Avaricious: Mission AWOL (Page 2)

     Like he had promised, Sparky was waiting for her on the street, sat in the driver’s seat of his van. While his legs were useless, the van had been fitted so that he could operate the entire thing using his hands and fingers, no pedals required, yet another design he had brought to life. Bright red and ordinary looking to the untrained eye, inside was a similar technological marvel that the RIAT had – though this was more compact and allowing Sparky to have a setup like the one he had at home, on the move. Thick armour protected the inside which housed a large computer system to allow surveillance and operations while out in the field – not something he did very often, but he didn’t mind extracting Rio from places that the RIAT would have trouble getting into; what with it being so large, the buildings being so high, and so many civilians made it hard for Sparky to ensure everyone’s safety, so this was the next best thing. 

     It could reach some speeds too – clocking in at a maximum of a hundred and thirty miles an hour despite its heavy weight (though it had some trouble turning sharply at high speed without flipping over) – and so suited the purpose for scooting the pair around at high speeds in relative safety. There were no windscreens, instead several cameras gave Sparky a 360° view of the outside world, which would be highly illegal if there was anyone to enforce the law. He turned as he heard the van’s computer’s locking onto the electronic signature of Rio’s suit and unlocking the doors to allow her access (a necessary feature to stop anyone other than the two of them getting into the van or if Rio needed to get in quickly). 

     Happily, Rio jumped in and sat down on one of the chairs in the back of the van. 

     “So… That was a new low.” 

     “What’s that saying? A fool and his money are easily parted. Well some people are more foolish than others.” She sighed to herself. 

     Sparky looked at her with confusion, so she smiled at him to let him know she was ready to go. “Yeah, and some people go around and double deal.” He frowned. 

     “Nuh-uh! My contract had expired, it’s not my fault that I was in the perfect place to cash in on another!” She replied sweetly. 

     He knew that it was pointless to argue, besides it’s not like it would change anything in the long run. It seemed that she sensed this and so opened the case to show him. 

     “Besides, check out this sweet bonus we got!”  She added. 

     “Wouldn’t Balio have given it to you anyway..?”  He frowned, starting the van which came to life with a loud roar, turning the heads of those nearby. They didn’t have long to admire it as in a second the van was already speeding away from the scene of the crime, yet another happy escape for Rio, who would be long gone before they had realised what had happened. Because of the lack of traffic on the streets (or even existing in general anymore), once they were free of the crowd, Sparky could really open up and so the two were making excellent time. 

     “La-la-la I can’t hear you! ” Rio playfully said from the back. 

     “Yep, thought as much (!) Anyway, if you glance over the side there, that’s the file your father sent through.” Sparky informed her. He would’ve liked to talk about the whole murdering a sleeping man, but he knew it would fall on deaf ears with her. Honestly he wasn’t sure why he was so surprised in the first place, it was Rio after all. Instead he watched in the mirror as she flipped through the file he gave her the synopsis of it. 

     “We have several mercenaries laying in a pool of blood, and a guy from the Core Nightfall Company – named William 'Big Bill' Billo – holding a smoking gun. Everyone will want this guy dead as soon as the contract goes public, but your dad must have pulled some strings and gotten exclusive rights or something because you’re getting this before it’s even on the system.”

     The system Sparky was referring to was a “pool” of missions that were posted on the secure Mercenary network – which informed each company when a contract was active and bids could be placed, or several mercenaries from all the companies could move in to compete to see who could complete the task first. Either way, every contract that was posted would become “public” so that the companies or lone mercenaries could become informed and move in to get some money. 

     “Wait a second, Big Bill… Yeah, I know that guy. Big dumb orc; as tall as he is fat, takes jobs for people who just want a henchman, you know, all the table-scrap jobs!” Rio remarked as the image of the 6”6, 22-stone thug popped into her brain. He was yet another of the bargain basement Mercenaries, like Nunman or Dead-Hand Jill, and used his sheer size and weight to be able to lug around huge weapons that others simply couldn’t carry alone, dealing tonnes of damage to his enemies. “He’s an idiot! What, did he trip and accidently sit on all of them?”

     “Actually, the report is that he has a bunch of those Energy Weapons that have been circling around.”  Sparky replied, knowing that this would catch Rio’s attention. 

     “Oooh, now that’s interesting. How very interesting!” Rio smiled, her eyes briefly darting to the nearby suitcase. “That makes more sense. Do we have autopsies? ” 

     “Coroner’s report is something I’d rather not read through, but it is consistent with Energy Weapon damage. I mean… the pieces left intact that is.” Sparky frowned. 

     Energy Weaponry was so sought after because of how entirely damaging it was, with traditional armour being left so ineffective that “battle-suits” like what Rio wore was the only defence against them, and even then it was a reduction rather than outright protection. 

     “The things you do for me! And I didn’t get you anything.” She replied, moving up to the front of the van so she could sit next to him. “Hey, I could give you another peek at the girls if you want?” She added with a smirk, unzipping her suit more than usual. 

     “I’m still driving.” 

     Laughing, Rio turned her attentions back to examining the documents more carefully. Like the Holon’s stash, these Energy Weapons that Sparky was referring to were the cream of the crop of weaponry available on the entire planet, and highly desired by everyone and anyone who held a weapon. However, since the collapse, had become exceptionally rare due to no-one having the ability to mass-produce them, but there was no way that all of this sudden exposure to Energy Weapons was a coincidence. The reason these weapons were so powerful was that they didn’t shoot bullets, instead firing literal beams of pure energy that could destroy armour and kill a person outright with a single hit (depending on what kind of energy it fired). They ignored armour properties, couldn’t be jammed or tampered with, these weapons were so powerful that only one faction on the entire planet were able to produce them – again, this was only a very small number of these weapons produced, and the feared Knights of Zenith Earth were keen on holding onto them to keep their position as the greatest military faction on the planet. 

     Rio was extremely interested in these weapons, due to them not only produced large amounts of damage, but with the right know-how could transfer their power into a person to increase said person’s own power, which had led her to the belief that during her fight with Henri Pavour – the latter was using these kinds of weapons to enhance her strength, the only reason she was able to overpower Rio (in her own opinion). Needless to say, Rio was hungry to get her hands on something which could increase her own power, but the Knights refused to sell these weapons outside of their crazy sect – as even being accused of doing so was an offence punishable by death. Of course, you could find Energy weapon “husks” out in the wilderness sometimes – like the scrap Balio had given her – but without a knowledge of how to restore it or activate it, the only way it would do damage as a weapon was if you threw it at someone. Even Sparky’s massive brain didn’t hold that kind of information. 

     “So, Billo was on an open contract, nothing special, but he was up against sixteen other mercs. Looks like he couldn’t handle the competition and just blew them all away. Looks like he’s as smart as he is handsome.” Rio smirked. 

     “But the thing is – I was looking at his loadout before the mission, and he doesn’t have any Energy Weapons on him. Besides, there’s no way his superiors would let someone as low grade as Big Bill walk around with weapons like that. Regardless, Bill somehow managed to get his hands on those weapons, and they would definitely give him the edge to take out all his comrades.” Sparky summarised. 

     “This sucks. I work my cute little ass off all day, every day, and some chump gets all the cool toys to play with?” Rio frowned, eyes still locked onto the pages. 

     “Going to complain to daddy?” 

     “Only if I don’t get a pony.” She replied, the two glancing away from their tasks to smirk at the other. 

     “The funny part is, after all that, Bill managed to slip away.” Sparky frowned as he returned to their previous conversation. 

     “Slip away? Have you seen the size of this guy? He’s not exactly a ninja.” 

     “I get it: he’s fat.” Sparky rolled his eyes. “No money from the contract – for obvious reasons – accounts frozen by his family company, but he still managed to flee not just the state but the country before anyone could even take a pot-shot at him.” 

     “Must be nice to have friends.” 

     “Not in this case. Your dad already went after anyone who was even remotely related to this guy; family, friends, anyone he could turn to. He really wants this guy dead.” Sparky said. 

     Rio said nothing in return, silently making her own observations, but Sparky seemed to read her mind. 

     “From what I could tell, there was no solid motivation. I mean, look at this guy’s file – he’s almost lost more contracts than you’ve broken hearts.”

     “Hey! Rude.”  She pouted

     “Point is, he’s not exactly A-list here. The contract prize was nothing worth shouting about, according to his file he was a lone wolf but not by choice – no one really wanted to work with him – he barely even interacted with most of the Mercenaries he went up against. There is no way that the idea of losing this contract would drive him over the edge to just kill everyone else. It’s not in his character.” 

     “Maybe it was a slow boil. All the losses piled up, and he couldn’t take it anymore. Loss after loss could piss off anyone… not that I’d know about that… but he had to have known the mercenary companies threaten extremely harsh punishments for something like this.” Rio commented, sitting back in her seat. 

     “Like he planned all this? Could be, but wouldn’t someone notice that he was suddenly armed to the teeth with super weapons? No, but that’s not right; he went on the mission without them, so that means Billo would’ve had to have known where this mission was going to take place before even accepting it, so that he could place the weapons for his pickup, then have to get to it all before anyone else. It’s all a bit too convenient.” Sparky mused. 

     “Could’ve been a lie on the load-out report.” 

     Yeah, but those get filed and checked by several people before he could even be accepted for the mission – it’s what separates the professionals from the rookies. The whole point of it is to evenly match Mercenaries based on their overall skills, and loadouts can tip the favour when it comes to that sort of thing – it kinda gives me the feeling that some bigwigs somewhere are having a bet on which company is going to come out on top with these smaller contracts – but whatever. I mean, no one checks you out because you’re so special, but for everyone else there’s rules and procedures to follow.” 

     “Excuse me, everyone checks me out. But I get your point.” 

     Sparky frowned deeply, his comments were being turned into innuendo far too easily. “What I’m saying is that there way too many variables for someone of Bill’s calibre. What, he just snapped and happened to find Energy weapons just lying there on the ground..?” 

     “And then disappeared off into the sunset.” Rio frowned in agreement. 

     “It doesn’t make sense – and in my experience, if it doesn’t make sense then it’s wrong. Still, he hasn’t quite disappeared altogether. The genius set off an alarm at this place he’s decided to hole up in, which your dad picked up.” 

     “Ha, what an idiot.” Rio agreed. 

     Outside, the docks came into view, and Sparky drove up to the ferry he had already scheduled and paid for, so didn’t need to stop, just loaded up right away. He was clearly nervous, but Rio didn’t have a care in the world by this point, and wanted to go out. 

     “We really ought to keep our heads down. Malli’s men could be on our cases.” 

     “Speak for yourself, Sparky. I’ve been cooped up for hours now - I’m dying to get some fresh air!” Rio smiled. “Come on, I’ll carry you up the steps if you want.” She added with a wink. 

     After a brief period of pouting and whining, Rio got her way (as usual). After helping Sparky from the driver’s seat to his wheelchair (the latter arrogantly trying to refuse help the entire time), the two went up to the upper decks of the ship. Due to the time of night, there wasn’t much to see aside from the lights H3-City slowly starting to disappear behind them, and the stars above flickering off of the water’s reflection, all coated with a layer of inky blackness.  

     “Oooo! I love the sea-air!”  Rio laughed loudly, throwing her arms apart and letting the wind fill her, her orange hair flapping wildly around her. 

     “Yeah. Great.” Sparky frowned. Being from a land-locked region, Sparky wasn’t overly keen on the idea of boat-rides in the first place, but actually being out here in person made him shiver as he thought about falling overboard. 

     “Oh relax, I won’t let you drown.” Rio smirked at him, having read his mind. 

     “Besides.” She added, pointing to her chest. “I float.” 

     The immaturity of her joke made him laugh, and he shook his head. “You’re an idiot.” 

     “Yeah, but I’m a cute idiot. That means I can get away with whatever I like.” Rio smiled back. “You know, I think I’m actually going to miss this place. It was like, a day off or something.” 

     Sparky nodded, both of them looking at the bay behind them. It would be quite some time before she would be able to step foot in H3-City again, if at all. Still, there wasn’t very many worse places she could be banned from. 

     “So we were talking about Billo.” He reminded her, taking her mind off of it. 

     “Ha, is this really the best place to talk about the mission?” 

     “Why, are you worried that the bogyman will overhear and nark on us (?)” Sparky replied sarcastically, gesturing at the empty deck around them. He had made sure to book the boat entirely for them, just in case she had got into some trouble. The captain was more than happy to have a nice, lazy trip for such a big payday. 

     “You know, I’m scared of the bogyman.” 

     “What?” 

     “I am. Seriously!” She replied, looking out over the water, her tone suddenly becoming dark and quiet. “I mean think about it, a creepy man, crawling out from under your bed, complete darkness, no one to help, you – lying there helpless, he grabs you, leans in…” 

     “And then he doesn’t take advantage of me? What a waste!” She said loudly with a playful wink. 

     Sparky almost hit her. He couldn’t believe that he had been suckered in so easily. “I hate you. I thought you were being serious.” 

    “Nuff-thin’ scares me.” Rio laughed, shaking her hips with each pronunciation. Sparky huffed and shook his head, prompting her to nudge him. “Aw, come on – let’s talk about the mission. I’ll be good.” 

     Eyeing her for a second, Sparky obliged. “Okay. So, the place Billo set the alarm off in is North-West, up in Mast-Onya. Ever been?”

     “Once – cold, windy, nothing to see there except old ruins and battlefields. Bad gift shop too. Lots of room though, are we sure it’s Billo who set off the alarm?” 

     “High chance, 99.9%. The alarm went off at this older-than-dirt military base there. Surveillance, plus everything else from the base is prehistoric, the images from the cameras were grainy and distorted to fuck, but the size and weight matched Billo’s build. Plus, your dad tracked his chip to that region.” 

     The “chip” Sparky was referring to was a small tracking chip that allowed the Mercenary companies to locate their personnel, say if they needed to be extracted or tracked down. It was a system that the Military was going to use before the collapse, making use of one of the many satellites in orbit and bouncing the signal back to a computer somewhere (one which Sparky could happily hijack at any point, but also one he used to keep an eye on Rio, who also had a tracking chip). 

     “He didn’t remove his chip? I’m shocked (!)” Rio smirked, letting the breeze blow her hair. 

     “But the weather up there makes most equipment useless, I mean we would’ve lost him completely if your dad didn’t pick up on the alarm. Not sure why your dad was scanning for old military tech but whatever.” Sparky shivered in the breeze, prompting Rio to put her coat around him. “Billo is in a Critical Zone.” 

     Rio’s eyes flashed with piped curiosity. These critical zones were huge areas of the planet that were cordoned off due to each being the location of an “Extreme Condition”. The weather in each was so intense that no life of any kind could survive within it; the worst affected areas were at the centre of these areas, then for hundreds of miles radiating outward, the effects of these weather decreasing the further away one was from the centre, but still enough to be extremely dangerous to people right on the edge of a Critical Zone. Some zones were harsh blizzards that could freeze the blood in the veins, others a never ending cycle of rain that pelted down so hard it could rip through flesh, some were simple deserts hot enough to boil eyes in the sockets – each of these zones had dramatically changed the natural climate around them, killing off entire populations of people, wildlife, and plant-life in one fell swoop – another cause leading up to the collapse. 

     Where had they come from? Why was the weather so dramatic in these spots? Rio had no idea, though she was certain that Sparky had several thousand of his theories. 

     “Now that is a smart move.” Rio smiled to herself. 

     “No kidding. Your crit zone’s core is estimated to be -500°, though no one has ever got near it… obviously. I clocked Billo’s hideout at -80° – but still far too cold for one to survive without specialised clothing to protect them.” Sparky replied. 

     “Aw, and I just brought a new bikini (!) ” 

     “It’s going to take me some time to get everything together for this… it’s a pretty big order.” Sparky muttered, slightly worried it would annoy Rio. 

     “No problem. Methinks Billo isn’t going to be going anywhere soon, anyway.” Rio replied. 

     She was leaning on the railing of the deck, looking out at the water as the moon and stars – now visible after leaving the city behind them – shone on the waves.       


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