Scale 7 Artifact, part 9
Commission (part 2)
The door opened and Peter and Zareda stepped into the room.
"Whee-ooh!" shouted Peter. "That was some damn fine shootin' cowboy! Damn fine!"
Daniel grinned as he smoothed damp hair back out of his eyes. "Thanks. Now you see why I like to have an 11 mm cul instead of one of those puny 6 mm rifles? The 6 mm couldn't have engaged those birds at long range. And probably couldn't have stitched the ants through that grass."
"Aw hell." said Peter, "I couldn't have engaged the birds at that range with any
weapon. But the 6 mm would have worked fine through that grass. So would nickels or 30 mm slugs for that matter."
"Well maybe in that particular situation," said Daniel, "but in heavier undergrowth nickels and 6 mm bullets would get deflected too much. And slugs don't have a high-enough rate of fire for shooting at things by radar image. All you've got is a fuzzy blotch to shoot at, and you need to put several shots on target to be sure of putting it down."
Peter shook his head, "Most of my war experience was in the jungles of Southeast Asia and India, and we never had trouble with 6 mm penetration in the undergrowth."
Daniel shrugged, "Well, I'll bow to your greater experience. But I'm not giving up my kilometer range."
Zareda asked Daniel, "Since long range is your thing, have you ever considered a laser?"
"Not seriously," Daniel said, "When I went to war there were no practical man-carried laser weapons, so I never trained with one. And lasers carry a lot of liabilities. They break easily, they lose energy through any sort of cover, even smoke, and they use a huge power pack. I'll stick with an 11 mm cul with a 30 mm catapult. What long-gun combination do you use?"
"I'll carry a 6 over a 30," Zareda shrugged, "but I never used a long-gun much. Most of my shooting was done in the urban areas of Phoenix and Flagstaff, so I always used a 10 mm cul sidearm."
"No long range weapon?" asked Daniel. Zareda shook his head. Daniel said, "I spent a lot of time in Phoenix during the war and it was a pretty wide-open place. I'd think a long range weapon could come in handy there."
"No question about it," said Zareda, "but most of my action was in guerilla and gang warfare. Usually you don't know who your targets are until they start shooting at you. I figured that if I carried a rifle and wore combat armor and generally looked ready for action, the bad guys were more likely to just plug me from cover. So I developed my secret weapon. They tried to kidnap me several times because it didn't look like I was adequately armed. If I'd been carrying a submachine gun or a long gun, they would have just sniped at me."
"He's really good!" interrupted Peter, "I've seen him. Let me set up an urban course for you Zar." Peter dashed back to the control booth and Zareda and Daniel followed.
Zareda picked up his sidearm rig and strapped it on. It had a glossy black leather holster hanging low on the hip. A strap at the bottom held the holster to his thigh like a Western gunfighter but it didn't really look like a fast-draw holster because the there was a flap covering the grip of the pistol. Zareda stepped back out into the shooting range and closed the door. Daniel and Peter watched him on the monitors as he walked to the center of the room, took a casual stance, and said "ready".
Peter activated the program and the blue walls faded away into a city scene. Six armed toughs faced lone Zareda. "Whutchup, gringoste?" asked one of the toughs.
Zareda looked up at one of the cameras, "Don't you think six is over doing it a little? With automatic weapons even!"
The scene froze and Peters voice drifted out of the air, "Aw, come on, Zar. This is before you got your reputation and they aren't expecting anything."
Zareda shrugged and turned back to the toughs as they animated again. "I don't suppose there is any chance of you guys just going away and leaving me alone," he said doubtfully.
At this, the toughs started laughing. Before they had drawn second breaths, Zareda's sidearm was in his hand and firing from the hip at full auto. It was a short burst of six shots, and at the end, each of his six opponents had a hole in the middle of his face. The first four died laughing, the sixth one died with a surprised look on his face, and the fifth was somewhere in between.
The scene faded and Peter jumped back into the room shouting, "One point oh three seconds from the first shot to the last! Tell Wyatt Earp there's a new martial in town!"
Daniel was sitting back at the control booth with his mouth still open. He closed his mouth deliberately and called up a replay, this time watching Zareda's gun hand. In the replay, Zareda said "...alone." The toughs started laughing, then the gun was in Zareda's hand firing in full auto. That was not humanly impossible. Six rounds, full auto, each bullet hitting a man in the face? Not possible, even at the slow firing rate of six rounds per second.
Daniel replayed the scene at half speed. It looked as though the gun jumped into Zareda's hand. Daniel ran it again at one tenth speed. The gun did
jump into his hand! Daniel looked up to see Zareda and Peter watching him from the doorway. Peter was wearing an impish grin, and Zareda was almost smiling.
"You can control the holster with your headware computer, right?" said Daniel, "There's a mechanism in the holster that opens the flap and ejects the gun into your hand. Zareda and Peter nodded.
"What else? No human could shoot that quickly and that accurately, the reflexes just won't allow it."
"Do you have a cybernetic arm?"
"Nope, except for the headware, I'm all meat."
Daniel played the tape again at slow speed, then threw up his hands, "I don't get it."
"He has sensors in his eyes instead of retinas," said Peter. "All of his visual input is computer-controlled and his eyes act like a combat visor."
Daniel looked back at the screen in surprise. "That's right, you aren't wearing the helmet."
"Don't like messing my hair," said Zareda. "I patched together a game-cheating program, a face-recognition program, and a security tracking program so the computer can track targets for me. I pick the target out and then the computer puts an icon over the target to show that it's tracking. The gun also has a camera in it that the computer can access and when I point the gun, I see an icon at the aim point. All I do is line up the aim point with a tracking symbol, and the computer fires the gun for me."
"Remarkable." said Daniel. "So anyone could be a Wyatt Earp with this rig?"
"Well, aiming is easy, but you still need the hand-eye coordination to put the aim point where you want it. For multiple targets, you have to develop a certain rhythm of point, bang, point, bang. Otherwise you will get surprised by a bang when you don't expect it and the kick of the gun will throw off the next point."
"Is it possible to use the software with a combat helmet?" asked Daniel.
"Yes," Zareda said. "Want to give it a try?"
Zareda handed Daniel the gun and holster. "It takes some training, so I'll set up the targets for you and you can try shooting them."
Daniel took the gun with a grin and strapped it on. He felt like a gunfighter, strapping the holster to his thigh. Daniel went back into the room and put on his combat helmet. After a moment of blindness, the visor lit up and the street toughs were back, frozen with impudent smirks on their faces. One by one, a the concentric rings of a target marker appeared on each face. Daniel shifted, watching the target markers change slightly in perspective, but remaining fixed on target.
"Shooting at the head isn't hot-dogging," Zareda said through the speakers. "The computer tracks faces better than bodies because there are more visual clues to follow. Especially when the bad guys are wearing dark clothes like these are. If they were wearing stripes or polka dots, of course, it would be easier to track their shirts, but even then it would be harder to reliably track a lethal spot."
Daniel nodded. Zareda did something and the holster popped open but the gun did not jump out. "Go ahead and draw the gun," he said. "You'll have to take off the safety manually."
Daniel drew the gun carefully from the holster. It was surprisingly heavy: a good solid feel. He flipped a small lever by his thumb to take the weapon off safety and a glowing "X" flashed onto the floor. The "X" skimmed across the scenery like the beam of a flashlight as the pistol moved. Daniel knew it was an illusion of the helmet, but it was a good one. He tried to steady the "X" on the target reticule tracking the gang leader, but it kept jumping around. "How do I get it to stand still?" he asked the air.
"How would you steady it if it were a rifle?" asked Zareda.
"I'd relax and stop brea..." Daniel began, then he said, "Oh." Feeling a bit sheepish, he quickly dropped into his relaxed aiming mode and stopped breathing. The reticule settled down.
"Squeeze one off," offered Zareda, "to get a feel for the kick." Daniel squeezed the trigger slowly like he would on a rifle, and felt a satisfying thump as a black hole appeared in the target's forehead. "OK, I'm restoring the state," Zareda said. A moment later the hole went away.
"Now," said Zareda, "pull the aim point away from any targets, and I'm going to set it on auto so you can feel the computer doing the shooting." Daniel did so. "Now point again, and the computer is going to fire when you are within a couple of inches of the target." Daniel moved the aim point back to the target and swept past it with nothing happening. He let out his breath and tried again. This time he came closer and there was bang as the gun fired. It surprised him even though he had been expecting it.
"Not bad," said Zareda. "Now I've turned off the auto, pick a pattern of shooting and practice it a few times, pointing at each one in turn. I started with the right-most one and from there went up and to the left, you can make a narrow ellipse and cover all of them."
Daniel tried the pattern. Each time he passed by a target close enough for the computer to fire, the colors of the icons would invert to let him know. After several passes, he felt confident enough to give it a try. "OK," he said "turn on the automatic firing again."
"OK," responded Zareda, "it's on."
Daniel deliberately relaxed, stopped breathing, then began to sweep through the pattern he had practiced. The gun boomed as he passed over the first face, boomed again as he passed over the second, but the second shot had thrown him off enough that he missed the third one, passing over the target too high to set off the gun. Instead of backtracking he continued his pattern on to the fourth, bringing the muzzle down. Boom! Solid hit, as he passed on to the fifth he saw that the face was much lower than it had been and he passed well above it. He had been slow enough that the remaining gangsters were reacting and dropping to the ground. He tried to bring the muzzle down to the sixth target, but just before he reached it there was a sound of automatic fire and the whole scene went red.
"Ow! I'm hit!" he shouted happily. Daniel clicked on the safety, holstered the gun, and took off his helmet.
"Three of six," commented Zareda, "pretty good for a first try."
"Yeah!" said Daniel. "I like
"Well, it will be available in your combat helmet if you want. I'm not sure how useful it will be with a rifle," said Zareda.
"Or how useful it will be against animals," Peter added. "That's what we are likely to encounter."
"Or how well the software will track aliens," Zareda added. He smiled, "But it's there if you want it."
Daniel grinned. "It's a good thing you two never tried to support a family by selling stuff."
"OK, my turn!" Peter suddenly shouted. He grabbed his own helmet and Daniel and Zareda left the room to give him his practice with the new toy.
After Peter's turn with the pistol there was some more serious practice and getting to know each other's combat styles. This was the first and last chance the three of them would have for weapons practice, and they were all the security for the mission to Moon 3. The morning after the team had figured out what their mission was, a flotilla admiral had confirmed their guess. What they hadn't guessed was that they would be leaving in just two weeks. Daniel still wondered what the emergency was. They had also learned that the team would consist of just eight people --the seven that had met in the room that night and a space captain that they had met only a few times.
Although the team was going to explore a moon flourishing with alien --and presumably dangerous-- life, there would be no marine contingent. The three men in this room, in addition to their other duties, were responsible for all security. As Daniel learned, that wasn't likely to be a problem. He watched in awe as Peter went through a drill. The man was amazingly quick. And Peter executed some acrobatic moves that were astounding even in the low gravity. After a ten-minute drill of constant rapid movement, Peter wasn't even breathing hard and Daniel suspected that the man had benefited from biotechnology. It was well-known that the Chinese experimented with bio-enhancements on their elite soldiers.
All three men were highly experienced combat veterans. Daniel with the US Army Rangers, Zareda with the US Delta Force, and Peter with the Chinese Dadao, sometimes called the Red Berets. And they were all unusually talented. Even Daniel, who was noticeably slower than he had been in his rangering days, still had a marksman's eye. And he still knew how to find the hostiles. So even without a squad of marines, Daniel thought the mission was in reasonably good hands.
After just two short hours of drill, they paused to drink coffee and debrief. This was all the time they would have for practice, and they had practically had to mutiny to get that. "Well, what do you guys think?" asked Zareda.
"I'm happier than I was two hours ago," Daniel said. "We need more time and I'd like a full squad instead of three men, but I think we make a good team. Especially with me wa-a-ay in the back, providing covering fire while you two handle the close-up work."
"I like it close," Peter laughed. "I think we're good to go."
"I'd like another month of practice," said Zareda.
"Oh, yeah," agreed Peter. "If we could have gotten even a couple of days, that would make a big difference though."
A chime sounded from the small speaker on Daniel's collar and tense silence fell over them. The men looked at each other, sharing the sensation of an immanent adventure, filled with uncertainty and danger.
"Time to go?" Peter asked finally, his voice tense.
Daniel nodded without speaking, knowing that his own voice would be tense. Daniel took a look around the shooting gallery. Not enough time. Not enough even to learn the new equipment, much less learn to work as a team. But time was up. There would be no more practice until they had landed on an alien moon. The team wasn't ready. But Flotilla would allow no delay. The shuttle would be launching in one hour.
The three men filed silently to the door and down the curving hallway to the sector 1 cab.