An excerpt from

(C) 2000, Jim Farris, All Rights Reserved




11/16/2094, 19:53:09 San Angeles Metroplex, USA (San Diego District, Chula Vista)

I had ridden for several hours, heading to the San Diego district. Once I got to the Chula Vista section of San Diego, I pulled into a small gas station. I topped off the tank with the best alcohol they had in the pumps - if everything went well, I'd need a full tank. I don't know why everybody still calls it 'gas' - fuel-grade grain-alcohol is what we all use, and it goes for $1 a liter (yes, you can drink it, but it's got a couple expensive additives that taste nasty and will make you sick, too). Only the megacorps and the government use real gasoline anymore, and it goes for $100 a liter ever since the Desert Wars. The shades did their job, and the clerk sold me the fuel without comment.

I could tell by MD's reaction that they didn't know just exactly what they were dealing with. They figured that they were dealing with a razorboy at first. When Vanära didn't come through, then they figured they were dealing with a Street Samurai. If they had known they were dealing with a Ronin, then they would have probably sent a Company Man to deal with the problem in the first place (maybe several). The megacorps were aware of how dangerous and tough Ronin are, they supplied most of the parts to build them. No, if they knew just what they were dealing with, they'd have gone all out on the first night. Now they were going to pay for their mistake.

They expected me to call and say something like okay, you win, give me the girl and I'll leave you alone. They'd graciously invite me into the 75-story fortress that was the enclave, then quietly blow my brains out. Barring that, they expected me to try to try to sneak into the enclave, where their security teams would be waiting to noisily do the same thing. Neither of these things was going to happen.

As I drove around the streets surrounding the enclave, I knew exactly what I was looking for. Eventually, I found it - a manhole cover. I parked the bike, pulled a satchel out of the saddlebags, waited until the streets were clear of traffic, walked over to the manhole cover, opened it with my finger, climbed down and pulled the cover closed behind me. I wasn't worried about the bike being stolen - cops patrol regularly around corporate enclaves, because the corps can always afford to pay for police services. I blinked up my IR, activated the EMF sensor in my left hand and began the slow process of searching the sewers.

You can't build a supercollider too deep underground in San Diego district - you'd hit the water table. You also can't run it during the day - the electromagnetic interference produced by superconductors the size of tractor wheels would mess with the computer equipment of everyone nearby. Complaints would come in to the power company, the power company would investigate and find out the trouble is deep below the streets, a little bit of digging follows and presto - MD is fined about ten million dollars a day every day their SSC tunnels have been in existence. Since I figured that had probably been at least 5 years, that meant fines totaling over 18 billion - enough to seriously damage the company's stock, maybe even cause it to crash. As a result, they'd only operate their SSC at night, when all other offices in the area were closed. Having one or two late-night workers complain about their net access was one thing, having an entire section of the city complaining was another. My EMF sensor was designed to pick up magnetic and electromagnetic fields. It was usually used to trace electrical wires, but also has other uses - like looking for the electromagnetic signal trace of a supercollider hidden beneath the streets of the Chula Vista sub-section of the San Diego district of San Angeles.

About half an hour after I began my search, I got a tickle from my EMF sensor that felt different from the usual power lines and other things I'd found already. I followed it for a while, the signal getting stronger as I went along, until I finally reached the point where I started turning down the sensitivity on my EMF sensor just to keep from overloading it. Finally the signal started to decline, so I backed up. I pressed my ear against the wall, and started turning up my ears. Shortly, I was rewarded with a low humming. By testing different spots in the side of the tunnel, I eventually figured out the rough direction. I then started going around, testing the signal strength from different positions just to make sure, using triangulation. After a few minutes, I was nearly positive where the coil I had detected was. I opened the satchel and removed the first charge, one I had prepared while I was still back at the apartment. After marking the right place carefully with a piece of chalk I had borrowed from Mei-Ling (the little tyke was more than happy to loan it to me, though she was disappointed when I told her that I couldn't tell her what I needed it for), I secured the charge to the side of the tunnel with part of a tube of ferroplast. I then measured out the appropriate allowance for the blast effects to the side, doubled it just to make sure, then marked the position on a half-meter water pipe with the chalk. Pulling out the second, smaller charge, I secured it to the pipe with the rest of the ferroplast. I took a rough guess as to how long it would take me to get back out, doubled it, and set the timer on both charges for the time I had guessed and set my internal clock to countdown mode with the same time interval. Then, I turned and trotted back to the manhole cover I'd first opened.

A few minutes later, I rolled up across the street from the enclave and blinked up my internal clock. Only 30 seconds to go. I shut off the engine suddenly, and swore loudly and profanely - this caught the attention of the guard across the street. I then parked the bike, pulled out a screwdriver from my saddlebag, and pretended to be working on the bike while I waited. The guard across the street at the gate of the enclave was sitting in his transparex booth to the left of the gate, looked at me with a bored expression, watching what I was doing. Don't worry, you'll have more interesting things to do starting in about five seconds, I thought. A muffled THUD then came from our feet, as though someone had dropped something heavy. The guard at the gate didn't react, so I just continued fiddling with the Harley's engine. My counter read zero.

In my mind, I could picture the scene. The cutting charge I had put against the side of the tunnel was a pre-packaged, shaped charge of 20 kilos of CRX-90, designed to cut through a meter of ferrocrete (it was originally used by army teams like my old squad, and was intended for cutting the supports of a bridge). I was fairly certain a few centimeters of 150-year old concrete sewer tunnel and a few meters of dirt weren't going to slow it down much. The second charge was a simple C-4 charge intended to cut the water pipe. The hole left by the first charge should have penetrated into the SSC tunnel. By now, the water should be pouring into the SSC, and superconducting magnets charged with a few million volts react very poorly when you suddenly hit them with a few hundred thousand liters of water, which continues to pour in with no signs of stopping. The sudden change in temperature might even cause the monster magnet to shatter - I hoped so. Either way, there should be a tremendous short, and probably some really interesting displays of arcing electricity for several seconds before the insulation catches and the fire starts. This would open the fire sprinklers, which would drain what little water remained in the pipes - with the water main cut, that shouldn't take long; perhaps 20 minutes. At first, the scientists would have no idea what was going on. After a while, they'd use the system of cameras they had to have installed to monitor the tunnel and realize that there was water everywhere. They know where they are, they know they're below the streets. It won't take long for even someone with a PhD in Trans-Light Particle Physics to figure that the water must be from a city water main, and that if they didn't get out of there, they were going to drown.

The guard at the gate looked up, and started speaking to someone. Ah, the security forces are finally alerted to the problem, I thought. Of course, the true nature of the disaster wouldn't be apparent for several more minutes yet, perhaps half an hour. I pulled the Harley's owner's manual out of the saddlebags, and studied it while glancing at the engine. The guard, convinced I was just some big biker trying to get his bike going again, ignored me while he listened to his head-radio. I pulled out a sparkplug wrench and began removing the plugs, examining them individually, then screwing them back in. Soon the guard had completely ignored me - I was now invisible. There was little to do now but wait.

Of course, MD couldn't call the city to turn off the main - the city would find the hole, look inside it with a flashlight, see another tunnel not on their maps, and MD would be sunk. No, they'd have to send a crew to try to plug the hole. Of course, by the time they thought of that, the sewer tunnel would be full of water (no way to get to the water mains), and the first sloshing river of water should be hitting the high-voltage transformers for the SSC. If I had guessed right, then they were using cheaper indoor transformers, not more expensive waterproofed outdoor transformers - after all, it doesn't normally rain indoors. The results of that cost-cutting decision should be rather spectacular to any viewers.

There were several more thumps below my feet, which I studiously ignored. The guard at the gate was obviously concerned, and I simply studied my plugs more closely. By now, there should be a full-fledged disaster beneath our feet, and MD would begin evacuating the building. I knew Abramson would be safe. MD would have put a High-Threat team armed to the teeth and armored to match guarding him - against me, of course. When the disaster finally reached this stage, they would be ordered to get him out of the building. My whole plan relied on those guards being there and doing their job - If Abramson was alone, he might not make it out of the lab because of the crush of scientists and technicians all trying to escape at once. An alarm began to ring inside the enclave, and after a few minutes, people began to stream out. There were no security troops evident - in a disaster of this size, their training and their standing orders would be to make sure everyone else was out of the building first. I screwed the plug back in and reattached the wire, then walked over to the guard.

The guard saw me standing outside the booth, and said "Get the hell out of here you punk, this is corporate property!". I held my hand to my ear. The guard, in exasperation, yanked open the transparex window, leaned forward and yelled "I said get the hell out of here, you punk!". I thought this was fairly rude, so I punched him in the jaw, shattering it. Unfortunately for him, I couldn't have his ruining everything by the simple expedient of keeping the gate closed or warning anyone inside that I was here. The guard collapsed - he'd live, but it'd be several months before he was on solid food again. I reached over into the guard's booth and pressed the button to open the gate. By now there were about a hundred people in the parking lot, all confused and babbling to each other. Yelling at the top of my lungs, I waved to them from the gate.


Nobody knew who I was, but they saw the open gate, saw the first wisps of smoke coming out of the building from the exploded transformers, and a few of the late-night wage-slaves decided my suggestion was a damn good idea - they started running. Others took the time to get into their cars and drive out of the gate. MD still hadn't called the fire department - they couldn't, as the firemen would discover the SSC when they tried to put the fire out. Oh yes, it was a good plan, and it had all been based on the penny-pinching habits I'd seen in the expense reports from the Abramson file.

It was obvious to me, but I'd gone through it with Gogo a couple of times in my explanation to make sure that she understood - at first, she thought I was going to foolishly charge into a trap. 'No thank you, I've already done that once this week.' I replied. When Sony had announced that they wanted to build an SSC and Trans-Light Particle Detector near Sea-Tac, the value of the land they'd selected rose from $100 a hectare to $10,000 a hectare. Sony had to spend billions just to get the land before they even began construction on a multi-billion dollar installation. It was obvious to me that MD had decided to save a bundle by digging illegal tunnels just below the sewer tunnels and installing their SSC. This left them vulnerable - they couldn't rely on any of the city services at all. Knowing how they worked so far, I figured they had put in minimal fire systems, and that was about it. It would have worked (hell, it apparently had been working for at least five years while they built it), because it's not that hard to prevent fires, it's only hard to stop them once they start. Unfortunately for them, they decided to steal Sony's top scientist, and Sony decided to call me. Now MD was paying the price. By the time this disaster was over, their whole SSC project would be flooded and destroyed, and would most likely be discovered when the city workers finally got into the sewer to repair the damage I'd done. The board of directors would almost certainly call for the atonement of the monetary losses and the public disgrace incurred in this debacle by demanding the local Executive VP commit seppuku. Since that Executive VP was almost certainly behind all my recent troubles with Vanära and Bandit, I'd have ended the threat to me, Gogo and anyone else around me.

I was scanning the faces as the wage-slaves streamed through the gate - it was natural human instinct in a disaster to follow the crowds running away from said disaster. Shortly, I spotted Abramson, being frog-marched between two High-Threat troopers with two more in tow - they were heading to one of the minivans parked in the lot with the MD logo on it, obviously intent on transporting him somewhere else more safe until the company had stabilized the situation and could decide what to do. The rest of the security forces hadn't left the building yet - it takes time to evacuate a 75 story building. I drew my Casull, jacked in and held it behind my leg with my left side towards the building.

The time had come.

The troopers were wearing heavy ballistic armor and ballistic helmets, and I watched their bulky, padded forms toss Abramson into the back of the minivan, start it up, and head for the gate. I put a targeting cursor on the engine, in case I had to shoot it to stop the minivan. The driver honked the horn to clear the stream of people and other cars out of the way, but this had little effect - two other cars were trying to get out the gate at once, and had them blocked. I held up my left hand to one, then pointed to the other and waved him through. The wage-slaves, panicked, saw me as an authority figure and obeyed. After the first one went through, I waved the second one through. The minivan pulled up, and the HTR troopers in the passenger seat rolled down the window to say "Thanks buddy! I thought we'd never get out! The corp'll give you a reward.". Not likely, I thought. He then saw the HCI cable running down to my right hip, and knew I was armed. He started to call a warning to the driver and the other two troopers, but it was too late.

I raised the Casull and fired through the passenger door, the round blowing through the door, the first trooper's torso armor, through his chest, out the other side of the armor, through the driver's helmet and into his head. I then spun to my left and fanned the hammer twice more, putting a round through the side windows and into the heads of the other two HTR troopers as they were in the process of raising their M21 Assault rifles. They were fast - nearly half my speed, and almost fast enough to have made it. They were only doing their job, but I knew if I had simply drawn down on them and said something stupid like 'drop your guns', then that only would have given them a chance to shoot. That kind of crap only works in the trideo shows. Well-trained individuals never drop their guns - they try to use them. Abramson was cowering in terror as I pulled the door open. "Please, mister, don't kill me!" he yelled. I holstered the Casull and held out my right hand to him.

"Mr. Abramson, my name is Sledge Hammer; My friends call me Sledge. I'm here to take you home."