Read Blades of Winter Online

Authors: G. T. Almasi

Blades of Winter (2 page)

BOOK: Blades of Winter
7.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

A black, nasty-looking little chopper soars over the roof across the alley as I trigger my EMP. The electro-fried aircraft careens out of control and smacks into the
building. The helicopter-shaped paperweight drops out of my sight, so I don’t see the result, but I sure as hell hear and feel it. The explosions and squeals of terror are both particularly satisfying.

My hands start shaking again. The Kalmers have faded out of my bloodstream. Kalmers don’t eliminate reactions to stress and fear; they simply suppress them. Once they wear off, you can be hit by what Med-Techs call emotional recoil. My mouth dries out, my lungs gulp for air, and my legs squeeze together to keep me from peeing my pants. I curl up into a ball and ride it out. After a few minutes I’m done crying and shaking. I lurch out of the tub, scram the apartment, and climb the stairs to the top of the building. My new knees let me rooftop jump all the way to 60th Street, where I slide down a fire escape and catch a taxi to Chelsea.

Crystal City Gazette
, July 8, 1972

Local Girl Dazzles at the Gymnastics National Championships

NEW YORK CITY—Crystal City’s Alix Nico thrilled Madison Square Garden last night as she swept the all-around and the individual events in the 10–11-year-old division at this year’s USAIGC Gymnastics National Championships. Her stunning performance was an emphatic finale to an extremely successful year for Nico, who set a USAIGC record for victories in a single season.

Nico is already considered a favorite to win gold at the Montreal Olympics. She is training at the Roosevelt Gymnastics Center in Washington, D.C., under the supervision of her coach Tasha Dovetsky.

C
HAPTER
2
S
AME DAY
, 2:10
P.M.
EST L
OWER
M
ANHATTAN
, N
EW
Y
ORK
C
ITY
, USA

The cab takes me all the way down Broadway to 18th Street in Chelsea. I walk across Columbus Park and stop in front of a newsstand. My hands flip through a Spider-Man comic book while my eyes scan the street to see if I’ve been followed. Everyone seems normal; no lurkyjerkies. I cross the street against the signal and run through an alley, emerging on the other side of the block. Still nobody out of place, just people rushing hither and yon, doing their thing.

I take another taxi back uptown to Penn Station and catch a train to Washington, D.C. Then the nine-thirty VRE commuter train gets me to Crystal City, Virginia. The VRE stop is a twenty-minute walk from my house, but since my Mods enable me to run at over thirty miles per hour, I make it home in three minutes. It’s already past ten o’clock when I leap up to the front porch roof, ease through the window into my bedroom, and try to sneak past my mom’s room to the bathroom. She’s got that mother hearing, though.

“Alixandra Janina Nico, is that you?” She walks into the hall as she ties on her robe. When she sees me, her voice shifts from pissed to scared and she gasps, “Oh, my God, what happened?” She looks at the left side of my face. I reach up and touch my cheek, which feels sort of crunchy. When I hold my hand away, I see that my fingertips have dried blood on them. You wouldn’t think you could forget about a bullet wound to your head.

“Hmm,” I mumble. “No wonder the people on the train were staring.” I keep walking toward the bathroom.
Nobody noticed me in Manhattan, of course. New Yorkers only turn their heads for free bagels or exploding dump trucks.

Mom follows me, her arms crossed over her chest. “Alix, please listen to me. I really am starting to think that ExOps is too dangerous for a girl your age.” ExOps is short for Extreme Operations Division, where both Mom and I work in D.C. She’s a senior personnel manager in the Admin Department, and I’m a Level 4 field agent trained and equipped as an Interceptor.

Extreme Operations is a non-public-facing U.S. intelligence agency that specializes in, well, extreme operations. Missions range from high-security black bag jobs to whacking well-protected people. When one of the aboveground U.S. agencies needs an especially nasty job done, it calls us.

I go to the bathroom sink and turn the water on. Mom stands behind me and watches me in the mirror. “I should have made you go to the Olympics when I had the chance.”

Before I became a spy I was a sure thing to make the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. ExOps is way more interesting though, plus I don’t have to put up with all the bouncy little bitches who hated my guts because I kicked their star-spangled asses at every meet. I say, “Cleo, it’s no big deal. It’s just a scratch. I mean, gymnastics was dangerous, too.” I grab the soap and hold my hands under the faucet. “Besides, Dad wasn’t any older than me when he started doing fieldwork.”

“He
was
much older, and this is different.”

“No, it’s not. I—”

She cuts me off. “It’s different because he wasn’t my nineteen-year-old daughter!”

“Cleo, it’s only a scratch. I’m
fine
.” Our reflections in the mirror show how much we look like each other. We’re both on the petite side at five feet four inches, and we’re both skinny with straight, dark red hair and fair skin. Our eyes are different. Hers are brown, whereas mine are
blue-green, like my dad’s were. When we’re tense, our mouths both make the same tight little crescent-moon shape. People comment about our resemblance all the time. They say that if we didn’t wear our hair differently, they’d have trouble telling us apart. That’s fine with me. I think my mother is pretty. I just wish I was taller.

I wash my face, being careful to clean out the wound. After I dab myself dry with a towel, Mom gets a bandage out of the medicine cabinet and carefully tapes it on my cheek. She fusses around with it to make sure it sticks. After a minute I roll my eyes and mutter, “Cleo-o-o.”

“For God’s sake, Alix, don’t you think I’ll be a little concerned when you come home all bloody and cut up?”

Maybe she needs some affection. Work and school have been super busy lately, and I haven’t been home very much. I put my arms around her and give her a big squoosh. “Oh, Mom, that’s why I love you, because you’re so concerned when I come home all bloody and cut up.” She gives a start. That was over a dozen nice words in a row, all for her. I even called her “Mom” instead of using her first name. She’s melting. I finish her off with “I’m starved. Can we make supper together?” What mother can resist cooking with her baby girl? I boil spaghetti while she whips up a butter and cheese sauce. Cleo tells me about her day while we eat. When we’re done, she goes back to bed and I go downstairs to my workshop.

The shop occupies the entire basement. The cracked cement floor and fluorescent overhead lighting aren’t exactly the height of fashion, but I’m more comfortable here than almost anywhere else. I’ve left it pretty much the same as when my dad had it. A heavy wooden workbench commands the front wall. Tall metal racks crammed full of gadgets, supplies, books, and other junk line the back wall. A row of combination-locked four-drawer filing cabinets full of confidential paperwork from Extreme Operations lurk under the stairs. The center
of the room is inhabited by a faded green leather couch, a paint-stained coffee table, and two shop stools.

This dusty, musty wonderful space became mine after I graduated from Camp and moved back home. At first, I spent my time down here dismantling radios and putting them back together. Once ExOps assigned me my first real Job Numbers, I began to use the shop to maintain my Mods and Enhances.

I’ve received a bunch of mechanical modifications and biological enhancements. Mods are generally hardware, like my electrohydraulically accelerated joints or the nanoligaments that hold my limbs together while I leap tall buildings in a single bound. Enhances tend to be soft upgrades centered around my augmented nervous system. The heart of this system is called a neuroinjector, which manages the flow of drugs that help me react quickly and deal with stressful situations without losing my mind. My neuroinjector is a Nerve Jet, which is the best because the Med-Techs can program it to administer drugs to me when certain conditions are met whether I request it or not.

Some Enhances need to be refilled, but otherwise they’re maintenance free. Mods, in contrast, need regular tinkering because they get so beaten up in the field. A few upgrades are hybrids of both Mods and Enhances, like the cameras they painted on my retinas. The cameras include solid state microhardware to transmit imagery, but with no moving parts they take care of themselves.

I rummage around on the workbench, looking for my testing console. Finally I find it hiding under a pile of gun magazines. I uncoil the console’s sensor cable and plug it into the data socket on my hip. The console checks my fluids and looks for stress fractures in my modified joints. I run a special test to see if my internal wiring was damaged by the electromagnetic pulse I used on that helicopter.

Everything checks out fine, but I’ve felt some tightness
in my knees since that three-story jump I did earlier today. I unplug the console cable from my hip, pull off my jeans, and sit on one of the shop stools. My knees look perfectly normal if you only take a quick look. A closer inspection reveals that there isn’t any skin there, only flesh-colored metal and plastic. My ankles and elbows are the same way, but since they don’t hurt, I’ll leave them alone.

I unscrew both kneecaps and use a flashlight to see inside. They look fine, so maybe they just need a lube job. I squirt some liquid graphite into both knees and use my fingers to rub it in. While I swing my legs back and forth to help spread the lubricant around, I imagine what Dr. Herodotus’s reaction will be if I screwed up his shiny new knees. He’s my primary Med-Tech, and he’ll be ripped that I didn’t break them in before I pulled a job. Well, that’s too bad. If it weren’t for people like me, he’d have nothing to do but install fake tits on porn stars and politicians’ wives. I finish Midasizing my knees and leave them to soak for a few minutes.

Now for my best friend, Li’l Bertha. I take her apart, clean her out, and oil her up. While she’s stripped, I take a good look at all her pieces. Sometimes Incendiary bullets ignite early, which can screw up her electrical components. I replace two switches that look questionable and pack in fresh ammunition until her ammo indicator reads “100%.”

My dad thought his nickname for his pistol was a real hoot. Sometimes when he worked, he’d hum along to the radio and substitute “Li’l Bertha” for the normal lyrics. When he got killed, the brass at Extreme Operations assumed his gun had been destroyed or lost. I never told them I’d found it down here in the basement and kept it for myself.

I also found my dad’s service record. He was one of the first Levels. None of our competitors had ever combined German Mods and Chinese Enhances in the same agent before. My father and the other original ExOps
Levels immediately became the baddest mofos in the Shadowstorm.

Dad’s list of upgrades included:

Vision Mod 1: Distance.

Vision Mod 2: Infrared.

Vision Mod 3: Low-light.

Double adrenaline reserve.

Triple adrenaline reserve.

Legs: Reinforce joints and major tendons.

Arms: Reinforce joints and major tendons.

Polymetallic sheathing on long bones, rib cage, and skull.

WeaponSynch neural link to LB-505 (left hand).

Body-distributed audio recording suite.

His service record included a long list of repairs and adjustments made throughout his career. It was pretty crude compared with what I’ve got now. I got all my vision work done in one session, not three. He didn’t even have Madrenaline, just a triple helping of the same old crap we’ve used for a million years. No wonder he drank so much.

While I wait for my knees to get nice and saturated, I grab a book from one of the metal shelves. I like to supplement my school’s history classes with Dad’s military history books. His collection covers a lot of historical periods, but most of them are about World War II. When I was barely ten, I already knew that the Germans had started the war in Europe by invading Poland in 1939. Within a year, the Fritzes had taken Western Europe. A year after that, they pulled off the biggest amphibious operation in history when they invaded Great Britain. The Brits fought like apes but the poor sods were cornered. The Luftwaffe bombed the crap out of them until the Wehrmacht had goose-stepped all the way across the British Isles.

The relationship between the United States and Germany stayed pretty tense until Hitler got iced by his own
officers in 1942. His Nazi Party fell apart, and Germany returned to somewhat saner leadership. The war in Europe was over. This allowed America’s armed forces to focus on the stupendously ambitious Japanese, who we crushed under a galactic quantity of explosive ordnance. The bombing campaigns were so devastating that some of the smaller contested islands simply vanished. While we occupied Japan, Germany and Russia carved up the Middle East and China’s Chiang Kai-shek hacked up every Communist within two thousand miles of Beijing.

BOOK: Blades of Winter
7.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Making the Cut by David Skuy
Passion Ignited by Katalyn Sage
Jimmy the Stick by Michael Mayo
Divine Fire by Melanie Jackson
Gnash by Brian Parker
Mania and the Executioner by A. L. Bridges