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Blades of Winter: A Novel of the Shadowstormby G T Almasi
Thursday, May 1, 1:35 p.m. EST
Manhattan’s Upper East Side, New York City, USA
Nothing pisses me off more than being shot at while I’m eating. It’s the midday rush here in my new favorite restaurant, a cozy Hungarian joint on East 82nd Street. I’m jammed into a small table by the kitchen, with a Redskins cap pulled low over my face. The charming old dining room is packed, and the paneled walls echo the Eastern European barks of the broad, buxom waitresses as they dominate the good-humored customers. The food here is spectacular, but right now I’m kind of distracted by that bullet hurtling straight at my left eye.
Until this .22-caliber interruption, I was quietly noshing my yummy goulash. My unwitting target, an ugly little man named Hector, sits at his table across the room with some chick. It’s not a very sexy mission. I’m just following this fucking jerk around. The brief said he was a former Russian Level, so I thought the job would be a lot more exciting than this. I did notice that he chews each bite of food exactly thirty-two times. Whoop-dee-doo.
At least it’s a Level 12 Job Number. This’ll be the highest-rated mission I’ve ever pulled, although it’s not exactly mine. It was originally assigned to a coworker named Grey, but he called in sick this morning. The ExOps dispatcher is a total dingbat named Virgil, so it was a cinch to sucker—uh, I mean persuade—him to mix me up with my father and assign the mission to me. You’d think the fact that I’m a mid-five-foot, nineteen-year-old female Level 4 Interceptor named Alix would be a hint that I’m not a fortysomething Level 20 Liberator named Philip who’s been dead for eight years. But who am I to correct a senator’s son? If he’s okay with putting me on a Job Number that’s eight steps beyond my pay grade, I’m okay with it, too.
But back to that bullet flying my way. Five seconds ago, Hector stood up and put on his jacket to leave. Four seconds ago, I turned my head to look for my waitress. Three seconds ago, Hector’s date plucked a small silver pistol out of her handbag. She’s about my age and height but with dark hair and dark clothes, and she’s suddenly wearing a pair of giant Jackie Onassis sunglasses. Two seconds ago, she pointed her puny gun at my face. One second ago, as this miniature Jackie-O chick pulled the trigger, I told my neuroinjector to get me ready to do some serious head stomping. As of this instant, I’m fully jacked on Madrenaline and time has slowed to a crawl.
The bullet has just emerged from Jackie-O’s little fashion accessory, so I’ve got time to pull out my larger and much more impressive black pistol. It’s a Lion Ballistics LB-505. I inherited this gun from my father, who spent a lot of time fiddling with the onboard artificial intelligence. After a particularly successful tinkering session he nicknamed her Li’l Bertha. I communicate with Li’l Bertha through the raised neural contact pad on her grip that snaps into a matching recess built into the palm of my left hand.
Like every pistol from Lion Ballistics, my LB-505 is built around the patented radar-assisted gyroscopic aiming system that made this company the Harley-Davidson of hard-core gun nuts everywhere. The AI transparently manages all the techno crap and feeds real-time target information to my Eyes-Up display.
One of the 505’s coolest capabilities is that it can change caliber on the fly. This feature is called Multi Caliber, and it allows me to reduce my competitors to one or more meat piles, depending on what size bullets I select. As I take aim with my dad’s gun, it scans Jackie-O to see if she’s wearing any kind of armor and pops the ammunition selector into a corner of my field of vision:
Select Ammo Type:
5. Pupu Platter
The scan of Jackie-O returns “null.” There are so many goddamn people in here, the scanner can’t isolate my target. Okay, fine. I tell Li’l Bertha to use .30-caliber Incendiaries. I’ve been taught that whether they’re armored or not, nothing distracts the competition more than setting them on fire.
Jackie-O’s bullet is halfway here. This isn’t my first time being shot at, but it still makes my hands begin to tremble while my stomach knots up. My neuroinjector senses my anxiety and squirts a dose of Kalmers into my bloodstream. I change my mind about the ammo and decide to precede the Incendiary rounds with two .50-caliber Explosive slugs. I need to move this crowd out of the way so that the Incendiaries can work their subtle magic.
Christ, her bullet is so close that I can see its rotation! I’ve spent too much time putzing around with my gun. I hold my head still while my retinal cameras photograph this little chickie for posterity, then I dodge to the side. The bullet sizzles across the skin of my left cheekbone as I pump two Explosive shots into the ceiling above Jackie-O. This distracts her with falling debris and gets all the others to duck under their tables. Now she’s totally exposed, so I mash down the trigger and unload my Incendiaries on her.
My flaming bullet fog hits her so hard that she doesn’t even have a chance to be torn to bits. She simply goes up in a white cloud of smoke that fills the whole dining room. It’s like the girl was never there. Her vanishing act (and perhaps all the noise, fumes, and fire) has scared the shit out of everybody, and they all start screaming their heads off. The smoke is so thick, I can’t even see my table in front of me. I switch on my infrared vision just in time to spot Hector as he follows a group of terrified patrons out the front door. I charge after him and switch my infrared off as I storm into the bright sunshine outside.
As Hector escapes up the block, the street erupts in gunfire. Damn it! I was so smug about roasting Jackie-O with my full-auto bulletgasm that I’ve stumbled into her backup team.
A cloud of bullets and one rocket-propelled grenade streak toward me. I leap in the air as the grenade hits the sidewalk and detonates. The concussion kicks me up three stories. My cap flies off, and I crash through a window as the front of my ex-favorite New York eatery goes up in smoke. I hope their insurance covers them for an attack of the killer spies from Psychoville.
I land on all fours in a small bedroom. The floor dances under me while the maniacs outside pulverize the walls and windows and generally shoot the shit out of the apartment. The air is full of flying metal, wood splinters, and shards of glass. Plaster dust grinds in my teeth, and smoke burns my throat. I roll into the hall and then run up the fire stairs. As I burst onto the roof, the sound of a helicopter thuds through the air. This is a solo mission, so I know the air support isn’t for me. I arm and drop my electromagnetic pulse grenade, then I jump through an open window across the back alley and land in a bathtub. The EMP grenade will roast the electronics of anything in its blast radius, so I take my Mods and Enhances offline while Li’l Bertha shuts down to protect herself.
A black, nasty-looking little chopper soars over the roof across the alley as I trigger my EMP. The electrofried aircraft careens out of control and smacks into the building. The helicopter-shaped paperweight drops out of my sight, so I don’t see the result, but I sure as hell hear and feel it. The explosions and squeals of terror are both particularly satisfying.
My hands start shaking again. The Kalmers have faded out of my bloodstream. Kalmers don’t eliminate reactions to stress and fear; they simply suppress them. Once they wear off, you can be hit by what Med-Techs call emotional recoil. My mouth dries out, my lungs gulp for air, and my legs squeeze together to keep me from peeing my pants. I curl up into a ball and ride it out. After a few minutes I’m done crying and shaking. I lurch out of the tub, scram the apartment, and climb the stairs to the top of the building. My new knees let me rooftop jump all the way to 60th Street, where I slide down a fire escape and catch a taxi to the Village.
CORE (Catalogue of Records, ExOps) PER-A59-001
Crystal City Gazette, July 8, 1972
Local Girl Dazzles at the Gymnastics National Championships
NEW YORK CITY—Crystal City’s Alix Nico thrilled Madison Square Garden last night as she swept the all-around and the individual events in the 10–11-year-old division at this year’s USAIGC Gymnastics National Championships. Her stunning performance was an emphatic finale to an extremely successful year for Nico, who set a USAIGC record for victories in a single season.
Nico is already considered a favorite to win gold at the Montreal Olympics. She is training at the Roosevelt Gymnastics Center in Washington, D.C., under the supervision of her coach Tasha Dovetsky.
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