Pandev eased the pistol away and let her relax.
Six minutes later he was level with the carbo-mesh boundary of the commercial aerodyne park. He flicked the Ararve out of indi mode, grabbed the wheel with one hand and slotted his right foot into the acceleration / brake bracket. It was handy having left-side drive, as it meant he could easily bring the pistol to bear on Danielsen if needed. He slowed the Ararve to a crawl and craned his neck to get a better view through the windshield. There was an entrance 200 metres further ahead. Perimeter lights were few and far between. A small administration building, which included the on-duty customs officer was brightly lit. As was the adjoining arrivals and departures lounge, not much bigger than a glorified portacabin. There were about two dozen vehicles parked outside. Most of them would be tourists; sleeping in the nearby coffin-pods or away on aerial adventures and overnighting somewhere. A number of private and shared hangers had dull exterior lights which showed they existed but little else. Rows of aerodynes, some large, most small, sat on the concrete apron in well-space lines. One of those was his way out.
Glancing to his left he saw a helicopter sweeping the hilltop of Tromsø with its Sunlance. The cold blue beam danced quickly from point to point, searching.
Pandev’s pulse crank up a harder beat.
He indicated right and turned across the road to sweep through the entrance. Nobody was on guard. He drove like he knew where he was going; which he kind of did after days of reconnaissance and prep. One of the hangers, a hundred metres from the bright lights of the admin and lounge, had an exostructure of carbo-plastic scaffolding containing racks of coffin-pods. Cheap sleep modules for the savvy traveller. Homeless people, drunks and drug-addicts were not welcome. Five of the pods belonged to the team, what was left of it, for the next 32 hours, prepaid using an untraceable cash card. One of them had been thoroughly padded out with brand new sleeping bags; less about keeping Danielsen warm and more about keeping things quiet if she decided to have a thrash about. Inside would also be a fresh set of hydrogel binding strips, a roll of carpet tape and a mouth gag complete with teeth guard; she’d be able to breath and gnash her teeth without choking or biting off her tongue.
Following the soft yellow glow of the markings on the asphalt towards the parking bays, he kept it slow and steady. Somebody was standing next to an old model BMW, puffing on a stim-pipe. Pandev saw it was a young man, slim-built, wearing hiking gear; his gaze was fixed on the distance, probably watching the helicopter doing its thing with the Sunlance.
Pandev parked up as far from the BMW as he could whilst still being able to keep eyes on his five coffin pods. He sat still and allowed the scene to settle. A slow glance at Danielsen showed the contours of her face traced in the green wash of the Ararave’s console display. Head turned to the side, one of her eyes was fixed on him. There was no fear. She was waiting to see how this played out. Did she know who had arranged the grab? It wasn’t important. She was smart enough to know not to make a fuss and give him another reason to hurt her.
Flashing blue lights spattered the walls of the hangers around him. He froze. Used partial head movements to adjust his view, saw two local police cars racing along the main road beyond the perimeter. They were heading straight to the bridge.
Several minutes passed. Pandev waited, and watched.
The young man opened the back door of the BMW, removed something from a bag, locked up and wandered back to the coffin pods. Pandev observed as he hauled himself up two flights of external steps, then wandered along a narrow gantry to a pod; swipe of his PA against the lock; an easy climb inside; the hatch closed.
An incoming call alert flashed up on the windshield. Pandev frowned. Ignored the call to let it fall into voicemail. Could be the owner of the Ararve but more likely to be something random. Except…
The call didn’t go to voicemail. After four rings a command prompt replaced the call alert on the windshield, as if somebody had just opened up an admin console within the on-board computer.
The call connected.
Pandev grimaced. Waited.
Angela’s voice came through.
His momentary relief at hearing it was her vanished the second she used his real name. Not only should she technically not have known who he was, she sure as heck shouldn’t have been broadcasting it on an unsecured channel. As if reading his mind, she followed up with: “Don’t worry. This link is wrapped in crypto as thick as your dick. Were safe to talk for a while.”
“Talk? Getting yourself here to fly us out is more what I had in mind.”
“That’s not going to happen Massimo.”
Straight to the point. That was just like Angela. He asked: “What’s on your mind?”
“Andre is dead.” She told him.
“That’s too bad. I guess you’re concerned about how you get paid?”
“Something like that. You need to let her go.”
“That’s not going to happen, Angela.” His turn to use that line and repay the courtesy of using real names.
“Don’t be an asshole. This does not need to become difficult.”
“Not difficult.” Pandev grunted. “You know I may as well just put a bullet through her head rather than let her walk.”
“There’s a new plan. Don’t ask me to explain why. The end result is good for you. Let her walk away and I can transfer 50,000 credits to you right now. I can also have the Cheyan fly you out. Anywhere you want to go.”
Pandev sneered. “And you crash it into the sea and goodbye loose ends.”
“No. That is not my style. And you have done nothing wrong. But you need to follow the new plan. The bridges are closed. The ferries are being watched and there is only one road that leads you out back towards Harstad. I would say your options are limited.”
There was no denying that. Andre might not be dead but even if he rocked up now, Pandev wasn’t so sure they would be able to fly out without Angela tampering with the Cheyan. Whichever way he looked at it, Angela was holding most of the cards. But he had the Ace. He had Danielsen.
“Make it 250,000 and we have a deal.” He proposed.
He heard a grim chuckle followed by a sigh. “Don’t push your luck. We could just come in and grab her.”
With as little movement as possible Pandev pointed the Boris 55 at Danielsen. “You got a scope on me right now?”
“150,000…but for that you give us extra.” Angela countered.
“And what’s that?”
“You agree to do a little bit of work for us when the need arises.”
Pandev wasn’t impressed. “That sounds like you want me to do you a favour. Not my style.”
“You will get paid. Consider the 150 a retainer.”
“This doesn’t make much sense.”
“You don’t need to think about it. Take a look to your left.”
Pandev tilted his head to look at Danielsen where she lay curled up in the shadows. She had her head twisted round a little further now, looking right at him. The Boris had her attention.
“To your left Massimo.” Angela prompted.
“Yeah, yeah.” He looked.
There, a dark, solid and massive shape stepped into view from the side of a hanger. Maybe 20 metres away. The hairless outline and unmistakeable movement of a Denjie chilled his blood. What the hell was it doing here on Earth? Denjie, man-like but not human, product of synthetic biology, hulking hybrids of insect, cheetah and ape. They were outlawed in most places on the planet. Certainly Norway wouldn’t tolerate such a monster skulking across its borders. Which means it must have dropped down from orbit. That was his guess.
It began to approach the car with a surly, rolling step that was characteristic of the genetic design.
The thing could have leapt the distance if it wanted to. Its muscles and clawed fists would have no problem tearing through the flimsy carbo-plastic bodywork of the Ararve. The Boris might punch enough holes in the thing to cause it to bleed out but Pandev doubted he would have the luxury of dropping it before it ripped his head off.
“150?” Angela’s voice.
“You’ll accept 150 and let her walk away?”
What choice did he really have? Blown a hole in Danielsen now and get torn apart by the Denjie or accept the offer and hope Angela was good at keeping her word. “Okay. Yes. 150, it’s a deal.”
A brief pause.
Angela’s voice came through smug. “Check your PA.”
Pandev saw the Denjie stop five metres away. Eyes that were dark, glassy orbs reflecting the dim lighting, focussed nowhere but aware of everything.
“Check your PA.” Angela pressed.
Pandev extracted the PA he had acquired specifically for the job, a basic Matsamuti Filo, dull grey with a fake metal finish. He used his thumb to jab the power stud, and again to swipe the print lock. The PA was clean of all personal details but did hold the phone tags for members of the team. It also contained a cash chip. He tabbed through to the account balance. 150,000 credits had just been deposited via VeriFic. It meant the money could not be recalled. Even if a hacker got in and stole it, VeriFic would guarantee the full amount. It was partly a token gesture. Pandev wasn’t going to request an investigation if something did happen to the money; but either way you cut it, Angela and her new backers, whoever they were, had just said goodbye to 150,000. VeriFic would ensure the transferred funds could not be recirculated. Anonymous transfers but assets that could be tracked.
“Happy?” Angela enquired.
“Yeah, ecstatic, can’t you tell?”
“Holster your weapon. Get out the car. Walk away. You will find the Cheyan is ready to take you to where you want to go. Anywhere with 400 miles of here. Then you are on your own.
Pandev stared at the digital balance on the easy-to-read hardscreen display. It was only half of what he had expected to come away with but it was better than a bullet to the back of his head. Or having Xin Zhou get his hands on him. He shifted focus, met the calm gaze of Danielsen.
Say goodbye Ace.
He sniffed. Popped open the driver’s door and climbed out. The Denjie made no reaction. Pandev holstered the Boris 55, shoved the PA into his jacket pocket again. Started walking. Sound of the passenger door opening, a female grunt, then Danielsen’s voice calling out to him, cold and confident:
Pandev slowed but didn’t stop. The Denjie was only a handful of strides from him.
“I am talking to you, Massimo.” Danielsen wove a threatening tone into her words.
He rolled his lips together like inner tubes and stopped. The Denjie eased itself round, ready to lunge. The thing was here to look after her.
Twisting at the waist he angled his head round to look at her. His face asked the question: what?
She didn’t look angry. She didn’t look happy either. In control, was how she looked – and he found that unnerving.
“Take some advice.” She told him.
Pandev responded with a slow jerk of his head: go on.
“Fly to Svolvaer and then ferry across to Bodø. There’s a very early morning train that runs down through Fauske and Trondheim to Oslo. It’s a long journey. A couple of days. Relux have limited resources down there. Their focus right now will be the borders with Sweden and Russia.”
Pandev frowned. “You’re not going back?
Danielsen shook her head.
“Why tell me this?” He asked.
“You didn’t kill me. You didn’t lose your cool. I respect that.”
Pandev puckered his lips and shrugged. He wasn’t in the mood for becoming best friends with somebody he didn’t give a shit about. He twisted back the way his feet were facing and walked away.
The Cheyan always gave him a blast of awe. Such a powerful machine, body formed of angular panelling with box-like cowling around each of the pivoting jet outlets, crouched and squatting amongst the rows of aerodynes parked here. Now it gave him an extra shudder: apprehension wound tight around his spine.
The hatch opened and he climbed through the small cargo hold, and up into the cramped cockpit. Angela’s voice was there waiting for him.
“You made the right choice, Massimo.”
She was succinct and professional: like it really wasn’t a double cross. Like it really was just a change of plan. Bullshit.
Whatever, Pandev jutted out his lower jaw and waited.
“Do you have a destination in mind?” Angela probed.
“Where are you right now?” He probed right back.
“Nowhere near you think I might be.”
“Andre really dead?”
“Yes. And I’m sorry, for what it counts.”
Not much, but Pandev didn’t want to spit sour grapes. Not right now whilst he needed Angela to be on his side to get him out.
“He was a pro. He knew the risks. Take me to Svolvaer. Might be a crazy risk following her advice but coming into Bodø by boat a few hours after the dust washes every which way, sounds like a good a plan as any I’ve thought up.”
“Okay. The aerodyne will drop you at the local commercial AV park, flagged as a private charter from…” she mulled it over, seemed to be applying code commands behind the scenes “…Andenes, which is on the north tip of the island chain. You might get a spot check from an official but just flash your current fake ID and I will make sure you get out.”
“All part of the service, eh?” He didn’t hide his cynicism.
“You’re of more value to us alive than dead Massimo. Don’t forget that. You do owe us.”
Pandev rolled his head around and took in the tight confines of high-tech cockpit. “I know. So let’s do this.”
The airframe vibrated as the four motors burst into life and rapidly engaged thrust. The aerodyne wobbled as it lifted, then corrected pitch and roared away from the tarmac with violent acceleration.
Pandev clicked his safety harness into place then relaxed and let the g-force push him down. He closed his eyes.
# # # END OF SAMPLE
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