Chapter 1.9: No rest for the wicked

The transport rattled and shook as it carried us away from our successful mission at the ALEPH Node. Now that we’d made it past the Node’s security perimeter the pilot had stopped his evasive manoeuvres and I could focus on the holo-display and draft my SitRep without throwing up.

The data package had been successfully downloaded, we’d damaged the Memory Core containing evidence of our investigation, and the transport had just picked up Xu Heng’s escape beacon a couple clicks out from the ALEPH Node. His coded message confirmed he’d collected Yao Chen’s Cube before making his escape from the facility. I messaged the reserve transport and ordered them to pick him up before the ALEPH OSSS spotted him and sent out a patrol. It had been close but it had ended as a successful mission.

I started skimming through the data package but most of it seemed to be shipping manifests and financial transfer logs and I was quickly distracted by the pained grunts and gasps coming from the front of the transport. After sending the data package and SitRep on for Liu Fe to deal with I moved forward to the med station where the medics were working on the mission’s casualties. The two Haidao operatives were lying on the two operating tables in the emergency trauma station surrounded by doctors and medics. Their dented and battered armour lay scattered around the tables and floor, sliding with the occasional banking of the transport. Feng Bo slumped against one of the bulkheads nearby, fending off one of the insistent medics. He was still in his scratched and worn Zuyong armour with a blood-stained bandage tied around the large gash on his temple, staring thoughtfully at the cratered helmet in his lap.

“Argggh FUCK!” Fu Lan shouted from one of the tables. Tai Sheng, also still in her armour, easily held the Haidao down as he attempted to thrash around. The piercing whine of a high-powered drill was met by an equally shrill shriek from Fu Lan as the doctor finished attaching the cybernetic arm.

“Stop being such a baby,” Tai Sheng scolded. “Look. The Doc’s finished already, that was nothing. You’ll be up and wanking again in no time.” As she stopped leaning on the poor Haidao he was able to look down at the doctor cleaning the last of the blood and grease from the cybernetic interface.

“Remind me never to arm wrestle with you from now on Lance Corporal. How is everyone?” I asked as I approached. “Feng Bo? You still with us?” The Zuyong Corporal shook himself out of his thoughts, wincing at the sudden head movement, then cracked a broad toothy grin at me.

“Good as gold, Boss. This is just gonna to add to my rugged good looks. I’ll have to find the engineer who made this helmet and give him a kiss.”

I nodded, wondering what it would take to phase the bear of a man. I turned to the Haidao sat up and experimentally flexing his new cybernetic arm. “Lance Corporal Fu, what’s the verdict? Are you good to go again?”

Fu Lan almost didn’t hear my question as he stared in wonderment through a sweat-drenched face at his new arm. He picked up one of the steel surgical items with delicate movements then crushed it effortlessly in his new artificial hand. “You know Boss, I think I might just be able to get used to this.” He raised his fist and looked over at me, “I’m in. Let me get a new set of armour first.”

I turned from the Haidao easing off the surgical table and heading to the armoury and spoke to Tai Sheng. “How’s Bai Xia?” I asked in a quiet voice, looking at the unconscious Haidao surrounded by the worryingly intense doctors and medics.

“Not good Sir,” Tai Sheng responded. “The docs are doing what they can but he took two armour piercing shotgun blasts centre mass. His chest and internal organs are a complete mess.” She shook her head, “I heard the docs discussing whether it was even worth repairing some of them or just going for complete transplants. He needs a proper medical facility Sir.”

I looked one last time at the grim spectacle before turning away and directing Tai Sheng’s attention to the holo-display. “I’m afraid he’s going to have to wait. We need to upload the wire-tap program at the Comms Centre before the ALEPH Node reboots the Sector’s data protection.” I steeled myself before my next comment. “Lance Corporal Bai Xia served well and honourably. If he dies then I will endeavour to have his Cube reanimated. If that fails… well, he has served the State and People truly and given the final sacrifice which we all aspire to.”

Tai Sheng gave me a long unreadable stare before nodding. “Acknowledged Sir. I’ll get the team prepped for the next strike.” I watched her walk back amongst the tired Strike Team, rallying the troops and checking their kit and equipment. My gaze strayed back to the blood-stained operating table holding the limp form of Bai Xia and wondered whether I’d made the right decision. How many more of the Strike Team would this mission claim?

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