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A Slightly Better Day

Rob Potter

The lights of New York gleamed against a harsh metallic sky. Music pulsed from the nightclubs, the people pouring out into the street. And then it was gone. Earth was cut off from the Galactic Society, and it’s major cities destroyed, all in the wink of an eye as the Quantum portals collapsed, and then exploded. People have been scavenging since then. 400 years of human scavengers.

Mark Alzred, a hunter and mercenary walked through the streets of New LA. He had the pose; he was the shit and he knew it. His gun swung freely at his hip, and his Fragmentation Armour fit him like a second skin. He was moving up in the world. He’d made his mark in his first job, pulling an experienced Solo’s ass out of the fire. He’d covered the whole team as they made for their AV. He knew he was the best. Maybe he just thought he was. As the tall figure swung out of the alley down the street, his senses immediately switched into overdrive. The streets cleared as the two faced off, measuring each other up. Mark’s opponent glinted in the neon lights, his armour highlighted by the sharp glare. His arm glinted, Cybernetic. He had the same posture as Mark, and the stood facing each other for what seemed like an eternity. Mark’s enemy didn’t move.

Traffic stopped on the main street of LA, where it passed through the Zone, commonly known as The Core. Passers-by waited with baited breath for the outcome of this showdown. Beads of sweat lined Alzred’s brow. Mark went for his gun. His opponent followed a fraction of a second later. Gunmetal blurred as the Hunters brought up their weapons, and a single loud retort broke the silence. No muzzle flash betrayed the identity of the winner. There was a full two seconds before Mark slumped to the floor, dead. His opponent slowly lowered his gun, replaced it inside his coat.

The unknown figure slid into The Future, an infamous bar frequented by Techs and Toughs. It had been there as long as anything, and legend had it that New LA had grown up around it. It was built in the hollowed shell of a Pre-decline hospital, the supplies long since gone. The patrons gave the newcomer the up and down as he entered, and he endured it without the slightest nervousness. Most patrons lowered their eyes to their drinks, and the man walked up to the bar. He lifted his visor to reveal cold grey eyes, lines of pain surrounding them, giving him the look of an old man. That changed when he lowered his face cover to reveal the face of a man of 20. The bartender walked slowly up to his newest customer, thinking he was only a temporary face, one of those flukes who ices a well-known Tough, purely by accident.

"What can I get you mister…?" the bartender inquired, at least wanting his name to add to The Futures book of the Dead. Most of these guys didn’t last the night with an entrance like that. The volumes of the Dead book lined the wall behind the bar, only slightly less prominent than the bottles of liquor.

"The name is Sek Jodrell. You gonna add Alzred to the book of the Dead now or later? I want a whiskey. Straight up."

"Fifteen credits. Or old republic cash if you’ve got it. What brings you into town with gear like that? You’re one of the most teched-up boys I’ve seen in recent years," the bartender smiled at the young one’s impetuosity and decided he wouldn’t last the hour. That’s when he noticed the two guys approaching from behind. Two of the local tough asses, "I’ll get your drink."

The bartender walked away, his smile gleaming metal; reconstruction was often done using steel now that plastics were scarce. Steel was tougher anyway. Sek ran a full systems check for his armour. Technical readouts pulsed across the display of his goggles, displaying body temperature, repairs, and possible damage. His proximity alarms sounded at just that moment, sending him into a deep roll, away from his chair. The first of his would be attackers sliced the stool cleanly into halves. The internal database analysed their armour and weapons, specifications scrolling through the corners of his field of vision. Sek’s gun seemed to fly into his hand as the Combat Rush hit him. Adrenal pounded through his system, the world seeming to slow as his reflexes kicked into high gear. Tactical displays targeted his attackers. The gun only fired twice, two bullets impacting his first adversary directly in the chest. He fell almost soundlessly, blood seeming to hang in the air a second after the body fell. Sek turned the gun on his second foe, but fired a moment too late. The bullet caught him in his gun arm, not quite penetrating, but causing enough impact to break Sek’s arm. He kicked the gun out of the other’s hand, relying on the cold techniques of Aikido implanted in his chip slot to pull him through. His attacker dropped into an advanced Kung Fu fighting stance, reflexes only slightly slower than Sek’s own. The naiveté of Sek’s opponent amused him, his sidearm popping out it’s holster, flying into his hand. The last look on his opponent’s face was one of shock as Sek put a bullet directly into his brainpan.

Sek sat down, his armour barely restricting the flow of his movement. His entire being exuded an emotional message. Fuck with me, you die. I’m the baddest motherfucker there is, ever was, or ever will be. The clips, all four, dropped out of his R-24mk6 Advanced Assault Weapons, one at a time. First were the bullets. Liquid propelled. Teflon coated. Secondary clip held Timed stable Azide Explosives. Then the under-barrel grenades dropped. Sek run a full diagnostic scan, routing all info to his smartgoggles. Those were a Relic. He found them in the Wastes, on a CryoFrozen corpse. At least it was cryofrozen, once. Sek was a TechHunter, a wanderer and a criminal. He was called an "inventor" by the people.

The Earth was a wasteland, the people were ignorant. A few people still remembered the Old Way, despite four hundred years of idiocy. Office buildings and tech stores loomed like mocking giants, those in the cities cleared out years before. Out in the wastes, though, a man could find Tech. New stuff, and examples of known stuff. Sek Jodrell was well known in New Toronto as a Tech hunter. He was also known as a gunfighter. The states took more damage though. They had more shit to find here. So Sek came south. The problem in the US was competition. Scores of hunters survived by following the real hunters, stealing the tech while they slept. Mark Alzred had been one of those pseudo-hunters. Sek had been his victim. Sek, though, was well outfitted.

Sek sipped his whiskey, remembered the trip into the Wastes. When he found the Mother Load.

The rains, acidic even after four hundred years, were just beginning as Sek Jodrell rode his bike down the broken interstate. A few lights still glowed in the dark, power sources not yet broken. Grass had begun to adapt to the Solitude’s unnatural conditions. Sek cut across the Solitude, jumping the barrierwall of the interstate. His suspension whined as hydraulics compensated for impact, and he kicked the bike into a bootleg turn, heading for radio and satellite emissions located somewhere in the solitude. They’d started spontaneously, two day before, and he knew others would be along soon. He was there first, and he’d have to bypass the security and get out of there. This wasn’t exactly difficult. Sek began as a TechnoThief, hunting equipment only to help that job. He had a knack for it though, and it did pay well. When he got inside, it was the best hit of his life. The facility was new, not a Relic. A graviton-based fold portal had been constructed, and no one noticed. Unfortunately, the off-worlders weren’t in at the moment. They were Human, of course, but they were gone before the exodus, and when they closed their borders after the disaster, they’d never looked back. Or so the people thought. Sek picked his way through the compound, pocketing anything he recognized. The others broke in just as he hit the top of stairs. Which is where he saw the off-worlders, Homo Sapiens Xeno, lying dead. The bullet holes face away from the portal. Apparently not everyone was glad that Earth was still around. Alzred and his pals came in suddenly, cutting the equipment into salvageable parts. Sek, shocked, didn’t notice until it was too late. The portal winked shut, Earth’s last hope for the freedom of the stars gone. He tore his guns out, prepared to destroy those who had destroyed his treasure.

The countdown prevented that. Sek barely made it alive. Alzred had been the same. Now only he knew, and it was too late to do anything about it.

"You know, if I’d had a slightly better day," he said to the barkeep, "the world could’ve finally been a better place?"

"Everyone thinks they can change the world, pal. Stop trying."

Rob Potter / Asaph

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