weapons_checkIt was an atrocity exhibition in the underground marketplace. I saw LMO patrol units brutalizing and terrorizing the human citizens over mere food and water. The last human refuge on Earth was under attack by LMOs in the service of the man they called the Director and his associate Dr. Robertson. Unforgivable.

And although I had neither seen nor heard evidence that Spegg was involved in this criminal act, I could easily imagine him whispering just this kind of madness into the ears of all who would listen.

Makabe lead me back to the maintenance room and left me. He told me that he needed to go to another maintenance access point in the vicinity and re-route some feeds. I didn’t know if that was truth or lies and I didn’t care. The incident with the LMO thugs in the marketplace left me broiling in hateful thoughts and impulsive ideas. I set to work.

The maintenance room reminded me of the ShinkaiMaru5. It was uncomfortably cold and dark. A low hum came from the walls, the floor, the ceiling, everywhere. Once again, nothing was working out right. Just like my months stranded on the SM5, I was tasked with overcoming the insurmountable. I was battling against crazed LMOs. I was pulling together scraps of resources, trying to make a plan. I am no better off here than I was out there.

I spent the better part of the day and evening laboring under a small work lamp. I examined the pulse rifle that I had recovered from the dead LMO in the alleyway. The rifle was damaged. I could see the available charge but I couldn’t get the power to transfer from the cell reservoir to the receiver and the firing mechanism. I began pulling it apart.

I struggled to work with the few tools available for doing detailed repairs. My brow furrowed and dripped sweat. As I worked, the memory of the brutalized couple in the marketplace played again and again, making me more angry and frustrated with every passing moment.

One of the tools I was using to detach part of the receiver housing snapped in half. I threw the broken implement across the room, cursed at it, and swept the table clear with my forearm, sending tools and parts clanging and clattering to the floor. The dark carbon blade I had also stripped from the LMO spun in a circle on the ground. I watched the spinning slow and then stop. I stood and snatched the blade from the floor.

The knife was dense but lightweight. The cutting edge was thinner than a human hair. Some laboratory bladesmith engineered this weapon down to the nanometer. I imagined that a motivated person could carve their way through a wall with this knife, without incurring so much as a nick or a scratch in its finish. I paced for a while, flicking the point of the blade with my thumb.

As darkness returned to Bellingshausen, Makabe came back to the maintenance room. He banged on the door three times with his toolbox. Old codes still work well.

I punched his access key numbers into the panel, unlocked the door, and stood back as it slid open to reveal a screaming torrent of ice and snow. The little maintenance man, covered in frozen drift, stepped out of the storm and the door slid shut behind him. The howling wind was again silenced. He began stamping his feet.

“It’s dark in here,” Makabe said with a huff.

“I was busy; I didn’t notice.”

Makabe activated the florescent lights. With a clink clink and a low hum, the overheads flickered to life. The room was cast in greenish light. Makabe dropped his blue toolbox on a table and stood staring at me.

“You are bleeding,” he said, pointing at my hand.

I looked down. Unbeknownst to me, I had carved a gash in my thumb with the blade of the knife. “Like I said, I was busy.” I pressed my thumb and forefinger together to staunch the blood flow.

Makabe approached the table and looked over my work. He made a low grunt in his throat. “And what do you plan to do with all this?” he asked, pointing to the partially-dismantled rifle and the scattered parts on the floor.

“A bit of a repair project,” I replied. I bent down and began gathering the parts off the floor and lining them up on the worktable again. “I have to get it working. After that, maybe I can modify it a bit.”

“Hmm,” Makabe replied. “That sounds like the beginning of a larger plan. You are prepared for this?”

“Yes. I’d like to select a few targets for a… field test.”

Makabe murmured to himself. He shed his gloves and began opening his heavy coat.

I sat at the worktable and began re-assembling the rifle.

Makabe placed his hands on the edge of the table and leaned over his fingertips. As I fit the pieces of the rifle together, he hovered over my work. It reminded me of my examination periods at the academy. Makabe cleared his throat.

“Maxim…” he started, his voice full of grave concern. “Through violence, you may solve one problem, but you sow the seeds for another. What do you think you’re going to accomplish here in Bellingshausen?”

“This city is sick with genetically-modified madness. I’m planning to correct a few problems, see if I can work my way to the heart of the disease.”

“What will this do for the people here?”

“Maybe, if I’m successful enough, I can save some of these people from hostilities. Give them a fighting chance.”

Makabe eyed me for a bit. He let out a deep breath. “You are not a trained warrior, are you?”

“No, not entirely.”

“Some of your anger is precipitated by guilt, yes?”

I made no reply. I sat in silence. I took it.

“Losing your history, your country, and your people fills you with anger and shame.”

The words stung. Don’t make this personal, old man. I snapped together the remaining pieces of the rifle, fed the actuator back into the firing mechanism and let the charging handle slide into place. The rifle made a high whine. The digital readout on the cell reservoir reported the charge level. The light on the firing mechanism glowed bright red. The weapon activated. Makabe raised an eyebrow and stepped back from the table. I smiled.

“Someone once told me that I needed to help save these people. That message cost him his life. We weren’t close, but I knew him just the same. I’m keeping up my end of the bargain, Makabe. Let’s discuss something else.”

Makabe made a low grumble. He slid a chair to the worktable and eased himself in with a groan. “We can change the subject if you wish,” Makabe said, drawing out the last word. “But you should know that you are woefully unprepared to meet these challenges. If you continue on this fool’s errand, I cannot help you.”

“I disagree. I know the enemy, the resources, and the weather. After I examine the layout of the land, I can begin to make some changes for the better.”

“Ha! All theory,” Makabe shot back. “You are convinced that you are making a rational tactical plan.”

I nodded.

“What you do not know is that Bellingshausen is a city designed with rings within rings. In these outer rings, there is a limited presence of authority by the LMO patrols and limited risk to you. But the fist grows tighter as you near the central ring areas. Bellingshausen is built from the inside-out, with the tightly-secured Central Ring Complex housing the entire ongoing LMO development program.”

“What will I find as I near the central ring?”

“You will find nothing. You will not come close enough to the Central Ring Complex to see anything but an army of LMOs appearing from every direction. Their shouts will drown out the howling wind and their fists and their weapons will blot out the meager light over your body. You will not survive an attack on the heart of the city.”

“Every enemy has its weakness, Makabe.”

“And a poorly-planned battle has its casualties,” he replied. “Be smart, Maxim. You are a valuable asset to either side of this conflict. If you truly wish to come to the aid of our people, do not rush off and throw yourself carelessly into the heart of the battle.”

“I was sent here for a purpose.”

“And you will fulfill that purpose,” Makabe began. I cut him short, slamming my fist down on the table.

“I failed already, Makabe!” I shouted, my words echoing off the walls.

The old maintenance man didn’t flinch. He just looked at me. He sniffed and rubbed his nose.

I let out a deep breath and calmed myself. “I had the data and all the records I needed to set things straight here, Makabe.”

He nodded.

“It’s all gone now, taken by Sar and his thugs.” The memory infuriated me. “I must do something to help these people. If Sar is keeping the data and records to himself, then I should try to get it back.”

Makabe nodded again.

I put the rifle down on the table between the two of us. “If there’s a chance that I can alleviate some of the suffering out here, then I have to take that shot. You of all people should understand this.”

“Me?” Makabe said with a chuckle. “I am a maintenance man. I put my faith in well-honed tools. I only understand that you are one man. You are alone in a city you hardly understand. You have a single rifle and a short knife.”

“Every battle, great and small, began with one or the other, Makabe. I have to try.”

“You could easily find yourself dead, your cause lost entirely.”

“It happens to the best of us, I suppose.”

“Well, Maxim,” Makabe said, standing up from his chair. “Clearly you are a man of great principle. I am glad to have met you. If you survive the first day, it will be… interesting to mark your progress going forward.”

“At least I’m doing something,” I replied with a sneer.

“Gah!” he exclaimed, raising his hands. He began to shout. “Bellingshausen has already seen its fair share of ideological madmen and blunt instruments. If you truly intend to correct some great wrong that you help put into motion, then you will need more than an angry heart and a handful of steel.”

Makabe turned his back to me and shook his head. I could hear his heavy breathing.

“I don’t believe that I have a choice in the matter, Makabe,” I said firmly.

The old maintenance man turned to face me again. He made no attempt to hide his displeasure. He took a long breath and let it out. “I understand,” he said. “But, before you go out into the cold and stalk unfamiliar territory with your unproven weapon, I have something to show you.”

Makabe turned to a bank of monitors and activated them. One by one, the bank of systems sprang to life. I stood up. I was amazed. Makabe gave me a slight grin.

The maintenance room clearly monitored much more than ducts and pipes and tubes and the like. I saw city-wide operations details, readouts, data streams, systems mapping, fluctuation reports, and bottleneck alerts. I saw communications systems and data for basic city exchanges. There were separate systems that monitored water, power, and waste management. I also saw private communications, secured and unsecured data streams. I stared at it in disbelief.

“This is an amazing amount of data. Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier?”

“I know little about you, Maxim. I wanted to make certain that you were a man of high integrity. By aiding you, my life is forfeit.”

“Understood.”

“I also thought that I could possibly dissuade you from making a foolish run at the heart of the city by giving you something to help coordinate your efforts.”

I stared at the screens. Makabe accessed security data for the region and I saw reports on LMO patrol movements. I leaned in. Each report detailed activity and response from LMO units in the area.

“The Director and Dr. Robertson have linked the Central Ring Complex computer systems with all automated systems in the city. They use this cybernated system technology to coordinate all of the technology, machinery and equipment that serves the entire city. They also use their systems and their power to dictate and monitor individual’s lives.”

“This is just a historical record?”

“Yes. There is no access to data on planned future movements. But you can see where they’ve been. Much can be monitored from these terminals, like tapping into an electronic autonomic central nervous system that extends into all areas of the city. If you are technically adept, you may be able to make a few tactically-advantageous predictions from this maintenance node and others like it.”

“And if I want to find the LMOs from the market, the ones who terrorized and attacked that man and woman?”

“You don’t need this information for that,” he said with a wide grin. “You can pick up your rifle and wander out into the city. They will find you.”

“Help me, Makabe,” I asked firmly.

He let out an agitated huff. “The LMO with the live mace is called Khlorr. He’s a soldier working for Sar. But he is nothing more than a dumb brute. The other LMO is unknown to me, a new conscript, perhaps.”

“Bad luck for him, I suppose. Guilty by association.”

Makabe turned back to the worktable and pointed at the rifle. “Your rifle, is it a distance weapon after all?” Makabe asked.

“I suppose. I’ve never seen one like it. Initially, I thought it was a short-range energy or pulse rifle of some sort.”

“Not the case?”

“No. It’s composed of a series of highly-focused acoustic lenses that serve to deliver a compact but high-energy acoustic pulse.”

Makabe furrowed his brow.

“It creates a solitary wave, like a sound bullet. And it’s tunable to a degree, with orders of magnitude and power. In theory, it may even work through layers of media.”

“Meaning…?”

“It shoots through walls without creating a disruption and detonates within the target on the other side.”

Makabe stared at me for a moment. I continued. “If it works, it would be like having a sound explosion tear open a target from the inside-out, even if that target is behind a solid wall.”

“Impossible,” he blurted.

“Not at all. In fact, the headgear I pulled off the LMO confirms it.” I held up the enhanced vision goggles the LMO wore that night. “Thermal and acoustic imaging. See what you are shooting at through walls and see the damage the weapon creates. Evidently, Q’Roth didn’t have the optics activated, when I met him in the alley, otherwise he could have seen me from hundreds of meters away.”

“What does that tell you.” he replied with a snort.

“It tells me that this is probably new technology and Q’Roth was too reliant on his muscle and bravado to treat the weapon with respect. In the end, it got him killed.”

I pulled the goggles on over my head and the optics came to life. Inside, the room was awash with a red glow from all the pipes and ducts and wiring. The goggles were wide. They fit an LMO’s skull type, with ocular cavities set apart further than those of a human. It hurt my eyes. I slipped them off and looked the goggles over. There would have to be some adjustments.

Makabe eyed the goggles with blatant skepticism.

“One of the optics is the sighting mechanism. The other allows for either an unassisted view of the forward environment or a focus on the target area. In here, all I can see is red.”

“You cannot see through the maintenance room,” said Makabe. “We are completely surrounded by heat and energy.”

I was surprised that he knew this. I tucked that thought away. “I plan to take this outside, give it a field test, see if I can track Khlorr and the other LMO from the marketplace.”

Makabe stood back and brushed the remaining snowmelt from his coat. “Well, if you believe that you are equipped to jump into this battle, you certainly don’t need the further advice of an old maintenance man.”

“That’s not true.”

“Yes, well, people like you only experience success through superior strength and aptitude. You clearly believe that you have plenty of both, I can see.”

I was quiet for a few moments, staring at the old man as he pulled a cloth from his pocket and rubbed his nose with it.

“I’m no fool, Makabe. I can use all the help I can get. These are the last of our people out there. We owe them everything we can give.”

“And I can give you all the help I am afforded. You are a man of great honor, I can see, but your wits are sometimes held captive by your heart.”

I’ve heard this before.

Makabe stepped closer. He looked me up and down, sizing me up, gauging my preparedness. It was a gesture I had seen a thousand times from my uncle Setsuo.

“I’m ready,” I stated.

“We shall see,” he replied.

[Communication Relay:  26APR2086 Alexander Island, Antarctica]