Leap Taller Buildings in a Single Bound
Start with a honeycombed coltan/titanium exoskeleton, for 32% greater strength than the N1 at half the weight. Wrap it in CryNet’s patented artificial muscle: an armored carbon-nanofiber composite storing elastic energies of up to 20 J/cm3, with electromechanical coupling that exceeds 70% under most battlefield conditions. Sheathe it all in a flexible doped-ceramic epidermis and a Faraday weave that shields against EMPs while still supporting telemetric throughput of up to 15 TB/sec. Put it all together and you have a combat chassis that laughs at almost anything short of a direct hit with a battlefield nuke. (In fact, in three out of five simulations, the Nanosuit 2.0 even withstood the point-blank detonation of a Lockheed AAF 212 Circuit-Breaker™!*)
* Results may vary during actual combat.
And what fuels this unmatched combination of power and protection? Virtually anything. While the N2’s primary coupling is compatible with any BVN-series hydrogen cell, the suit also acquires and stores energy automatically from a wide range of ambient sources: kinetic motion, passive solar/thermal, and atmospheric microwave to name but a few. The standard-issue universal adapter allows recharging from virtually any hardline electrical source, domestic or military—and with CryNet’s optional Necro-Organic Metabolites plug-in (NOM), the N2 can even extract usable energy from battlefield carrion!
Was I just on too many hit lists? Were CELL and Ceph both gunning for me and it was just my great luck that both happened to track me down at the same time? Or were they dusting it up with each other, street-to-street, and I just got caught in the crossfire? I don’t suppose you’d care to enlighten me?
’Course not. You’re here to ask the questions.
That first wave of Ceph, though, I could swear they’re running from something. They scramble down the walls and the street in a wave—mean-ass stalkers, baseline bogeymen. I open fire out of pure reflex, take a few down, and they’re shooting back with those big fucking gunhands of theirs, but they seem to have other things on their minds. And now here comes CELL screaming around the corner in their Humvees, and all I’m hearing is It’s that suit guy, suit guy’s right here! and Blue Command, engaging target! and then I’m hitting the fucking ground, man, because suddenly the air is a shitstorm of bullets and RPGs. I don’t think they even notice the Ceph at first.
They see ’em soon enough, though. One of the Humvees goes up and suddenly the Ceph are getting lots of attention.
I’m on the ground, under cover, pinned down but not in anybody’s direct line of fire unless they’ve got a micronuke to take out the collapsed wall I’m hiding under. I cloak up and peek around a pile of cinder blocks; I’ll get shredded above the knees if I try standing, but at least both sides seem to be too busy shooting at each other to wonder where I’ve gone. I keep low to the ground, crawl for an H&M with its doors conveniently pre-blown off.
The suit continues to relay inspirational messages over comm: “Blue eighteen, this is Lockhart. Please confirm kill.”
“Blue Eighteen. I said report.”
I make it to Lingerie. There’s an employees-only entrance beside the crotchless panties. Elvis leaves the building.
“Can you confirm your kill?”
He’s all over the channel, my nemesis, the voice of my destruction—but right now he sounds more like a distraught mother who’s lost her child in the playground.
“I’d say that’s a no, Lockhart,” and that snide dry delivery is such a close echo of what I was just thinking that I wonder for just a moment if False Prophet isn’t reading my mind. But no: It’s a woman’s voice, coming over the comm. A rotor keeps time behind her.
“Strickland, get off the comms. Blue Eighteen, do you—”
“They’re down, Lockhart. I warned you not to do this by squads. Prophet’s suited up, probably not even sane anymore. Anything less than a platoon, he’s going to go through them like a grizzly through Boy Scouts.”
I’m liking this Strickland chick’s attitude. I like the imagery, too.
Lockhart doesn’t. “You’re easily impressed, Strickland. Why don’t you go back to running around after Hargreave and let me do my job.”
“I am running around after Hargreave. He sent me down here to oversee retrieval of the suit. And I gotta say, so far it looks like your boys are falling down on the job.”
“We’ll get this sonofabitch. And we’ll do it without your help.”
“Hargreave doesn’t see it that way anymore.”
“Then the hell with Hargreave, too. He’s got no idea what we’re dealing with here.”
BUD feeds me a bearing: Strickland’s chopper is at ten and eleven.
“I’m not going to argue this with you on air, Lockhart. I’ll see you down there. Strickland out.”
Ten and ten. She’s going down. And now that I’m a solid city block from the latest Ceph-CELL dustup, I can hear that descending whupwhupwhup bouncing off the walls to my left. My nemesis and his nemesis are headed for a meet-up just a couple of blocks away. If I hustle I might just be able to learn something useful.
What? Oh. Yeah, it is kind of amazing how well I can remember all these details, isn’t it? But you know what really sticks in my memory? Just last week I remember not having anywhere near this good a memory.
I find a ringside seat behind a second-story window in a bombed-out brownstone. Lockhart’s Humvee is parked down the alley behind a Shoppers Drug Mart, like he’s run in for a pack of Trojans but is too embarrassed to go in the front door. Strickland’s chopper idles front-and-center in an empty lot behind a $uper$ave, sharing space with a carpet of weeds and a couple of porta-potties. The way its rotor slashes the air makes me think of a pissed-off cat, kind of lazy and lethal at the same time.
They face off in the no-man’s-land between, bracketed by a couple of CELLulites on perimeter watch. Lockhart’s maybe 190 centimeters, your standard flat-topped, bullet-headed, walking military clich'e except for the fact that so many of us actually are flat-topped bullet-heads.
Strickland is a walking wet dream: mocha skin, half a head shorter than the man she’s going up against, dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. But it’s pretty clear from the body language that Lockhart’s not in the mood to appreciate any of Strickland’s finer aesthetic qualities. I crank my audio on a bitchfest already in progress.
“—is to take him alive,” Strickland’s saying.
“The order is to bring him down,” Lockhart spits back. “I’ll argue the civil rights details when we’ve done that.”
“Alive is more useful.”
“Yeah? To who? The guy just massacred a couple of dozen of my men, Ms. Strickland. I’m taking no more chances. Prophet dies. Hargreave can have his corpse to play with.”
“Hargreave wants the suit. He’ll get it.”
“He isn’t going to like this. And last time I checked, we both worked for him.” I get the sense of a high card being played.
He doesn’t even blink. “That’s where you’re wrong, Ms. Strickland. You work for him. I answer to the CELL Executive Board and the DoD. I don’t give a shit what some senile old shareholder like Hargreave may or may not like.”
“That’s majority shareholder. And former president of the CryNet board. You want to be careful what enemies you make here, Lockhart.”
He doesn’t answer for a moment. I wonder if maybe Strickland’s finally found a way in; enemies, after all, are something Lockhart must know a lot about. I bet he’s made more than his share over the years. And maybe he doesn’t have to think twice about pissing off Strickland—what could some uppity bitch do to an alpha dog like him, right? But somebody higher up is holding her leash. How many enemies can he afford to make, how many fronts can he wage war on at once?
“This conversation is over,” Lockhart says, and pisses all over Strickland’s territory by climbing into her chopper.
Come on, Strickland. You don’t have to put up with this shit. You can take him. You can. I know this territory, I’ve seen it before, you had to be twice as good to get half as far because of assholes like him. Go in there, throw that fucker out of your helicopter, bitch-slap him all the way back to that candy-ass Humvee of his and show him who’s boss. You’ve got Hargreave backing you up.
I mean, for fuck’s sake. You can stop this asshole, you can stop his whole private army.
Strickland shakes her head and climbs meekly into the cabin. The chopper lifts off.
That’s a very good question. I’ve asked it myself, more times than you know. I could have blown his head off then and there. Hers, too. Want to know why I didn’t?
I didn’t want to prove him right.
It’s what he told Strickland, you know? That guy just massacred a couple of dozen of my men. And I just about went off the deep end because I’m not fucking Prophet. I mean, Lockhart’s a complete asshole but I have to admit he’s got a point. I heard the comm chatter. Cobalt and Blue and Azure—Prophet took out half the goddamn rainbow before he and I ever crossed paths. Lockhart’s got every right to be pissed—just not at me. This whole thing’s a huge case of mistaken identity, and if I can somehow make everyone understand that I’m not Prophet, that all I did was inherit the man’s threads, then maybe we could all be on the same side again.
But while I’m feeling all outraged and hard-done-by, this voice in my head tries to tally up all the corpses I’ve made since I put on those threads, and it loses count.
The thing is, that’s not really me any more than Prophet is. Not that there aren’t a shitload of folks in this line of work who do fit that profile. You know that. Any job that gives you rank and a gun is going to attract its share of psychos and assholes who get off on throwing their weight around. But that’s not me, that—wasn’t me. I didn’t sign up to kill things, I signed up to fix them. I never—got off on this stuff before.
It’s the N2. It gets inside you. It changes the way you think, it turns you into—
Fuck, listen to me. I sound like some wife-beating drunk, making excuses: It’s not me, honey, it’s the suit talking . . .
Do me a favor. If I bring you flowers and promise never to do it again, just shoot me.
Testimony of Cmdr. Dominic Lockhart before the Senate Subcommittee Hearings on the Use of Military Nanotechnology, 18/02/2019, Sen. Meghan McCain presiding.
Sen. Preteela M’Benga: Cmdr. Lockhart, on behalf of this subcommittee I would like to thank you for being here today.
Cmdr. Dominic Lockhart: Happy to be here, ma’am.
M’Benga: Commander, how long have you been an employee of Hargreave-Rasch?
Lockhart: I’ve been chief of CELL’s Urban Pacification Division for four years. Prior to that I was USMC.
M’Benga: And what is your current status?
Lockhart: In addition to my UPD duties I serve as a liaison to the US military when necessary. In those cases I report jointly to CELL and to the Department of Defense.
M’Benga: And this doesn’t present a conflict of interest?
Lockhart: With all due respect, Senator, the fact that I am testifying here today proves that it does not.
M’Benga: Aren’t you afraid of repercussions?
Lockhart: Repercussions, Senator?
M’Benga: If I’ve been correctly informed about the testimony you’ve prepared, you are about to do what we in the Senate call biting the hand that feeds. Aren’t you concerned that hand might bite back, if you’ll forgive the mangled metaphor?
Lockhart: No, ma’am.
M’Benga: May I ask why?
Lockhart: Without going into details, Senator, let’s just say that knowledge is power. I am in possession of certain knowledge concerning Hargreave-Rasch.
M’Benga: Knowledge beyond that you will be sharing with us today?
Lockhart: Yes, ma’am.
M’Benga: Moving on, then. The report you’ve presented is quite, er, comprehensive. For those of us who have not yet made it through the entire 864 pages, I wonder if you could distill the essence of your objection down to a concise sentence or two.
Lockhart: Gladly, Senator. I believe this country needs real soldiers. Not corpses in tin suits.
M’Benga: Excuse me, Commander. “Corpses in tin suits”?
Lockhart: You wanted concise, ma’am.
M’Benga: I did. Perhaps we’re not talking about the same project here. My understanding of CryNet’s program is that it involves placing live soldiers into battlefield prostheses, not the reanimation of corpses.
Lockhart: Senator M’Benga, if you examine the technical specs that follow the executive summary, you’ll see that central to CryNet’s second-generation proposals is a system that can—and I’m quoting here—“assume autonomic, regulatory, and motor functions in the event of somatic damage or operator incapacity.” In other words, the system can run itself just fine when the person inside is dead.
M’Benga: Ummm, yes. But I look at those exact same words and I see a suit of armor that can carry its occupant to safety even if that occupant is injured or unconscious. I don’t see—
Lockhart: With all due respect, Senator, what you are not seeing is that CryNet’s next-generation Nanosuit essentially reduces the soldier to ballast—almost literally to dead meat.
M’Benga: Then why include the soldier at all? Why not simply market this device as a battlefield robot? I’m certain that many on this subcommittee would leap at the prospect of a machine that could take the place of our brave men and women on the battlefield, keep them out of harm’s way.
Lockhart: I believe that an autonomous battlefield robot is CryNet’s ultimate goal, sir. The model currently under development is merely a foot in the door.
M’Benga: But why not—
Lockhart: Again, ma’am, if you read the technical details of this proposal you will see that there are certain—neurocognitive elements that do not yet have a technological solution. Hargreave-Rasch does not say as much publicly, but I believe the only real use they see for our soldiers is as wetware. The system uses the human nervous system to do what it cannot yet do by itself. Jacob Hargreave is asking the American people to fund the development of a machine that would quite literally be a parasite on US soldiers.
M’Benga: Commander Lockhart, assuming that everything you’ve said today is true, would that not be a powerful argument in favor of funding?
Lockhart: I’m not following, ma’am.
M’Benga: Hargreave-Rasch and its subsidiary, CryNet Systems—these are independent corporations with their own very lucrative revenue streams. If we were to deny funding, they would in all likelihood just go ahead and develop this device privately, under no obligation to share any details with us. If we enter into the partnership currently on the table, however, we become—as representatives of the American people—privy to every stage of development. We gain a say in how it will be developed. Was it not Patton who said “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”?
Lockhart: No, ma’am.
M’Benga: Really? I could have sworn—
Lockhart: It was Sun Tzu, ma’am. Believe me, CryNet would not have approached the government if they didn’t have to. If they don’t need government funding, they need something else from you and you just don’t know what it is yet. We have—you have the power to stop this abomination in its tracks.
M’Benga: Commander Lockhart, we approached them.
Lockhart: Excuse me?
M’Benga: My understanding is that the Pentagon got wind of CryNet’s research and felt that such a project might prove useful in fulfilling their own strategic objectives. They asked CryNet to submit this proposal.
Lockhart: If the Pentagon approached Jacob Hargreave, then it was because Jacob Hargreave manipulated them into doing so.
Sen. Bradley Dubain: Excuse me, but I believe I might be able to cast some light on . . .?
M’Benga: I yield the remainder of my time to Senator Dubain.
Dubain: Thank you. Commander Lockhart.
Dubain: Please understand, I hold you and your service to the country in the highest respect. It is not my intention to question either your integrity or your experience.
Lockhart: I appreciate that, sir. Did you have a question?
Dubain: It is true, is it not, that you have suffered a personal loss as a result of the Nanosuit program?
Dubain: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear—
Lockhart: The Nanosuit program does not yet exist, sir. I am here to try and ensure that it never does.
Dubain: The Nanosuit 2 is still under development, yes. I was speaking of the earlier version, the one that was deployed—
Lockhart: That is neither here nor there, Senator. I am not talking about the past, I am concerned about how we move forward.
Dubain: I appreciate that, Commander. That is what we are all concerned about. And I’m sure you’ll agree that moving forward, we must base our decisions on the available facts, not merely feelings and opinions.
Lockhart: I am trying to keep my testimony limited to the available facts, sir. It was you who introduced the subject of personal—
Dubain: But isn’t it true that your nephew lost his—
Lockhart: Keep your fucking hands off my family, Senator.
Dubain: Uh—Commander Lock—
McCain: I’m going to call a brief recess. We are adjourned until fourteen hundred.
And we’re off, running on goddamned foot along the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Expressway, doing our best to get to Nathan Gould before Lockhart’s minions get to us.
Early betting favors the CELLulites but the Propheteers have pulled it out of the fire before, ladies and gentlemen, the Propheteers should be dead a dozen times over but they’re still in there kicking. And don’t we all love cheering for the underdog?
Not so much, apparently. Not when CryNet Enforcement and Local Logistics cuts your paycheck. One of the players on the opposing team puts it pretty succinctly over a channel he doesn’t think I can access: “That piece of shit took out half of Cobalt Section. That piece of shit is toast.”
Which should make me hungry—I haven’t had a bite to eat all day, and even toast sounds like a treat—but for some reason I haven’t felt hungry or tired since the N2 took me in its embrace. I don’t know how long I can keep going on adrenaline, or whatever else it’s pumping me full of, but I have to admit: This nanotech miracle goes a long way toward leveling the field.
A couple of other variables may actually tilt things in my favor. For one thing, private industry pays a lot better than the feds—and while this does let them buy the pick of the graduating litter, it also tends to attract folks whose primary interests are money, benefits, and no fucking overtime. There’s a reason they call these guys mercenaries. You don’t level up nearly as fast doing nine-to-five as you do pulling twenty-four-seven. So even without the N2 I am a harder dude than 90 percent of these fuckwits, and a lot more experienced.
The other thing is, the upper echelons are bickering again, and the boots on the ground are getting confused.
It starts when Drab Seven helpfully broadcasts the location they expect to take me out at. A familiar voice cuts him off: “This is Tara Strickland on oversight. Our objective for this target is capture and interrogate; I’m placing the kill order on indefinite hold.”
Drab Section is not too happy about this. Seems they had friends in Cobalt and do not like Special Adviser Strickland reining them in. She keeps trying, though. She tries when a CELL Apache pins me down just south of Fulton, brings the whole damn freeway down on my head. She tries as Lockhart’s troops chase me through the sewers under South Street. She tries when Drab tries to take me down with a tame EMP.
That one might have worked, if they’d been smart enough to boost their amps. The N2’s coated in a bleeding-edge Faraday weave, specs say you can throw a Lockheed Circuit-Breaker at it and it’ll keep on ticking. But nothing’s absolutely pulse-proof; the only way to keep all EM out is to not let any in, and then you’re deaf dumb and blind. So there’s a chink in the armor there. They could have pulled it off if they’d gone all-out.
But they might as well have used a Taser for all the good that sparkler of theirs did. Fuzzed my tacticals for maybe half a second, put a bit of a jitter into the haptics. Barely even noticed.
Drab Section noticed, though. I sent half those assholes off to party with their friends from Cobalt.
But it’s still no night in Reno, let me tell you. It’s one nasty evil-smelling pile of shit after another. They’re throwing everything at me from bricks to bombs, and the Ceph are all over the map; they’re tying up CELL, which is good, but they’re not going out of their way to make my life any easier, either. And through all of this Strickland keeps shouting Belay that! And Shoot to disable! And Lockhart’s cutting in with Kill order confirmed and Disregard further orders from Special Adviser Strickland and Someone kill that tin fuck for me. I gotta hope that at least they’ve gone their separate ways by now, because I do not envy their pilot if they’re still riding in the same chopper.
And of course I don’t have enough to worry about already so Nathan Gould pops in on his own channel, gives me the breathless breaking news that Lockhart’s people are swarming over the whole Lower East Side looking for me. No shit, Sherlock. And then they’re coming after him, I hear them kicking in the door when I’m still six blocks out and somehow Gould gets away, makes it down a fire escape or something, so now Gould’s warehouse is enemy territory and he’s on the run to an ex-girlfriend’s place where he’s stashed some surplus hardware that might do in a pinch. He sends me the new address and then he realizes that he also left it back at the warehouse—you know, the lab that’s now swarming with CELLulites—and we are totally fucked the moment one of them sits down at the terminal and checks his address book. One guess who gets to storm the warehouse and make sure that doesn’t happen.
At least this chapter has a happy ending, though, right? How many of those boys did I take out when the chopper crashed? Beautiful, beautiful sight, man. Came right down through the skylights, all that glass sparkling and tinkling like winter snow before the Meltdown. And you know, at least one of them was still alive on impact. I could see her mouth move through the bubble as she came down. I could see her screaming. Thank the good Lord for grenade launchers, eh Roger?
You should probably tell those guys to keep better tabs on them, though. They can be holy hell in the wrong hands.