United States of America.
Southwest Quadrant, Sector Two.
The night came alive with the low thrum of dueling engines. PRO-T-EN Industries Corps Savant, Gunnar Eck Rourke—Job Title: Strategic Executive, Rank: Captain—sat in the comfort of his machine; military grade, custom built, and synched to his private neural-net. Molded to his form, the soft seat reclined, keeping Gunnar low as he sped along the mapped route behind a small PRO-T-EN convoy. Though traveling by autopilot, his hands lay upon the manual controls; smooth metal spheres embedded in the armrests, the throttle-ball on his left, the steering-ball on his right. Above these controls, a multifaceted console lit up the dark interior with a sharp red glow. Through his helmet visor, Gunnar saw a green 40 holding steady on his digital speedometer.
“Non-PRO-T-EN vessels and personnel detected,” Gunnar’s neural assistant, Eos, warned in its soothing, mechanized voice. Thirty seconds before, Eos had been reciting an old poem about lost, violent souls while Gunnar relaxed. Then they’d both received an alert from one of the PRO-T-EN Corps Surveillance Savants, snapping them back to attention.
A PRO-T-EN drone had identified an incoming attack, but the Savant had been too busy to launch a counterstrike, or even perform a thorough scan. “Analysis?” Gunnar asked with a smirk.
“Four human-persons and three civilian-grade vessels, Captain Rourke. Approaching from the west. Current speed for all vessels, approximately thirty-one meters-per-second.”
Gunnar flicked his eyes from the front viewing pane to his primary monitor. The screen projected a neon blue schematic of his surroundings. All PRO-T-EN vehicles—including his own—outlined in bright green. All non-PRO-T-EN vehicles—including these new invaders—outlined in bold crimson. “Status?”
“Unknown, Captain Rourke. The human-persons appear to be Unemployed Civilians. No data files detected, and no neural-net activity present, viral or otherwise.”
“I see. Incompetents.” Now Gunnar glanced at his digital power gauge. A green 90 held steady, showing his primary coils at almost full capacity; plenty of wattage for a little extra maneuvering.
“The human-persons are in violation of multiple ordinances, Captain Rourke. A state of Unemployment is a Class D Transgression in all Civilian Centers. Civilians trespassing in a Corporate Sector is a Class B Transgression. Operating a civilian vessel in a Corporate Sector is a Class B Transgression. Illicitly owning a civilian vessel is a Class C Transgression.”
Gunnar’s smirk became a lupine grin. Un-Civ Incomps; lower than the lowest criminals. Gunnar, of course, knew the PRO-T-EN Industries Corps Protocols back to front. If these Incomps worked for a competitive corporation such as e-PHEMERUS Incorporated or In-E-Ware Holdings & Securities, well, the rules of engagement would be different.
But they didn’t. Which meant that Gunnar would have to follow strict interaction procedures.
“PRO-T-EN Corps Protocol dictates that you must initiate contact in an official and professional manner, informing the human-persons of their Transgressions.”
“Ten-four, Eos. Disengage auto-pilot.”
Sighing, Gunnar rolled his right hand over the steering-ball, leaving the convoy behind. The incoming Incomps followed—as he knew they would.
“Breaking formation,” Gunnar said, engaging his neural-net to broadcast the transmission. “Un-Civs times three in pursuit.”
A moment passed, then a bland voice returned: “Backup, Captain?”
“Negative. Standby for update.”
Time to be Professional, Trustworthy, and Energetic!
In tribute to its color and design—and his love of classic poetry—Gunnar called his vehicle The Raven. The PRO-T-EN machine handled with the greatest of ease; a hallmark of PRO-T-EN engineering. Sleek, jet black, and flying five feet above the desert terrain, the PRO-T-EN logo—a raised, golden T—gleamed in the moonlight on its hood. The Raven resembled a combustion engine hotrod, but far more compact, and a hell of a lot tougher. Like all PRO-T-EN Corps vehicles, it had been molded from a secret, patented alloy developed by PRO-T-EN Chemical Engineering Savants. Reinforced throughout—including its front and rear ends, making it an optimal battering ram—coated with PRO-T-EN’s patented radiation-absorbent polymer, and armor-plated, The Raven had been driven through every Corporate Sector in The United States, and had suffered little damage. Gunnar himself had seen more combat than his vehicle, and sitting there, encased in this techno-magnificent pod, he felt no apprehension about confronting the Incomps. He chose to leave the running lights off as he raced into the darkness, relying instead upon his state-of-the-art tracking system. The secondary monitor displayed a neon blue schematic of his surroundings, and Gunnar didn’t see much in the way of obstacles. He had the nerve, the weaponry, and the room to operate.
The poor Incomps behind him didn’t stand a chance.
Gunnar’s assignment had been a simple one from the start: provide an armed escort for three PRO-T-EN transports from the manufacturing plant in Sector One, Civilian Center B—once known as Los, then New Angeles, California—to a PRO-T-EN Distribution Center in Sector Two, Civilian Center A—once known as Phoenix, Arizona. Classified freight; property of PRO-T-EN Industries, the greatest corporation in the world. It wouldn’t be a typical food and supplies run, but still, it seemed like a banal assignment. Captain Rourke needed banality in his life, and volunteered on the condition of approval for an Extended Consensual Absence. PRO-T-EN Health and Reproductive Services had already approved both applications to co-parent a child. He and his wife, Melisma—Department: Medical Services, Job Title: Executive Pharmacologist—had submitted their tissue samples sixteen months ago. It took nine months to get the approval, then seven more to secure an appointment with their PRO-T-EN Reproductive Services Provider. Not that Gunnar complained; he loved PRO-T-EN Industries, and revered his Savant Status with an ardor unmatched.
But he hadn’t been home, or seen Melisma, in a good long while.
Thus, banal or not, Gunnar saw this assignment as a golden opportunity. The trip had been uneventful until they’d reached fifty kilometers south of Civilian Center A’s perimeter. That’s when the Incomps appeared, two on Omnert Enterprises hover cycles, and two in an e-PHEMERUS mini-shuttle which had to be at least twenty years old; a real clunker which didn’t even have retractable solar charging panels. And they wanted the PRO-T-EN cargo.
Which meant dealing with Gunnar Rourke.
“Decrease speed to three, zero, M-P-S.”
“Decreasing speed,” Eos advised.
The Raven downshifted, its engine thrumming beneath the hood. Its internal magnetic field disruptor plowed the sand below, billowing dust in its wake. A black blur against the black night. Heading nowhere, seeking destruction.
“Hold current speed.”
“Current speed held, Captain Rourke.”
Another smirk as Gunnar watched the Incomps close in on the schematic. In seconds, a hover cycle appeared on either side. Although similar to their earlier century counterparts, their front forks attached not to tires, but flat metal discs. The Incomp riders leant forward, hands and forearms resting in slots inside their steering consoles. They wore dark helmets with ancient logos, and tattered white clothing; the attire of scavengers. The mini-shuttle, larger than The Raven but nowhere near as durable, stuck close to Gunnar’s tail.
Four dead Incomps, too dense to know they are doomed.
Content to indulge in this joyride for a few moments, Gunnar held his controls steady, and it neither surprised nor concerned him when he heard a sharp thunk! on the portside viewing pane.
“Physical attack detected,” Eos advised. “Zero percent structural damage. The human-person is in violation. Damaging PRO-T-EN property and endangering the well-being of an on-duty PRO-T-EN Savant are both Class A Transgressions. Lethal force is now permitted.”
Gunnar shook his head. This non-employable scum thought he could smash his way in with a roto-hammer while piloting a hover cycle at thirty meters-per-second! Typical. Gunnar had dealt with their kind many times before. He despised them and their rabid, illogical unwillingness to join the Civilian Centers and contribute to society. And these particular Incomps had to be insane if they thought they could engage a PRO-T-EN Corps convoy and stand even the remotest chance of success.
“Physical attack detected. Starboard side. Zero percent structural damage. The human-person has committed the same Class A Transgressions. Lethal force is advised.”
Gunnar glanced to his right as the other Incomp started in with a roto-hammer, too. Through the viewing pane, he saw the brand-new Iron Steed ’99 Series hover cycle, with its marbled crimson bodywork, and felt a pang of regret.
What a shame; having to destroy such a beautiful machine. Perhaps one day, Omnert Enterprises would see the light and sell their stock to PRO-T-EN Industries.
“Would you like me to execute an offensive maneuver, Captain Rourke?” Eos asked with an eager lilt.
“Negative. Hold manual settings.”
“Very well. Remember that safety is a PRO-T-EN virtue.”
The Incomps kept hammering—Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!—and the mini-shuttle rammed The Raven’s rear bumper—Crunch!
“Vehicular impact detected. Aft end. Two percent structural damage. All human-persons present have committed multiple Transgressions. Lethal force is now encouraged.”
The Raven wavered, but Gunnar held his course. He had these Incomps right where he wanted them, far from the PRO-T-EN cargo, and disposing of them wouldn’t be hard.
Time to dispense some PRO-T-EN justice! Rolling his palms over the steering- and throttle-balls, Gunnar took a sharp left turn. The Raven smashed into the portside Incomp and his hover cycle—CLUNK!—sending them both flying into the arid night.
The Incomp screamed in pain and surprise; music to Captain Rourke’s neural-net. The starboard side hover cycle and the mini-shuttle careened in separate directions, circling as fast as they could.
“Vehicular impact detected. Portside. Three percent structural damage.”
“Un-Civ times one eliminated,” Gunnar announced via his neural-net transmitter. “Standby.”
“Ten-four,” the bland voice replied.
Jaw clenched, Gunnar set his sights on the smaller of the two red blips and rolled his left hand over the throttle-ball. The Raven lurched forward, headed straight for the remaining hover cycle. The Incomp circled in a wide arc and the PRO-T-EN soldier intended to demolish him.
You are forfeit, traitor!
“Vehicular impact imminent, Captain Rourke, in three, two, one…”
The Raven crashed into the hover cycle at forty meters-per-second—BOOM!—shattering the Incomp’s right leg and busting the Iron Steed into so many battered parts. The Incomp shrieked in abject terror—more music to Gunnar’s neural-net—as he flew forward, bounced off the front viewing pane—THWACK!—and fell to the side—THUMP!—limp and bloody.
“Vehicular impact detected. Fore end. Five percent structural damage.”
“Un-Civs times two eliminated,” Gunnar transmitted, turning his machine.
“Ten-four,” said the bland voice.
Now, one vessel remained, and it flew toward The Raven. Sneering, Gunnar rolled his palm over the throttle-ball. Sudden radiance burst from the mini-shuttle’s running lights but he didn’t flinch. He’d been trained to deal with such tactics, and his machine had been built to deal with reckless scavengers. Whatever damage the wreck caused would be refurbished by top rated PRO-T-EN Vehicle Repair Savants once he returned home.
Time to feel the PRO-T-EN Initiative!
The two vessels sped toward each other, sand billowing around them; both pilots determined to win this game—no matter the cost.
“Vehicular impact imminent, in three, two, one…”
The crash jolted Gunnar and The Raven hard, but both survived. Gunnar’s safety harness held, and nothing inside hurt. The monitors blinked off for a split second, the engine stalled, but other than needing a new hood and a paint job, The Raven seemed fine, too.
The mini-shuttle, however, hadn’t fared so well. Now lying on its side, the front end looked like it had been smashed with a wrecking ball. A shower of electric sparks fell from beneath its crumpled hood. Gunnar, curious to survey the damage, maneuvered The Raven so that it faced the twisted heap. He gazed at the ruined mini-shuttle on the ground for several seconds, contemplated ramming it again…and decided not to.
The Raven had been through quite enough for now.
“Un-Civs times four eliminated.”
“Returning to convoy, ASAP.”
“Captain Rourke,” Eos interjected in its smooth, mechanized tone, “scanners indicate one human-person inside the mini-shuttle. Heartbeat and biological neural activity detected.”
Gunnar’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “Oh? Then what became of the other—?”
With a monstrous shriek, the mini-shuttle’s driver side door flew up in a mechanical death spasm. The mini-shuttle now resembled a wounded bird with one desperate wing reaching for the sky. Grunting, the devastated Incomp pulled himself up and over the portal. Blood matted his long dark hair. His face looked young and pale in the weak moonlight as he slumped onto the steel panel. For him, the world had fallen into pain and darkness. He felt death approaching, but refused to lay there and let that broken machine become his tomb.
Fascinated, Gunnar watched the dying Incomp with a serene expression. How many broken bones? he wondered, pursing his lips. How many wounds?
Most of the Incomps that Captain Rourke had dealt with in the Corporate Sectors hadn’t shown any real degree of courage. At best, he’d witnessed the very depths of depravity and villainy on his assignments. Rare, indeed; those moments when Gunnar had felt any compassion—much less, admiration—for his enemies, be they Corporate or Civilian.
But now he did.
This Incomp, at least, showed a glimmer of true PRO-T-EN values.
Death is certain…even welcome now…yet, he clings to life with all of his strength. But, why? He has nothing. Is nothing. What life is worth living without the security of employment with a titanic Corporation? Gunnar shook his head; clearing his mind and shedding any trace of sympathy. Courageous or not, this fallen Incomp deserved neither pity nor mercy, and his moment of reckoning had come.
In the name of PRO-T-EN Industries! Gunnar thumbed a button on his right armrest and the seat harness unlatched. He thumbed another button and a panel slid back above him, leaving a space in the rooftop. Grasping an overhead handle, the PRO-T-EN Savant pulled himself to his feet. There Captain Rourke stood, exposed from the waist up, staring at the broken, bloody Incomp as The Raven hovered in place.
When the Incomp glanced up and saw Gunnar standing there, he screamed in rage and fear and hatred, and every emotion which a dying man is capable.
So defiant! What a fine Savant you could have made…
Clad in his PRO-T-EN Corps gear, Gunnar looked both official and impressive. He wore a dark gray body suit, flexible and breathable, made from a patented PRO-T-EN polymer blend, and matching gloves. Molded armor plating, black as fresh tar, covered his shoulders, chest, triceps, forearms, and abdomen. Contoured to his skull, Gunnar’s helmet fit snug. The PRO-T-EN polyurethane visor protected his eyes and provided instant infrared against the night. Another golden T gleamed above the visor. “Engage standard vision.”
“Standard vision engaged, Captain Rourke.”
In the blink of an eye, Gunnar’s vision switched from the surreal infrared to mundane normal. The Incomp seemed lifeless; lying across his wrecked mini-shuttle in the desert shadows. But Gunnar knew better. “Engage all running lights.”
“All running lights engaged.”
An electric hum filled the air as a dozen small panels slid open on The Raven; fore and aft, port and starboard. Then the light streamed forth; twelve unblinking eyes staring into the night.
Via his neural-net synch, Gunnar’s visor raised on a tiny hinge in his helmet. Now he looked upon the Incomp with nothing except his own two scornful eyes, noting that the Incomp wore a thin white shirt—streaked with filth—and brown, fingerless gloves. All generic; no brands or logos visible.
Roused by the sudden light, the Incomp struggled to raise his head. His mouth opened, and behind a thick rill of blood a loud hiss issued.
“Raise audio levels, factor three.”
“Audio levels raised, Captain Rourke.”
Gunnar’s aural implants responded, magnifying the ambient desert noise and the Incomp’s pitiful voice: “Trai..tor…”
Gunnar stiffened. The traitor calls me a traitor? “Engage voice amplification.”
“Voice amplification engaged.”
Fists curled, Gunnar paused, then his voice rang out like thunder from The Raven’s speaker system. “Hello,” he said, following PRO-T-EN Corps Savant Protocol. “I am PRO-T-EN Corps Savant, Captain Gunnar Rourke. As a duly authorized representative of PRO-T-EN Industries, it is my duty to advise you that you are in gross violation of multiple Transgressions against PRO-T-EN assets and personnel. As a result of said Transgressions, you are legally subject to both detainment and elimination. In the event of detainment, you will receive a fair and balanced trial in a PRO-T-EN Court of Law. Do you understand these Transgressions, and penalties of said Transgressions, as I have explained them to you?”
“Traitor…” the dying Incomp managed.
Again, this ludicrous insult? Bristling, Gunnar took a deep breath. “Attention, you wasteful Incomp—”
“Violation,” Eos interjected. “Inappropriate language. Per the PRO-T-EN Industries Code of Conduct, use of the discriminatory slang-word, Incomp, is prohibited during any interaction while on duty, or when representing PRO-T-EN Industries.”
Farc! “Noted, Eos. Thank you for correcting my behavior.”
“It is both an honor and a privilege, Captain Rourke.”
Eyes squinted against the intense white light, the Incomp raised a gloved, trembling fist in a feeble yet unmistakable gesture. “Defy…you…we!”
“Explain this nonsense.” Gunnar raised his hands as if inviting a heavy load. “PRO-T-EN Industries guarantees a place for everyone. We offer vocational conditioning, career planning, health and wellness services. And, we are proven to be the top Corporation when it comes to helping its employees pay off their birth-debt in a timely manner. Take me, for instance. I am thirty years old. I entered the PRO-T-EN Corps Initiative Program at age ten, which has helped me pay off a huge percentage of my birth-debt. I will retire before I am eighty…”
The PRO-T-EN Savant paused, interested to see if his speech had any effect, and cocked his head when the Incomp began to laugh; a dry, humorless rasp.
“Edu-less simp-bot! How…born…into…debt?”
More dry laughter. Gunnar had had enough. Edu-less meant that he hadn’t learned anything in life. Simp-bot meant that he couldn’t think for himself, anyway. Typical scavenger insults.
On each thigh, secured in magnetic holsters, Gunnar wore a PRO-T-EN Corps-issue Liquidator; force field projectors, similar in design to ancient fully-automatic machine-pistols, with short barrels as wide as Gunnar’s fist, and custom fitted to his grip. Within his forearms, PRO-T-EN Corps Enhancement Surgeons had implanted stainless steel rods to stabilize his aim. Smirking, Gunnar reached down and unholstered his righthand weapon.
We will see who is the edu-less simp-bot now, Incomp.
“Savant?” More laughter, more bloody drool. “Much…like…SERVANT!”
“I am not a servant!” Captain Rourke replied, raising his Liquidator. This instrument of PRO-T-EN aggression and efficiency gleamed in The Raven’s harsh glow, its laser sight now resting on the Incomp’s forehead. “I am a vested employee with the greatest company in the world!”
The Incomp coughed, grunted, shook his head. “Slave…” he wheezed, lowering his fist.
“No…I am not a slave, Un-Civ. I am a PRO-T-EN man.” Disgusted, Gunnar pulled the trigger, and a globule of raw, invisible energy ripped through the space between the barrel and its target—Voom!—leaving a slight ripple in its wake. A millisecond later, the Incomp’s face compressed as if he’d been struck full-force with a sledgehammer. Blood burst from behind his eyes, from his split nostrils, his mouth, and his ears. His head snapped up as he flew backward, then sank back into the depths of the ruined mini-shuttle.
An incompetent, unemployed civilian no longer. Now, just another casualty of the Great Corporate War.
“Disengage voice amplification,” Gunnar whispered, holstering his Liquidator.
“Voice amplification disengaged.”
Gunnar took a deep, soothing breath. “I am no servant, Eos.”
“That comment was hurtful and unnecessary, Captain Rourke. Do you require personal, non-credited, downtime?”
“No, thank you.”
“Perhaps a counseling session?” Eos sounded concerned. “I can connect you with a PRO-T-EN Mental Health Services Savant at reduced cost due to stress-related physical duties…”
“No, thank you.”
“Very well, Captain Rourke. PRO-T-EN Industries thanks you for your continued investment.”
“My pleasure, Eos. As always…”
A warm breeze arose as Gunnar continued to stare at the wrecked min-shuttle. Several moments passed, then the bland voice returned: “Status, Captain?”
As if jolted from a dream, Gunnar shook his head. “Encountered Un-Civ times one, still alive. Returning to convoy.”
“Eos, please notify Engineering, Sanitation, and Recycling. Give them our coordinates, and inform them that there are non-PRO-T-EN, civilian-grade vehicles times three that can be retrofitted for other departmental use, or stored for spare parts.”
“Excellent suggestion, Captain Rourke.”
“Thank you. I just hope that Leadership takes this into consideration when formulating my revie—”
“One human-person detected. Portside.”
Left hand falling to his Liquidator, Gunnar turned…and saw a human-person-male standing several feet away. Barefoot, wearing ragged, generic clothing. Shielding his eyes from The Raven’s bright running lights. An old man; much older than the Incomp in the mini-shuttle. His long, silver hair splayed in the light breeze.
“Identify yourself, Un-Civ.”
“Am Shem,” the old Incomp replied, sounding scared and pained. “Beg, help.”
Gunnar frowned. “You are in violation of trespassing in a Corporate Sector.”
“True! Beg, take me long way! Not wasteland! Need Center Civilian, as human-person!”
Gunnar looked the Incomp up and down. He seemed frightened, sounded genuine, and his body language implied real desperation. Still, he’d heard all manner of lies from Incomps before, and didn’t trust them.
Any of them.
“State your age.”
Gunnar grunted under his breath. The Incomp meant sixty-one, and he looked it. Hard, lined face. Wrinkled skin. A good reminder to appreciate health and vitality while you have it. “Do you have an Identification Number?”
“Neh!” The Incomp’s tone now bordered on hysteria.
“Have you ever sojourned in, or otherwise inhabited, a Civilian Center?”
“Neh! Eyes me!” The Incomp pointed at his dirty feet. “Parents scavenge! Not wasteland! Take long way!”
Gunnar took another deep breath. He needed a moment to evaluate, and bought himself one by lowering his visor. He sounds sincere. And afraid. In time, maybe he really could become a productive citizen. Maybe. It is worth an effort, but I cannot allow him in my transport. Regulations.Farc.
“I will contact PRO-T-EN Civil Care and arrange for a team of Civil Care Savants to transport you to the nearest Civil Care Facility.”
“Neh!” The old Incomp jogged forward, almost tripping upon the sand. “Ears me! Cold! Hungry! Take me, you!”
Taken aback by the raw urgency in this Incomp’s voice, Gunnar put his hands on his hips, looked heavenward at the clear night sky. The warm breeze caressed him. The stars twinkled. Looking at the pale quarter-moon reminded him of the Lunar Colonists; fellow PRO-T-EN Savants working hard to secure the geo-political rights to Earth’s sole satellite.
Unemployed-Civilian-Male-Adult. Lifelong scavenger, born of lifelong Incomps. Wants to flee the wastelands and seek shelter among the Employed-Civilians.
Although transporting him myself would be against regulations, I might otherwise net a commendation for Best Practices from Civil Services—especially if his conversion is in any way successful.
“Beg, Mister PRO-T-EN Man! Days two, not eat!”
Two days? Poor Un-Civ… Gunnar looked down at the frightened Incomp. He’d moved closer, and the starburst effect from the running lights obscured his frail form. But it didn’t matter. The PRO-T-EN Savant had already made up his PRO-T-EN mind. I will transport him. Commendation or no, violation or no. It is what the PRO-T-EN Code of Conduct compels me to do.
“Attention, Captain Rourke,” Eos whispered from the deepest recesses of Gunnar’s neural-net. “Contraband explosive device detected. Concealed inside this human-person’s body cavity. This human-person is in violation. Possession of a prohibited device is a Class A Transgression. Lethal force is encouraged. Extreme caution is advised.”
The smile which had been forming on Gunnar’s lips melted into a grim moue. Concealed inside his body cavity, Eos had said; implying that the explosive had either been swallowed or inserted. Gunnar didn’t care to guess which. His hands, moving of their own accord, settled upon his Liquidator grips. He’d almost been deceived unto his own death.
“Beg! Beg, not leave!”
Anger, now. Running through him like an electric current. In his mind, he saw it all play out as the Un-Civ Incomp intended: helping him into the transport…securing him as best as he could upon his lap…pulling away and rejoining the convoy…
Then, boom. A sudden flash. Jagged metal spraying everywhere. Blood. Fire.
“Beg, not leave!”
Melisma. My darling wife. I would never see her again. Never get to hold our child. My life, my career, no more—and for what? Twenty years of service, destroyed by an untruthful, psychologically disturbed, Un-Civ Incomp!
“Beg, where heart is?”
Again, Captain Gunnar Rourke made up his PRO-T-EN mind. This time, in the opposite direction. “Disengage running lights.”
“Running lights disengaged.”
The Raven’s lights faded, leaving Gunnar and the Incomp shrouded in desert shadows. The soft, electric hum of the panels closing filled the expectant silence around them.
“Beg, take long way!”
Gunnar released his Liquidator grips. “Engage infrared vision.”
“Infrared vision engaged.”
In the blink of an eye, Gunnar’s vision switched from mundane normal to surreal infrared. The Incomp became a swirl of differing shades of crimson. Below his pelvis, Gunnar noted a small, ovular device which glowed an icy blue.
No. Wordless, Gunnar sank down into The Raven. Back into his comfortable, ergonomic seat.
Reattaching his harness with his left hand, Gunnar thumbed a button on his right armrest. The overhead panel slid shut.
“Target engaged,” Eos advised as the Incomp exploded. A shockwave rocked The Raven like a heavy wind. Insulated in his pod, Gunnar felt the impact more than heard it, and grimaced at the thought of the human debris now splattered across The Raven’s left flank.
Another PRO-T-EN victory.
Using his manual controls, Captain Rourke piloted The Raven back toward the mapped route. He felt as calm and relaxed as he had the moment he’d left the PRO-T-EN Base in Sector One. “Eos, resume ‘The Hollow Men,’ please.”
Eos paused, then began reciting the classic poem. Listening, Gunnar grinned a contented grin, letting his gaze linger on the console display.
The convoy reached Sector Two, Civilian Center A safe and sound twenty minutes later. The three large PRO-T-EN transports passed out of sight as PRO-T-EN Inventory Savants rushed to take over. The proper e-forms received their thumbprint signatures, Captain Rourke notified his superiors, and the PRO-T-EN Corps escort team returned to their quarters for some much-needed rest.
And so it goes; the life of a dedicated PRO-T-EN man.
Jesse Lynn Rucilez was born in Reno, Nevada. Growing up, Jesse was an avid reader of Sherlock Holmes stories and Marvel Comics. Throughout his life, Jesse has mainly worked in the security industry, both in Seattle, Washington and Reno, Nevada, and taught self-defense for several years before deciding to focus on writing. Inspired by authors such as Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, and Kurt Vonnegut, he prefers to write literary horror and science fiction, exploring what he calls “the dark side of the American Dream.”