This was a simple job.
It didn’t even require a mech — which made it… less ‘simple’ and more…. ‘Boring’. Still, looks can be deceiving, and so can Intel… as the mercenary known as Kaius Mars has recently discovered. The towering, dreadlock-haired gunslinger and mech-pilot finds himself crouching outside a warehouse in the slum district of Dogwood, blaster in hand and a snarl on his lips.
Storming this place, to shut down a criminal ring (as the Black Suns were duly hired) has proven… interesting. Not only were the drug-dealers more heavily armed than expected.. The word of the op got out among freelancers as well.
Mars shakes his head, checks the powerpack on his sidearm (more of a handcannon) and prepares to creep around the corner of the warehouse…
Simple, boring, either way, it’s something to do on a Friday. Or was it Saturday. It’s the weekend somewhere.
Somewhere on the opposite side of the warehouse, another figure is meticulously… Okay, that’s probably not the word for it as anyone who might catch sight of him then would see him spinning a pistol in hand. From hand to holster and back again. He’s not sure how long he’s been out here, but somewhere between planning on how the best way to approach this situation would be and what would be the best line to shout, style points have somehow come into play.
This is why no one invites Baldur to their party half the time.
He nicks the tip of his pistol against its holster, breaking whatever mesmerizing spell of watching it spin. “What, oh- it time to go?” he asks to absolutely no one in particular. His orange lit optics flickering in the shadows of his hood, they swivel towards the openings of the warehouse, trying to make out any movements from within. Apparently it’s right then that he decides it’s go-time, so he ducks into a quick dash towards the closest wall, pressing up against it as his metal fingers run over the edges of his weapon.
“…it’s quiet,” he murmurs to himself. “/Too/ quiet.”
Mars swears silently.
It really IS too quiet.
And then it isn’t.
With a resounding ‘boom’ part of the warehouse wall blows outward, showering Mars and Baldur in wood, metal and stone. Gunfire follows, eliciting a hiss from between Mars’ teeth — and a predatory smirk. The mercenary gives it a two-count, and dives in the open, handcannon blazing.
On Baldur’s side, henchmen pour out of the warehouse — thinking to flank Mars. The practically right directly into him…
Well, wouldn’t you know it? You’re all caught up in debating over whether to give it a three count or a five before bursting in and someone beats you to the punch.
Baldur gets a faceful of debris, and it wouldn’t be the first time that he’s thankful he doesn’t have a fleshy face. That would have hurt! It does however startle him, and even though the shards of building material scatter about him and over him harmlessly, he still starts making spitting noises as he waves his gun about. His optics pick up the movement even before the dust settles.
This is awkward.
“…oh, hey guys!” the cyborg greets cheerfully. “This here’s an ambush!” He brings up his pistol to unload several shots at those unfortunate enough not to react in time.
The first bullet rips into its henchman high in the chest and to the right, spinning him around and sending his own sidearm flying. The second bullet hits in much the same way, but the third buries itself in the man’s back, propelling him into the ground.
Baldur’s second victim dies much faster — a bullet penetrating the man’s neck, and erupting from the other side. The third henchman gets his face sprayed with blood… but the bullets to hit //him//… bounce off.
The two more behind him are not hit in the slightest, and by now have their wits drawn toward the danger. “It’s a robot!” one calls out. “Take it out fast!” At the same time, one can hear cries of pain from the far side of the warehouse, as well as more gunfire.
Mars has been fortunate enough not to get shot yet. A side-effect of blowing out the side of their own warehouse is that the drug-dealers have filled the air with smoke and dust… obscuring their own vision as much as anyone else’s. Of course, that all changes as laser-sighters light up the dim space, trying to track Mars’ movements.
His bared teeth turn into a smile.
‘BOOM!’ goes the handcannon, and another henchman’s body goes flying through the warehouse, to hit the wall behind him. He hits it hard enough to splinter the wooden wall there, revealing a bruised and lacerated buttock to Baldur on the other side. Mars grins, lays down some covering fire, and takes cover behind some crates.
Who else is fighting these guys? Amateurs… likely going to get themselves killed.
That’s Baldur’s cue to move, and move he does, although it’s neither back nor to the side. Instead he rushes forward, ducking into a tumble as he pulls out a second gun. Triggers are squeezed simultaneously, one firing off crisp shots as before, the other one laying down more brightly colored fire in the form of a laser. The cyborg himself might just be saying “Pew-pew!” as he shoots.
It occurs to him that there’s a whole lot of noise coming from the wrong side of the warehouse. Seems like these guys are engaged with someone else across the way- just their luck! Or his luck? Well, Lady Luck’s dishing extra helpings of good and bad today!
“-oof! Now that’s what I call some real bad luck right there,” he mutters, optics swiveling towards the sprouting behind that’s come through the wall beside him. “Eyeew, gross!”
Was that…?? Someone going ‘pew-pew’ while shooting? Mars can’t quite believe his ears, but it makes him smile a little; he hasn’t heard anyone actually say ‘pew-pew’ while shooting since… the Hinterlands War. Seventy years ago.
Although… it doesn’t feel like seventy years to Mars.
It feels like yesterday.
Standing on the other side of the wall (that has someone’s butt protruding through it) he pauses by the head belonging to that butt, and checks the man’s pulse. Dead. As are some of the others in the warehouse. Nevertheless, more are coming. The ground near Mars’ feet explodes in a shower of dirt and stone, scoring his skin and damaging his clothes. He swears:
“Shiny’s chrome ass!”
And fires back.
A body falls from a gantry above him. Ahhh, so //that’s// where they’re coming from now. Outside, more of the henchmen make their way at a dead run around the building to try and catch Baldur from behind. Mars fires off a few more shots at the gantry… and dashes for the back door…
The cyborg cocks his head at that. “Shiny’s…. Wow, who says that anymore!” he blurts without really thinking about it. He looks towards the wall that the voice had come from, or rather through, catching only a glimpse of movement beyond the cracking boards and the pair of buttocks that had been blown through it.
Someone’s in there and not on the same team as these guys, that much he can ascertain. Baldur’s raring to barge in and see what all he’s missing but he’s got more company out here. Or he will have, in a second. He can hear the footsteps as he holsters his laser pistol to reload bullets in the other. What a pain. “Come on, come on…!” As the other henchmen close in, the cyborg glances over his shoulder, flipping the cylinder back into position and giving it a spin before he aims it under his other arm.
“Just how many of you are there?!”
There are a lot of henchmen.
The Intel on this particular job had been… way off. Way, way, way off. It should have been assigned to a squad, a contingent… not just one Black Sun merc and whomever happened to show up. The hired thugs round the corner and find themselves face to face with a fully converted cyborg… with a laser. And a slugthrower (pistol).
Fortunately for (some of) them, they too are heavily armed — and one takes aim at Baldur with a similarly powerful handgun. Meanwhile, a fire is started inside the building — either by accident or design. It really doesn’t matter how, for it will destroy this particular ring’s supply of illicit drugs one way or another.
Mars dives out the back door and into the alley beyond where he also finds the remaining hired guns… and their target: Baldur. “What the hell?” the dreadlocked man demands to know, pointing his own handcannon at the thugs and firing back at them. He loves that gun — almost as much as he loves his Glitterboy.
No. No that sounds wrong.
‘Almost as much as he loves his battlemech, Shiny.’ There.
“You’re in my way,” he tells Baldur flatly.
Call him old-fashioned, but he likes a gun with bullets. Actually he just likes the sound it makes. Lasers just don’t cut it, superior firepower or not. As more men arrive, Baldur stares. Oh, that right there is like an army! He emits the sound of a sigh, his shoulders sagging in emphasis.
And then one opens fire on him, the shot hitting its mark, slamming into him enough to set him back a step. Grunting, he looks down at the smoldering spot on his leather armor. “-aw man! Did you- you /did/! There’s a hole in this thing!” He /likes/ this armor, even though it really does nothing for him. His true armor’s his own body, after all.
Hearing the clatter behind him, the cyborg turns and finds himself staring down the barrel of a handcannon. Gee, now that’s kind of nostalgic.
“-whoa! Hey!” Baldur sputters, dropping down to duck as Mars fires away. The guy wouldn’t have shot him though, right? Right?
It’s the dreadlocked man’s statement that follows that has Baldur rising like a pillar in front of Mars’ face. “Uuuh, excuse you?? /I’m/ in your way? Hey look pal, I was here first! I had things perfectly under control!” he insists, his left arm swinging back to fire a few laser blasts at the hapless guys behind them. He’d thought he’d heard someone moan.
Those glowing optics of his fix upon those dark brown eyes, shifting subtly as he takes in the rest of Mars’ features before the orange glow brightens as though in surprise. His mind swims, a memory pulled from the dredges of over seventy years past.
Another time. Another life. Baldur takes a step back.
“…hey… I /know/ you…!”
“No one knows me,” grunt Mars with a frown. In fact, most noble Houses here want Kaius Mars gone… that way they can keep his family’s wealth. No one //wants// to know him.
“Here first, huh?” He continues with a raised eyebrow, never taking his gaze from the henchmen surrounding them. “I’ve already killed four of these rent-a-thugs.”
“Five,” he corrects.
The drug-thugs open fire, forcing cyborg and soldier to work back to back. For a moment. This might be reminiscent of the showdown at the O.K. Corral if folks had heard of it — and such standoffs are usually over..in a moment.
“Yer goon’ down!” Yells one of the thugs after watching his friend die.
“Nag, nag, nag…” Mars retorts in a mutter.
“No, no- I’m sure I know you!” Baldur insists, pointing at Mars with his gun…because he can’t point with his fingers- hands are all full. He quickly realizes how bad an idea that probably is, and with a sheepish “-oh, whoops,” lowers his weapon. “Mars- isn’t it? Kaius Mars? It’s-”
Stopping at that claim as Mars continues, the cyborg’s optics dim just a degree as though in show of his disapproval. “Pff, /four/, five. That’s nothing! I got…. Well okay, I wasn’t keeping track but there’s like a pile of those guys back there-“
Once again he’s cut off as he gestures behind him, only to find a fresh barrage of gunfire. Rude! They were having meaningful conversation!
This is the worst position to be in, with no cover and caught between two parties. Yeah, this right here? Surely suicide! Pulling an about-face so he can properly aim and desperately return fire, Baldur’s fingers methodically flick the triggers of either gun the way a tap dancer makes every angle of his soles count as they rap out a beat on the floor.
“That’s like, the most cliche thing to say, ever,” he snorts as he tweaks his aim. Back to back with Mars, he can’t shake that feeling of deja vu. Only he was a lot less…metally, back then. The cyborg’s next round of fire is met by a telling, disappointing click from his right pistol, even as his left continues to blaze.
“Dangit!” Being pelted by gunfire isn’t going to make it easy to reload. Grumbling incoherently, he pulls up his weapons again anyway, but his gloved hands fold downward from the wrist, exposing the dull gleam of the gun muzzles housed within either forearm. The violet blasts emitted from them are accompanied with a brief, crisp whisper as the ion bolts fly. They’re more meant to disable techy weaponry, but they work pretty well for stunning fleshies too.
“Okay, how do you know me?” demands the pilot, after shooting a henchman in the head. The corpse drops to the ground sans an operating system. A few more seconds and they’ll be through this. Or just… ‘through’. “No one knows me.” ‘BLAM!’ “They’re all — ,” ‘BLAM!’ ” — dead!” ‘BLAM!’ “Seventy years…” Mars frowns a moment later, listening to the sound of Baldur’s many guns, and then turns around. He taps Baldur on the metal shoulder.
More lasers and gunfire.
Even more lasers and gunfire.
“Hey, //BUN tyen-shung duh ee-DWAY-RO!// — you can stop now. Wait. That doesn’t work. Not exactly a stack of //meat// now, are you?” Mars lapses into another language, something used by a number of the Dogwood soldiers, back in the war. It might’ve been called ‘Chinese’ once upon a time. As for the little ‘army’ of drug-dealers… they are all either corpses, or just thoroughly incapacitated, and their warehouse is on fire.
Mars, eyeing the cyborg, twirls his handcannon expertly, and deposits it back in its hip-holster. He looks pleased with himself.
If anything so much as twitched, Baldur’s laser pistol found a new target. He’d gone silent, his mind caught between the present and a daydream. Maybe it’s better called a flashback. He’s not sure that he’s capable of dreaming, not when he doesn’t sleep, but sometimes his mind lapses. It’s hard for him to tell if he’s just hearing the voice behind him from then or now, but suddenly the present bursts into clarity along with a deafening silence (read: lack of gunfire and explosions) punctuated with an insult.
“I am not!” he retorts before realizing how unbelievably whiny that comeback is. He almost looks like he’s sulking at that. Turning his head, he looks over the mess around them, clicking his other wrist back into place with a jerk of his arm before he twirls his pistols and slides them back into place at his sides. Fists at his hips, he shakes his head, mimicking a whistle as he steps around to face Mars again.
“Ain’t you a sight for sore optics! I thought I might’a been hallucinating or…or doing the remembering thing,” he says vaguely as he taps at his head. “-but…Well I mean /look/ at you! You’re practically just like I remember! You look good for an’ old grandpa!” Baldur reaches out to give the guy a playful sort of shove, mostly to help further dispel the thought that he might still be imagining things. He kind of missed when Mars tapped him on the shoulder.
After an awkward moment or two he makes a noise like he’s clearing his throat, the mind not completely forgoing old habits and responses as would be delivered through a normal human body. “Oh. /Oh./ Yeah, okay, so um. This must be really weird. See, I thought you were dead and I kinda almost died so…” He shakes his head again, looking back up at Mars. “Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself again. Let’s start over.”
He lifts his hands out to either side, almost as though he’s about to do jazz-hands. “Surprise! It’s me! Galan? You remember, right? Wow, that’s just…well, I haven’t referred to myself as that for the longest time and-” Pause. Leaan. Peer. “…were you always taller than me? Hell, you think they’d at least make me taller if they were giving me a new body!”
Mars stares back at the cyborg.
Might as well be a robot — a faulty robot, something with ‘eccentric’ programming that took a few too many hits to the cranial chassis. Yeah. That must be it. A faulty robot. “You’re crazy,” grunts the human, still eyeing the ‘jazz-hands’. Then… hesitation. “Gal…?” he asks, leaning his head back while tucking in his chin with incredulity.
Maybe he should just… shoot the clearly defective robot?
Mars suddenly withdraws his handcannon and shoots past Baldur in a single, fluid motion — obliterating the chest cavity of a henchman who had just been about to fire. Grunting in a ‘there; I did that — what are you going to do about it?’ manner, Mars then twirls the blaster on one hand…
Then the other…
Then… he flips it through the air toward Baldur as though on purpose…
Mars wouldn’t be the first to think that. That seems to be the general consensus whenever Baldur stops by a tavern. Don’t mind the crazy robot guy who thinks he’s a peoples. Don’t make eye contact. When he starts spouting war stories, just smile, nod and then quietly slip away.
As his old friend declares him crazy, Baldur just cocks his head to the side as if to fix him with a ‘look,’ which somehow or another manages to come across despite the limited movement of his facial plates and the lidless optics. That moment’s hesitation is like cracking open the door as Mars peers out onto his front porch at the guy he thinks is another door-to-door salesman, and that salesman’s just jammed his foot into the doorway.
Just when he thinks that he might have gotten through to the ol’ pilot, Mars withdraws his handcannon. The shot that’s fired feels like it rattles his very soul, except the only sound to follow is that of a body crumpling behind him. Slowly, the cyborg glances over his shoulder at the freshly smoldering remains, and then his optics track back towards the dreadlock-wearing man. He’s torn between wanting to hug him and slug the guy, but his attention quickly falls towards that twirling firearm as though it were a magic spell being cast. It’s another snippet of memory breathed back to life.
His optics twitch subtly, watching the blaster as it’s spun about and passes between hands, and then it makes its casual arc towards him like a somersaulting porpoise.
It might as well be reflex. Baldur’s hand comes up, snatching the handcannon’s grip just as it comes around right-side up, and as he pulls it towards him he sets it into a fresh spin ’round his finger, deftly swapping hands as he brings the other around from below it. In his left hand now, he spins it once over to grip it properly, then flips it back to spin once in the opposite direction before doing so again. Completely pointless exercises that had no place in combat, let alone a battlefield. It was a game, it was entertainment to get one’s mind off of whatever they might have to face next.
Here now, it’s the weirdest secret handshake ever.
In another smooth pass the gun’s moved to his right hand to repeat the same spin-grip on that side. Then he swings it up, as though to aim at Mars before he utters a single word.
His fingers slacken around the grip, letting the handcannon pull downwards to hang from his finger as he holds it out for the Glitterboy pilot to reclaim.
Mars grins. It’s the first grin he’s made since waking up. Feels good. He takes the gun back and gives the cyborg a fierce, blokey hug, clapping him on the back. “Gallerhorn! //Shun-SHENG duh gao-WAHN!// (Sweet Testical Tuesday!) You’re alive! You’re — ,” Mars pauses, and frowns.
“Gained a few pounds…” he comments giving ‘Baldur’ a once over as he steps back again, holstering his blaster. “How the hell…? Thought you must’ve been dead more than a few times… What did you do — drop an ordnance?”
Back comes the grin.
While he can’t smile back, there’s something in the flickering brightness of Baldur’s optics that makes it apparent that he would be. With a laugh, he returns that manly embrace without the slightest regret that he might accidentally bruise his old buddy. Mars can take it.
“Yeeeaaah, more or less- HEY! Are you calling me fat? We don’t see each other for several decades and that’s the first thing you say to a guy??” He backs off in mock offense, or maybe he is actually offended, it’s always been hard to tell with Galan. Shaking his head, he rolls his shoulders before resting his hands at his hips, shifting his weight. “/No/, wasn’t no fault of mine. You saw what we were up against back then. I didn’t have this shiny skin for the first part of it. Got messed up pretty bad out there. I just remember one moment someone shouting and the next everything was just /red/.”
It’s one of those memories he knows he’ll never forget, no matter how hard he’ll try. “I was as good as dead. Some guys found me an’ asked if I wanted to live. So ‘course I said yes.” He shrugs, looking back at Mars again. “Next thing I know, I’ve got a new shell. This part here,” he says, tapping at his head with a metal digit, “-the only thing that’s left of Galan Gallerhorn. They gave me a new name- called me Baldur. Except some idiot left out a letter or something, so I filled it in. Spelled it B-A-L-D-R.” He effects a snort. “Aaand then I was back out on the field with a bunch’a others. Was like I never left, the war was still going on, and then all of a sudden it was over. Didn’t hear anything about what happened to you. Figured everyone I knew was gone.”
The cyborg tilts his head. “…but here you are, looking fresh as you did the last time I saw you. Still got Shiny?”
The grin on Mars’ face eventually fades away… and turns a little bitter. He looks off and to the side, brushes dreadlocks back behind his shoulder and turns his back on his friend for a bit. Hands on his hips, he takes a breath, looks skyward and finally… shrugs.
Hell with it.
“Heard you bought it — through channels,” says he over his shoulder. “Like… Crispin, H’rukh… Dash, too. No time for it though.” He eventually turns back to look at ‘Baldur’ and gives a rueful ‘huh’. “King ordered us into Old Richmond — Shiny and me, and the squad. Dropped down a sinkhole… found an old facility from the Golden Age. Had to leave Shiny outside… took point (always do). The place was overrun with feral Psi-Stalkers, old security mechs… Lost the whole unit then, and I holed up in one of the labs. Turns out it was a cryo-chamber, and I… might’ve accidentally… turned it on.”
“Woke up (explorers found me — trading with Vesper, would you believe it). War’s over. Seventy years gone… My House is gone… Just me and Shiny (yeah, he was still there, gathering dust). I joined the Black Suns here in the meantime. Not a bad living, I guess. Hey… this is more talking than I’ve done in seventy years. How about that drink? Oh, and pay. I’ll cut you in on my fee for all this…” and he motions to the carnage around them. “Only fair since you… //almost// beat my kill count.”
Actually, it’s more likely the reverse is true — but Mars did set the building on fire.
“I guess technically I did. I wasn’t thinking too much about those kinds of details at the time. ‘course, after all that, I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
He gives a sad little laugh, his shoulders sagging with the shrug that follows. No, this isn’t an easy topic to breach, but given the circumstances, it seemed pretty unavoidable. Baldur watches as Mars gathers himself. Each name mentioned brings with it a fresh pang of something he can’t quite place, or perhaps it’s been so long he doesn’t remember what it identifies with. They’re names he knew, more old friends and comrades long gone. The cyborg lowers his head.
Hearing Mars relate his own side of things, he remains silent for some time, ruminating his old friend’s experiences, catching himself before he can try to compare who had the worst end of the deal. In the end he figures they’re both losers. It’s a sad, profound sort of admission.
So comes Baldur’s solemn proclamation. Behind them, some chunk of the warehouse breaks off and falls into the brightly burning inferno with hollow thuft of flames and smoke. The cyborg glances back at it as though just remembering where they currently stand.
“Black Suns, huh? Yeah, think I heard them mentioned when I got the tip-off.” He can’t say that this is the most he’s ever spoken since. It’s the first time he’s actually had a lengthy conversation where someone spoke back to him with genuine interest, that much, he can honestly admit- but he won’t because that just sounds sad. He chuckles, nodding as he steps towards Mars to clap a hand over the guy’s shoulder. “I’m amazed….that these things survived your cryo-nap,” he mutters, tugging at one of the man’s dreadlocks.
“You’re just offering because I can’t really drink,” he jests, true as it is. “And hey, what’s this ‘almost’ business? I totally had this. And that?” he says, jabbing a thumb in the direction of the burning building. “/That/ don’t count.”
“I’ve shot bits off men for less,” grunts Mars as his dreadlocks gets tugged, but he is grinning at the same time anyway. “And the building counts… for something. C’mon the smoke is making it hard to breathe — ,” and he steps over a body in the direction of the street.
“What happened to Crestlighter and Finch? Finch swore he’d never settle down… did he get the chance? Shit himself when we escorted those kids down out of the mountains…”
Mars wends his way through the steaming bodies and stops at the entrance to the street beyond the alley. “C’mon, we need to find a gorram bar still open after seventy years …don’t trust the new places…”
“Smoke? Oh, yeah, probably should get out of here,” Baldur replies distractedly. The things you take for granted when you don’t actually breathe anymore. He lets Mars take the lead as they start to move away from the flaming remnants of the warehouse and the bodies of the drug-thugs.
Fishing around his memories for the faces that went with the names is just like trying to snatch trout barehanded from a river. It takes him a few tries, but he can’t ever fully forget the guys they used to march with. “Lost Cres’,” he said quietly, shaking his head. “Don’t think there was near as much left of him as there was of me, but maybe he got the better end of the deal.” Go quick, go in glory. Hah. ‘Glory.’
“Ol’ Finch though! That guy. I think he had a change of heart after all the fighting. Guy’s got /grandkids/ if you can believe that. Least, that’s what I’ve heard. I haven’t been to see him- didn’t wanna do that to him. Not like he’d know me anyway. “
It’s both refreshing and bittersweet, talking of old comrades, of days long gone. Makes him feel just as old, even though seeing Mars like this easily makes it feel like it hasn’t been over half a century. …of course, when you think about it that way…
Forcing a laugh, the cyborg rubs at the burnt spot on his leathers, gesturing vaguely with his other hand in some direction or another. “Oh, I know just the place! I’m a regular there!” All he does is occupy space, but the proprietor’s father had served in the war and tolerated most veterans that wandered in. Baldur always takes it as a good sign when he’s not been thrown out yet.