Paradigm - June 1997
Just Another Walk in the Park - L'Morte
(page 6/20)

Just Another Walk in the Park

Entering the Deneb star system, 0412:18 GMT 14th July 5,793

Please enter identification> flashed the screen, querulously demanding attention from the only occupant of the room.

It was ignored, as the eyes of that occupant roved around the small living area, checking everything was in its rightful place, his clothes folded neatly over one chair. Satisfied, and fingering the scar that lurked beneath his raptor-like nose from habit, the naked man keyed in his name. Jerrard Santiago, or to be precise; 'Sanctioned Operative Jerrard Santiago.'

"It certainly sounds more elegant than bounty hunter," he drawled to himself as the screen blanked momentarily before prompting him for a simulation to run. Shifting his feet a little on the cold ceramic of the deck, he entered the data cassette he'd been given into one of the drive bays that squatted higher up on the sphere's surface. Like the panel he'd accessed it was one of the few areas not writhing with fibre-optics or power cabling. Like the panel it was only part of the man-sized jet-black sphere that nestled at one end of the room.

A soft purr began to emanate from the sphere as its systems came on-line; indicator bars on a secondary screen to the interface gradually rose to green. Seconds later the pressure seal on the hatch that crowned the sphere disengaged, a faint hiss of air accompanying it. Jerrard ran his fingers through his dark cropped hair and climbed effortlessly up to it. Glancing about one final time as his hands raised the hatch's cover, he took a deep breath and then lowered himself in.

For a moment, blackness, the inky blackness of the mind. Complete sensory deprivation for the eternity of a split second. Hurtling through the chilling coldness of space into the unbearable agony of a star's fiery corona, and then;

AR Simulation Jerrard-0065-Beta, apparently mid-day on Deneb IV

The sun was bright overhead, slightly smaller than he was used to and painting the sky with a tint of purple. Jerrard sat up, his eyes prowling the surroundings mercilessly, taking in every detail.

He was clad in a single black jump-suit, a knife strapped to his thigh, and the utility belt around his waist carried a Karnov Arms heavy fletchette pistol as well as his standard kit. The dirt he'd been lying in was a deep reddish ochre fine as sand, and the foothills that rose up to become mountains to the east were rough and untamed. The scent of cinnamon rode the air, nearly obscuring the rough edges that meant civilised man was nearby. There was no mistaking the rhythmic hum of an ore processor however.

He smiled and crawled to the edge of the dell he'd appeared in, wondering how accurate the program's predictions were as to his prey's defences. Reasonable, considering the unpredictability of the human mind and the wealth of choices available for home defence these days. His smile broadened slightly and he began to make his way towards the settler's camp detailed in his briefing.

AR Simulation Jerrard-0065-Beta, apparently early evening on DenebIV

Jarrard's binoculars scanned the perimeter once more, idly wondering why he had been authorised to sanction this particular settler and his family. He frowned slightly as his search revealed what it had numerous times before - a man, his wife and a small child.

The man was perhaps half a head taller than him and maybe stockier, but was to the naked eye completely unarmed. The woman was thinner, though not by a great deal, and it was possible she carried some kind of pistol concealed in the folds of her skirt. The child he dismissed out of hand - she was perhaps nine or ten, under-nourished and spent most of her time moping near the main tent with a doll.

He fingered his scar again, running his forefinger down its short length as he assessed the camp's defences. Twelve foot in height, a standard charged-ion fence ran around the camp, tainting the air with the acrid taste of ozone. A DMS Model 12 sentry droid hovered silently near the power generator before moving on again in its proscribed circuit. And there was nothing else.

He frowned again, then shrugged and backed away from the crater lip, a plan swiftly falling into place. He would move in opposite the droid, hurl a flash grenade into the centre of the compound and then wait. Twenty to thirty seconds for it to reach the point nearest his. When it was in position he would detonate the EMP pulse mine, taking out droid and fence. Three seconds more to get over the fence; which left at least seventeen seconds before the flash wore off. Seventeen seconds to take down the man, his daughter and his wife - probably in that order. No apparent flaws.

Jerrard paused for a moment, uncertain due to the ease of the task before him. Another shrug was his sole comment as he tapped out a sequence on the bare flesh of his right arm. He was confident enough to give the simulation the feedback sensations that told it to end the programme. The vague shadows of doubt vanished from his mind as everything faded to black;

Deneb star system, 1528:42 GMT 14th July 5,793

A circular outline appeared above him, the faintest tracery of light to indicate the sphere's hatch was unsealed. He reached up pushing it fully open to illuminate the pit in which he'd been immersed. Nothing, the void inside swallowing up the light rather than being laid bare by it. He sighed, half-heartedly, and clambered out, a faint sheen of sweat glistening in the stark yellow light, Then, jumping down noiselessly, wandered towards the tiny cubicle that served as a shower.

Deneb star system, 1547:01 GMT 14th July 5,793

All trace of exertion gone and clad in a loose-fitting jump-suit of indeterminate colour, Jerrard stepped through to the cockpit of his ship. After glancing quickly at the readouts for reassurance, he slid with ease into the pilot's couch. Everything showed green, navigation said Deneb IV was thirteen hours away, and the viewscreens showed his target surrounded by a field of stars. horse

"Just another walk in the park," he muttered, more to himself then the bright stars all around. The ship sped on through the void.

L'Morte