Duplicitous Liaisons

VS Combined Army

Personal Background

I played this game at home with my son, who was quite enamored with Infinity back in N3. I was setting up a table trying to see if I could leverage my extensive collection of Wild West terrain into a Montalbán-themed seedy club. Personally, I think it worked out pretty well. Then I realized I’d have to take it all down to bring my terrain to a game at the FLGS on Monday, so I roped my son into a game over the weekend. We built his Combined Army list last minute going off the few models in my CA collection that I could identify by name from memory. Most of the CA stuff on my shelf is completely Greek to me after years of not playing.

We had a great time playing, and I’ll have him do a proper inventory of my CA collection for future games.

Also note that my son was NOT privy to the vulgar narrative I later wrote for this report, lol. We just played a game of Unmasking on a fun table setup.

TLDR Gameplay Overview

NOTE: We treated the walls of the club to be infinitely high and the doorways to be wide gates that opened automatically as part of a movement skill. The (Nomad) left console and central console are simply areas identified by nearby terrain elements (foot of the blue bed, next to the green couch).

Nomads win initiative and choose to deploy second on the more terrain dense side of the table. Combined Army chooses to take the first turn.

Combined Army deploys all three HVTs inside the club. The Overdron and Missile Launcher Unidron are deployed in a high sniper nest that will have limited line of fire into the club once the back door is opened. They are backed up by a Slave Drone. Bit, Kiss, the Maakrep Hacker, and the Med-Tech are deployed at the base of this building. The Umbra deploys at the edge of the exclusion zone near the back door of the club. The remaining Unidrons, Ikadrons, and Nexus Engineer deploy in cover behind the gazebo.

Nomads deploy one HVT behind some crates near a side door of the club, one amongst the public toilets, and one behind a large advertisement. The clockmaker and Interventor are deployed prone on top of buildings. The Salyut EVO hacker is deployed in deep cover behind the central building. The glue gun Lunokhod is deployed in total cover opposite the Overdron. The other Lunokhod is deployed prone on top of the central building. The Spitfire Tsyklon is deployed on the ground in total cover. The Feurbach Tsyklon is deployed in a sniper position on top of the right-hand building. Mary Problems is forward deployed near the front door of the club. The Zero hacker is infiltrated inside the club in marker state. The Moran is infiltrated into partial cover near the right-most console. Morlocks are deployed evenly across the central portion of the deployment zone.

Nomad HVTs

Turn 1A (Combined Army) – Maakrep Tracker moves into the club through the back door, approaches the center console, and spends a few orders activating the console while getting unsuccessfully hacked by Mary Problems. Combined Army reveals the Nomad Designated Target (the HVT by the public toilets). The Maakrep Isolates Mary and then moves out the back door to cover the central and rightmost consoles. The Umbra Legate moves into the club through the back door. One Ikadron gets shot unconscious by the Feuerbach Tsyklon, the other displaces a bit and Stuns a Morlock with a Flash Pulse.

Turn 1B (Nomads) – One Morlock puts smoke on the right-most console, leaving a little fire lane open for the Feuerbach Tsyklon. The other two Morlocks move into the club through the side door opposite the Maakrep and dodge inside. The Feuerbach Tsyklon drops the Maakrep Tracker and then finishes it off so it can’t regenerate, then drops the Nexus Engineer. The Moran moves into smoke and activates the right-most console, revealing a Combined Army Decoy. The other two Morlocks smoke out the central console and the hallway. The Clockmaker runs up a Zondbot and fixes Mary’s Isolated State. Mary Problems moves up to the central console and activates it, revealing another Combined Army Decoy. Mary Problems drops into Suppressive Fire mode with her SMG. The Heavy Flamethrower Lunokhod moves off its building towards the Moran, and the Transducer Zond moves toward the side door of the club.

Turn 2A (Combined Army) – The Overdron climbs down from the building and moves toward the back door of the club. The Fraacta Hacker successfully combat drops into the Nomad deployment zone, in line of fire of the Salyut EVO. The Saluyt EVO dodges towards the Fraacta, putting the Fraacta into the Nomad Hacking Area. The Unidron Missile Launcher climbs down from the building, moves on top of the next building closest to the Nomad deployment zone, and gets stunned by a Flash Pulse from the Transducer. Bit and Kiss move along the back wall of the club toward the Nomad deployment zone. The Overdron shoots at Mary Problems and takes a wound from her SMG. The blue Morlock successfully tosses a smoke grenade to cover Mary. The Umbra Legate moves into the smoke toward Mary. Mary dodges toward the front door of the club, and the blue Morlock Dodges into contact with the Umbra. The Umbra annihilates the Morlock in close combat. The Med-Tech moves into the club into contact with the Overdron. The remaining Ikadron moves toward the club and gets dropped by fire from the Moran and the Feuerbach Tsyklon.

Turn 2B (Nomads) – One Morlock moves toward Bit and Kiss while the other moves toward the gazebo and gets killed by fire from the Unidrons. The remaining Morlock drops Kiss with a Chain Rifle and then drops Bit in close combat. Mary Problems kills the Fraacta with Trinity. The Transducer Zond Stuns the Missile Launcher Unidron again and moves into the back room of the club to put the Overdron into the Nomad Hacking Area, but the Overdron shrugs off the subsequent quantronic attacks. The Tomcat Engineer parachutes by the side door of the club, moves up to the left-most console, and activates it which reveals the Combined Army Designated target (the centermost HVT). The Morlock dies hosing down the back hallway of the club with its Chain Rifle, but the Combined Army Designated Target is killed, the Overdron takes another wound, and the Umbra Legate goes into No Wound Incap. Mary Problems moves out of the club. Nomads score 3 points.

Turn 3A (Combined Army) – The Umbra Legate closes in on the Tomcat Engineer. The Zero hacker surprise attacks from camo, but misses. The Umbra moves again but can’t reach the Tomcat and goes down to fire from the Tomcat and the Zero Hacker. A Unidron moves into the club, covering the side hallway. The Med-Tech activates the central console and picks up the Unconscious Nexus with a Slave Drone. The Missile Launcher Unidron moves into position to cover approaches to the side door of the club but gets killed by a Crazy Koala. The Overdron hops up onto the bar to cover as many entrances to the club as possible.

Turn 3B (Nomads) – At this point, the Nomads have effectively scored 7 points (killed the enemy Designated Target, Activated more Consoles, allied Designated Target not killed) and are playing to pick up the remaining 3 points (kill both Decoys and kill more Decoys). The Spitfire Tsyklon moves into the club through the front door, wins a firefight with the Overdron and the Med-Tech to get Line of Fire on the Decoy by the back door, and then goes down putting its full burst into killing the Decoy. The Moran moves into the garden towards the side door, having an extended shootout with the Nexus Engineer and the Unidron behind the gazebo. The Moran drops the Unidron, then drops the Nexus before moving into the club and putting her full burst into the remaining Decoy. The Decoy dies and the Moran is killed by fire from the remaining Combined Army assets.

Final Score: Nomads 10, Combined Army 0


NOTE: I’m taking some liberties with the actual gameplay for the purposes of creating a more engaging story.

“I really appreciate you throwing in with us, Mary. We’re fucked if we can’t find a way to get out ahead of this thing.” Vivian had the team assembled on board her freighter, the Brampton, in orbit over Concilium Prima. After evacing from Montalbán she’d sent a coded message through several contacts back on Tunguska to the notorious Nomad hacker, Mary Problems, who, ironically enough, had been in Montalbán this whole time.

“No prob, Specs,” Mary replied, “this trouble you’re in is pretty titillating. Besides, I owe ya one. Of course, you’re gonna owe -me- one for screwing with my vacation.”

“Fair enough,” Vivian agreed. “As far as we can tell so far,” she continued, “we got burned on our last opp. Someone tipped off O-12, and Bureau Aegis was already on site waiting for us. It looked like their intention was to capture, not kill, at least until we wasted some of their people. The original ‘target’ of the opp is our only lead on figuring out who set us up, and why. The villa we were sent to is a private residence owned by this man,” Vivian called up a dossier and distributed it to the team with a swift flick through her geist’s augmented reality.

“Declan Gray, one of Moto.tronic’s top executives.”

“Hey,” Trix piped up, “aren’t those the guys who manufacture Pan-O’s TAGs?”

Hasana, still a little sore from her injury in the tussle with Bureau Aegis, winced a bit as she responded, “Yea, babe, they’re a big time Pan-O defense contractor. Moto makes the Stingray Series, and the Squalo, too.”

Trix scoffed, “Those Stingrays are shit, or at least their anti-intrusion software is. I could shut one of those trashcans down on autopilot while doing my nails.”

Momo, the other Zero hacker, shot back, “I’ll remember you said that the next time one of those bastards has an HMG pointed at my face.”

“Regardless,” Vivian cut in, “it means this sonofabitch Declan is functionally untouchable. Even on a good day he’s going to have corporate security out the wazoo, and after what happened at his swanky little vacation home there’ll be a pack of Stingrays on his ass.”



Jacqui Hammer, Clockmaker, set down the little Zondbot they were tinkering with. “A group of stingrays is called a ‘fever’, Viv.”

“Thank you for that valuable contribution to the briefing, Jacks,” Vivian replied. “There’s going to be a fucking -fever- of Stingrays on Mr. Gray’s ass. But nothing’s impossible. There’s a way we can to get to this bastard, we just need to find it. Suggestions?”

“Excuse me, Miss Muramoto,” Mary Problems raised her hand, positively oozing self-satisfied sarcasm, “would it help if Declan Gray has extreme sexual fetishes that he indulges in at a private ‘social club’ in Montalbán using an over-compensatingly jacked-up Lhost that I happen to have stolen the technical specifications of?”

Hasana, though usually as taciturn as the next Moran, looked positively gobsmacked. “No fucking way! You dug that up already?!?”

Mary tapped her fingers together, transmitting the Lhost specs to the rest of the team. “Fucking way, Ana. Vivian sent me the deets on this deal two whole days ago. -Of course- I already dug this up. And I agree with Viv, that bastard is going to have Stingrays all over his ass. But not…” Mary paused for emphasis, “at -Le Mystique-. Not at his super-secret sex club. Not in his double-super-secret sex party body. And not while he’s indulging in his triple-super-secret sexual fantasies. But no matter how hard you try to hide it, if you pay some Black Labs psycho to build you a freaky fuck body, there’s gonna be a record of it.”

Vivian nodded, thinking quickly. “This is something we can work with. Secret sex club means secret sex workers. I can track that down. I still keep tabs on most of the sex-trafficking networks in the Sphere. I’ll locate the club and get us access. Mary, you’re already up this guy’s quantronic ass. Stay there. I wanna know when he’s gonna scratch this itch before -he- does. Momo, Trix, we’ll need assets in the club, undercover. Find yourselves something slutty to wear.”

Trix squealed and hopped up and down. “Makeover, Momo, makeover!” Momo Fatale silently mouthed, ‘kill me now’.

“Remember that this is Concilium, Trix, not Bakunin. Keep it Pan-O basic.” Trix shot Vivian a sour expression that had “bitch” written all over it.

“Lieutenant,” Hasana said, “No offense to Jacqui, but we need a backup engineer.” Jacqui waved their hand in a ‘none taken’ gesture and continued tinkering on their Zondbot. “And someone should tell Lia about what happened to her cousin. I can take care of that if you…”

“No, Ana, I should be the one to do that. You focus on getting combat ready, and help Jacks put the boys back into shape.”

Manipulating a traumatized sex-slave into giving her team access to a secret club for elite megacorp executives to indulge in their hedonistic fantasies, thought Vivian. Easy. Telling Lia that I got her cousin killed…

Trix hopped onto Momo’s back, much to the other hacker’s chagrin. “And we need a makeover for the ship, too, Viv! I say we call her… the FONZIE BUCKLER!”

The newly christened Fonzie Buckler hung in synchronous orbit over Bianca Island, freshly painted in garish neon patterns. Tomcat Lia Leon stalked through the corridors of the commercial vessel, on her way to the impromptu armory. Deckhands scurried to give her clear passage; the Tunguskan-born knowing well enough to pretend she didn’t exist, and those from Corregidor knowing well enough, but giving her broad smiles regardless. Lia brought up a manifest as the armory lights flickered on and began methodically checking the stockpiled weaponry.

“I know you’re there, Lieutenant.” Lia flagged the combi rifle in front of her as service ready and placed the firearm back in its rack. Vivian stood in the open hatchway behind her. “You’ve said all that needs saying.”

“I haven’t said I’m sorry.”

Lia’s shoulders sagged. “It’s not you who needs to apologize,” she said to the polished metal table in front of her. “It’s me. You were straight with me. You said something was off, you said you needed me, you said you weren’t a babysitter when I foisted you off on Rod. I’m the one who let you down. I’m the one who got Rod killed. You kept everyone else alive. You’re the one who got them out of that ambush.”

“I dragged everyone into this mess, Lia. And now I’ve dragged you in, too.”

Lia turned around, her eyes puffy, “Yea, you did.” Her bottom lip trembled slightly. “But this is what we do, Vivian. Everyone needs to pay for their air, earn their berth, support the cause. You’ve never just been fighting for other people, Viv, following orders, doing what you’re told. You’ve always fought -for- other people; to help people. You’ve always found a way to buck the system when something was fucked up and carve out a niche for people who didn’t have one. You -never- had to do any of that. You could have just fallen in line and turned into one of those dead eyed, soulless Tunguskan hatchet men. You didn’t drag us into this, Lieutenant. This is the price we pay for doing our duty -your- way, the right way. And we all walked into that with our eyes wide open.”

Lia walked up to Vivian and held out her hand. “You’re a pretty shit friend, Lieutenant, but you’re a damn good Nomad, even if you are from Earth.” Vivian crushed her in a fierce hug and after a moment of hesitation Lia melted into it. “I’m sorry I let you down, Viv.”

Vivian felt her eyes burn. “I’m sorry about Rodrigo.”

The two women broke apart after a few seconds, each wiping their reddened eyes. Lia reached out to tuck a stray strand of Vivian’s hair behind her ear. “We can’t let anyone catch us blubbering in the corridor like a couple of aristo prima donnas.”

Vivian nodded and took a steadying breath. “Yea, Trix would never let me hear the end of it.”

Lia stepped back into the armory and plucked another combi rifle off the rack. “Besides,” she said over her shoulder with a wry smile, “don’t we have a fat cat Pan-O deviant to catch with his pants down?”


Momo and Trix had been embedded at Le Mystique for more than two weeks. The club’s secrecy and security were watertight, but Vivian had gotten access through Hino Ine, a bonded consort sold to the managing body of Le Mystique in payment of a family debt. Ine had ‘procured’ the Zeros as a pair of penniless QAZ refugees comely enough for a place in the club’s service-to-sex-work pipeline and naïve, or desperate, enough to let themselves be drawn in. It was as good a setup as could have been hoped for, but time was running short. The security staff was already getting more than a little handsy, eagerly awaiting the directive to break the new acquisitions to their proper duties. Scrubbing floors and serving tea were not the services Le Mystique recruited ignorant young women to perform. Ine could buy the ‘new girls’ only so much time before arousing suspicions, and the first asshole who made a serious attempt on one of the Zeros would get his head blown off, along with their cover.

This thing had to happen soon, which is why Vivian was so relieved when Mary Problems signaled that it was go time.

“You’re certain this is going down tonight,” Vivian confirmed.

Mary’s tone was confirmation enough, “Affirmative. Fhost pulled from storage at oh-eight-hundred. Cleaned and prepped. Diggler’s downloaded and on the move. Single vehicle - driver, three passengers. No other security. Standard detail on alert at primary residence. ETA 20 minutes.” She was all business once an opp was on.

Vivian pinged Trix, Momo, Hasana, and Jacqui with the ETA. Then she checked her camera feeds of the immediate area. Then she pulled up her visor and glanced surreptitiously through the window of the abandoned warehouse she had been living in for the past two weeks. Everything looked quiet. Keep your shit together, Vivian, she thought, everything is going smoothly because you planned it well. Yea, right…

Vivian’s observation post had a commanding view of Le Mystique; its dour, windowless industrial concrete walls layered in fragmenting holo adds and graffiti. The only indication of the decadence within was a meticulously maintained public garden on the opposite end of the building. This was, of course, the Montalbán marina. Any area where navigable water met stable landmass was a liminal realm of the seedy and the esthete.

Jacqui was stationed on the top floor of the neighboring warehouse, and the boys were tucked away in a variety of hidey-holes and refuse piles throughout the area, just in case things went sideways. It was extreme overkill for one horny Pan-O exec and, at best, three bodyguards, assuming the driver was even packing. But Vivian was deployed as if a pack…fever…of Stingrays was about to drop in from nowhere. Not as TAGs just show up out of nowhere, Vivian thought as she rolled her eyes.

The Feuerbach-equipped Tsyklon on the roof of a nearby parking structure hit Vivian with a curt eeep-bleep and showed her a gun camera feed of Mary Problems in a slinky evening dress awkwardly strolling towards the Le Mystique as if she was just buzzed enough to have trouble walking in her heels. With a sharp blip-blip, the Tsyklon flipped its feed to pick up a painfully expensive town car that pulled up to the surreptitious social club. Three men in sharp eveningwear exited the vehicle and swiftly entered the building with balletic synchronization before the chauffeur had even pulled away.

Well, that was weird, thought Vivian.

She punched up the specs of Mr. Gray’s fuck-host, but her video feeds didn’t have a single angle on any of their faces, and their black tuxedos were functionally indistinguishable in the uncertain lighting. Men… still wearing the same damn formalwear for two fucking centuries. Talk about privilege.

Vivian opened a subvocal channel to Trix and Momo, “They’re in, but we couldn’t make a positive ID from out here. Keep your eyes peeled and signal when you have a confirmed target.”

Mary leaned against the wall next to Le Mystique’s unmarked entrance and pretended to fish around in her clutch for a cigarette. She flicked a ::NO ID:: packet at Vivian, wrapped in an envelope of quantronic metadata roughly interpretable as ::BUT I KNOW HE WAS IN THE CAR::.

Momo resisted the urge to break a man’s thumb as she demurely guided his groping hand away from her chest. With a by now well-practiced noncommittal smile, she trailed her finger across the crotch of his pants before giving it a smart flick and slipping out of his mitts. She swore to put a bullet through that piece of shit’s head once they’d nabbed their target. Her eyes glazed over as she slipped into subvocal comms, “I don’t see… wait, yes, I’ve got eyes on Diggler.”

Trix dumped the entire tea service tray, dishes and all, into the kitchen’s compactor unit and poked her head into the dining room. “Yea, I’ve got eyes on Diggler, too.”

A look of confusion passed over Momo’s face. “Wait, Trix, aren’t you in the kitchen?”

Trix slinked into the dining room to keep eyes on the target, “Dining room, Diggler’s crossing the bar, headed toward the garden.”

Momo melted into the shadows of an alcove, tracking the target as he strolled towards the storage rooms. “That’s not him. I’ve got Diggler headed toward storage.”

“I’m not fucking blind, Payton, I’m looking right at his face.”

“Well, I’m not blind either, Mopachi, Diggler’s heading into the storage r—wait, wait, I’ve got Diggler heading to the back door, too. What the fuck?”

“Stay calm and keep tracking the targets,” Vivian ordered. “Hasana, patch into the building’s security system through the public information terminal streetside. It’ll tip our hand, but this opp is over tonight, regardless. Get me multispectral scans of our Digglers. If we can’t sort this out in 90 seconds, go hot, extract their cubes, and we’ll un-fuck this mess back on the Fonzie Buckler.”

Hasana slung her combi rifle and padded up to the public access terminal, oozing through the shadows in her mimetic camouflage. She keyed open the maintenance panel, hardwiring it to her data rig. “This firmware hasn’t been updated in months, ten seconds.” After a brief pause, Hasana relayed control over Le Mystique’s security system to Vivian. Vivian’s display flashed a bevy of anticipated intrusion warnings. “Okay, Lieutenant, we’re in, but it won’t take them long to figure it out.” Hasana crouched down behind the terminal and thumbed off her combi rifle’s safety.

Vivian silenced the intrusion warnings and scanned Le Mystique for Declan Gray’s Lhost specs. The software picked up three signals. Vivian ran a quick diagnostic, recalibrated, and scanned again. Three signals, identical. “Alright people, get ready to go hot. We’ve got three targets, repeat, three targets. Check your fire and watch your background. I don’t care about the patrons, security, or management, but I don’t want anyone else hurt. Momo, switch priorities, I want you to exfiltrate Ine personally. Mary, take over for Momo, and go in hard on my signal. Get the cubes and get out.”

Mary Problems kicked off her heels and reassembled a variety of innocuous accessories into a compact submachine gun. “Copy.”

Trix slipped back into the kitchen and pulled a stripped-down combi rifle and bandolier of ammo from a sack of rice. She cleared the action, slapped in a clip, and racked the bolt. “Ready.”

Vivian took a breath. “Okay, on my mark. Three… two… o—”

“Abort! Abort!” Even in subvocal, the abject terror in Momo’s transmission was palpable. “Abort, abort, abort!” The color drained from Momo’s face. Her legs felt weak. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t look away. She couldn’t stop transmitting. “Mopes… please… you gotta get me outta here… Oh, god… it’s looking at meee…”

A demon had walked in through the back door. A living nightmare from the genetic memory of a thousand murdered species. A boogeyman of Paradiso, herald of the intergalactic invasion fleet even now poised to obliterate Concilium Prima. An Umbra had opened the back door of Le Mystique, walked in, and looked directly at Momo. Then it turned and shook hands with Declan Gray.

The data scrawl from Le Mystique’s security feed went nuts. The system simply wasn’t calibrated for the spectral emissions and metamaterials of alien voodoo tech. Few civilian systems were. Vivian switched the feed to optics-only and her heart skipped a beat. She couldn’t blame Momo. Even half a block away and three floors up, wearing full combat loadout, her heart had skipped a beat. Momo was thirty feet from the thing, in a silk kimono. Hell, she didn’t even have underwear on.

“Standby, everyone, the tactical situation is evolving,” Vivian said as calmly as she could. She switched Momo’s transmission to a private channel. “Payton, listen to me, girl. You’re fine. I’m looking at you on video right now, okay. It’s not paying any attention to you.”

“I can’t move. It knows why I’m here. It saw me.”

“We’ve got this place covered with a dozen guns. Trix is armed and in the building with you. Hasana is less than a hundred yards away. Lia is on standby right now waiting for my signal. We’ve got your back. Say it with me.”

“You’ve got my back…”

“That’s right. I can see Ine walking over to you right now. Do you see her?” Vivian watched Momo’s gaze remain fixed on the Umbra. “Momo, look to your left. Do you see Ine?”

Momo tuned her head achingly slowly. They didn’t have time for this. “Ye-yea, I see her.”

“Good. Now, Ine doesn’t know what’s going on. All she can see is that you’re scared. I need you to walk to Ine and get her clear of our field of fire, got it?” Momo didn’t respond. “Sergeant! I need you to clear that civilian from our field of fire, copy!”

“Copy…” Momo took a few halting steps toward Ine. Behind the Umbra, the back door opened and a Maakrep swept in, clearly sweeping the building while the Umbra chatted with one of Declan’s fuck-host triplets.


Vivian watched Momo and Ine come together while she switched back to team-wide comms. “We have an Umbra on site communicating with one of our targets. A Maakrep just came in doing some kind of security sweep.” Ine put her arm around Momo. The two women were having some kind of whispered conversation. A soft bubble of unease bordering on panic was radiating out from the armored alien stalking through the club. Security personnel were doing their best to keep everyone calm. Thankfully, nobody was paying any attention to Momo and Ine as they conspicuously moved toward an emergency exit. Good.

“Mary, do me a solid and fry that fucking alien before this situation goes tits up.”

“Yes m’am,” Mary said with a smirk as she plucked a chunky-looking Alice band off her head and popped it over her eyes. Mary’s fingers started dancing and the Maakrep snapped to attention.

“Pucker up, ladies, we’re going hot as soon as Mary fries that Maakrep.”

The Maakrep lurched into a wall and spasmed. Mary sneered. The Umbra silenced Fhost Declan with a gesture and craned its head to look down the darkened hallway. The Maakrep struggled up, hands flailing, going on the quantronic offensive.

“Oh no you don’t, you sonofabitch!” Mary hissed, dropping her SMG and bringing her other hand into play.

“Any time now, Problems!” Vivian could tell from Mary’s feed that the quantronic duel was going badly. Mary needed backup, fast. “Crap, Ana, I need signal on that Maakrep! Trix, get your rig online now!”

Mary’s fingers stopped moving. “What kind of candy-ass bullsh—” Mary’s visor sparked, and she dropped out of the network. The Maakrep charged its weapon with a sharp CLICK-CLACK and shouted a warning in its alien language while racing toward the garden door. The Umbra shoved fuck-host Declan the third aside and drew a wicked-looking monoblade. And then all hell broke loose.

“We’re hot! We’re hot!” Vivian shouted, “Go! Go! Go!” As soon as the words were out of her mouth the Feuerbach Tsyklon started tracking multiple targets with a rapid-fire bleep-bleep-bleep-bleep-bleep! Unidrons, Ikadrons, and a Nexus were rapidly closing in on the gazebo. Mary Problems punched a grapefruit sized hole in the concrete wall of Le Mystique and kicked her busted visor down the street with an angry shout that was audible even without her comms.

Hasana opened up with her combi in tight three round bursts at the approaching robotic drones, but she was badly outgunned. Plasma rifle fire slammed into the public access terminal, slagging ugly holes in the housing and causing the electronics within to spark and explode like an instrument panel on Star Trek. The Tsyklon let loose an angry EEH! EEH! and its Feuerbach thundered, detonating one of the approaching Ikadrons. The neon green remote whirred in triumph and sent a few more explosive rounds toward the gazebo for good measure. Hasana blindly raised a thumbs up over her head while ejecting an empty magazine. Then she slapped in a fresh one and resumed firing.

Vivian flicked the REMlocks from standby to concealment and they exploded out of two weeks of uncollected refuse, indiscriminately chunking smoke grenades with a staccato thuunk-thuunk-thuunk! She picked up Jacqui’s channel on the comms, “Jacks, fix Mary’s shit, will you, before she has an aneurism.”

Jacqui chuckled, “Already on it, boss.” She activated her little Zonbot. The tiny robot popped out of a recycling bin in a shower of plastic bottles and scrambled on all fours toward Mary’s position. It scooped up her discarded visor with a chirp and proceeded to repair it on the run. It bypassed the power supply, hopped over a pile of corrugated packing crates, welded on a battery pack, ducked a flying smoke grenade, swapped out the motherboard, and then leapt onto Mary’s back as the hacker bent down to scoop up her gun. The Zondbot blipped encouragingly and applied a little smiley face sticker to the visor before placing it on Mary’s head. Then it hopped down just as Mary, without missing a beat, kicked Le Mystique’s front door off its concealed hinges and rolled inside like some kind of old-timey John Woo action hero.

The Maakrep leaned out around the garden door and drew a bead on Hasana. With another angry EEH! EEH! the neon green Tsyklon took its arm off at the shoulder, along with half the creature’s face. The Tsyklon consulted its target engagement parameters and turned the spasming corpse into a gory paste with another burst of explosive shells. The excited remote chirruped gleefully and re-engaged the gazebo, blithely disregarding its ammunition conservation protocols, sending round after round through its Feuerbach until the barrels glowed red hot. With a triumphant BLIP-BLIP, it countermanded its designated engagement zone and sprang down from the roof of the parking structure in a cacophony of whirring servos and exuberant harmonics. Another Ikadron exploded, and the Nexus shrieked in pain as its guts were shredded by carefully manicured shrapnel from the surrounding foliage. The roar of the Feuerbach dwindled to a dull click-click-click-click and the Tsyklon trilled like a pouty toddler, stamping its crabby mechanical feet.

Hasana glanced behind her in surprise and one of the Unidrons seized the opportunity to dart inside the Le Mystique. “Shit!” Hasana peppered the gazebo with another burst, “One of the Unidrons got past me! Coming in through the garden door!”

It was pandemonium inside the Le Mystique. Patrons and staff were recoiling from the wrathful Umbra as it stalked towards Mary. Those with well-honed survival instincts were stampeding toward the emergency exit behind Momo and Ine, while others cowered beside tables, under beds, and behind flimsy rice paper screens. Acrid smoke began to drift in through the open doorways, scattering the sensual mood lighting and turning the swanky social club into a veritable hellscape.

And then an Overdron thundered into the pavement outside. It’s hulking biosynthetic bulk was visible through the open door, lambent in the shadowed alleyway, the crimson radiance a hideous complement to the hellish atmosphere inside Le Mystique.

“Nomads…” mused the Umbra, its voice a grating, nonlinear modulation calibrated to stimulate an adrenal response, “so predictable of your ilk to interfere where they have no business. Your deaths shall bring us no joy. It is but the swatting of an insect, pathetic and banal, should we even spare an instant to reflect on it.”

“Suck my dick!”

Mary emptied her submachine gun into the aliens, raking the line of fire across the Umbra’s torso and into the Overdron crouching in the doorway. The armor piercing, mass-reactive bullets punched neat little holes through the TAG’s faceplate and then detonated, spewing gouts of atomized biomass. The Overdron’s rocket launcher discharged wildly, sending an explosive warhead careening into the ceiling above Mary. The hacker lifted an antique settee one-handed to shield herself from the shrapnel, and then hurled it at the onrushing Umbra in desperation.

Vivian, watching through Le Mystique’s security cameras, dialed the REMlocks’ aggression to maximum. One of the drones came rushing out of the smoke, tackling the Umbra just before it reached Mary. “Jesus, Mary, get the fuck out of there!” She signaled the EVO Salyut to vector in Lia. Trix needed backup, fast.

The little blue EVO Zond listened to the crump of explosions from inside a dumpster behind the abandoned warehouse. It crawled out, careful not to breach the perimeter of its mission-designated safe zone, and heard Mary Problems shouting about her busted hacking rig. The little remote pressed its optical sensors against the invisible barrier of programming that constrained its movement, straining to see past the corner of the building. It received Vivian’s signal and calculated a vector to bring Lia in safely near Le Mystique’s emergency exit. Then, an armored alien streaked out of the sky, rolling as it landed, and darted into the shadows behind the parking structure.

The little blue Zond tapped its clawed feet nervously along the edge of the safe zone. It was supposed to flag the visual contact and ping Vivian, but she was alone in the warehouse. All active combat assets were already engaged, and it was too late to change Lia’s vectors. The little remote could tell that the team would have a clear signal on the new threat if it was just a few feet closer. Just a few feet… The little blue Zond swiftly re-wrote its engagement protocols, expanding the mission designated safe zone by two feet… no, ten feet… no, TEN YARDS! With a bleep and a squeal, the EVO Salyut sprang a full twelve feet closer to the enemy, then scampered about, reveling in its newfound freedom.

A new threat materialized within Vivian’s network, a Fraacta Hacker behind their lines. “Mary! A Fraacta dropped in behind us! Disengage now, goddammit, and fry that asshole before it gets Ana in a crossfire!”

The Umbra shrieked in frustration as the REMlock hit it but recovered swiftly. The sword-wielding alien deftly seized one of the REMlock’s arms, planted a foot, and used the momentum of its charge to slam it into the floor with crushing force, whereupon the Umbra calmly decapitated the struggling android. By now Mary had displaced back through the front door. The Umbra moved to pursue the fleeing hacker, but noticed another REMlock flash past the emergency exit, circling around toward the back of Le Mystique, where two of the three Fhost Declan Grays were sheltering. It turned with a snarl and stalked towards the more immediate threat.

Mary whipped around the corner of the doorway and dropped to one knee, flipping down her visor. She immediately picked up the Fraacta’s signal, along with a skirl of unusual code that had Vivian’s mad scientist fingerprints all over it. Don’t ask, don’t tell. “Okay, you alien piece of shit… let’s see what you do with this one,” she muttered, and selected a funky little bit of deadly malware she had been working on. The program spoofed itself as a fragment of the Evolved Intelligence, sauntered past the Fraacta’s firewalls, and used its cube to release a compound that essentially turned the Fraacta’s cerebrospinal fluid into a fast-acting fat dissolving acid.

The Fraacta collapsed and began convulsing violently, spewing milky fluid from its eyes, ears, and nose. The little blue EVO Zond cautiously crept up to the still-spasming Fraacta and hesitantly poked at it with a metallic toe. The alien gurgled; its neurons rapidly cross firing as they became increasingly entangled, unsupported by surrounding tissue. The little blue Zond recoiled, sent Mary a puking face emoji, and crawled back into its mission-designated safe dumpster.

Lia rappelled into the combat zone with a hissing of synthetic fibers. She had her combi rifle shouldered before her boots hit pavement and detached her harness with well-practiced ease, gliding towards Le Mystique’s emergency exit in a loping quarter crouch that kept her aim steady while on the move. Panicked people in various stages of undress were streaming out of the club. Momo and Ine were nearby pulling people out of the herd and directing them towards the warehouse Jacqui was stationed in. Momo clocked Lia and shouted, “Trix is alone in there with an Umbra!” Lia nodded once without turning, keeping her eyes fixed on the smoke-shrouded doorway.

Momo watched Lia as the Tomcat crossed the threshold, darted left, and disappeared from view. Then a meaty paw seized her shoulder, and Momo felt the cold barrel of a pistol jabbing into her temple. Ine screamed. “I knew something was off about you, bitch!” The voice was painfully familiar. “I’m gonna enjoy this.”

I am too, thought Momo. She stamped down on the man’s instep and grabbed his gun hand, dislocating the thumb with a wet pop and a satisfyingly high-pitched shriek of pain. Momo plucked the weapon from her would-be attacker’s nerveless fingers, spun around, and dropped the piece of shit with a swift, professional triple tap: two center mass and one in his fucking face. The half-naked Zero took two strides towards Le Mystique before she remembered her orders. Reluctantly, Momo walked back to Ine, who was still staring at the corpse in shock. “Come on,” she said, and took Ine by the hand. “We can’t stay here.” Sounds of combi rifle fire reverberated inside the club, weirdly muted by the thick concrete walls. Trix would make it out, Momo hoped. Ana and Lia would get her out.

The Umbra reached the back door just as the sprinting REMlock careened into view again. The REMlock charged, its preservation protocols completely overridden by the aggression level Vivian had selected. It hosed the doorway with integral chain rifles, scattering the alley in a wake of glittering shell casings and saturating the entire hallway with a storm of hot lead. The bullets zipped around like a swarm of angry bees, caroming off the Overdron’s armor and rebounding from the walls, the floor, and the ceiling. The Umbra shielded fuck host Declan the third with its body, but one of the wildly spalling projectile fragments punched through the forehead of his double in the nearby storage room. The Overdron fired a rocket point blank that ripped the attacking REMlock in half before it armed and then turned a parked car fifty yards away into a lambent fireball.

The Umbra seethed with rage, bleeding from a dozen wounds. But it was no mere mortal to be slowed by such trifling concerns as massive hemorrhaging, organ failure, and hydrostatic shock. It signaled a slithering Mechanoid to locate the other remaining copy of Fhost Declan and stalked back into Le Mystique, hunting for the Nomads who had interrupted its clandestine meeting.

As soon as Lia entered through the emergency exit, she juked left and checked her corners with obsessively drilled precision. She was about to clear the nearby bedroom when a silent signal blinked in her AR: Trix. Lia quickly triangulated Trix’s relative position and picked her up, barely visible amongst the thickest shadows in the corner of the dining room. The two Nomads silently hatched a plan of attack and Lia padded into the bedroom, propping open the door for cover.

When the Umbra strode back into the bar, cloaked in primordial rage, Lia called out, “Hey there, sweet cheeks, give us a kiss!” Lia punctuated a trio of smoochy sounds with a burst from her combi rifle. The Umbra howled and charged directly at her, firing a combi rifle one-handed, its monoblade screeching as it sliced through the remaining particulates suspended in the air. The K1 rounds passed through Lia’s cover as if it was tissue paper. One punched through the meat of her thigh. The Tomcat ground her teeth and kept firing. Several of her shots hit home but did little to slow the demon’s advance.

Trix watched and waited as bullets stitched a distressing pattern of holes in the door protecting Lia, which had seemed reassuringly solid moments before. She remained crouched in her firing position, tracking the muzzle of her combi rifle across the dining room wall, estimating the Umbra’s position as it rushed toward Lia. “That’s it, you bastard…” she muttered, “come to mama.” In the corner of her eye Trix could see a small pool of blood spreading out from behind the bedroom door. Maybe this had been a bad plan…

And then her barrel cleared the wall and the Umbra was in her sights. Trix waited half a heartbeat until the Umbra’s back was fully exposed before firing. The first shot struck the alien dead in the small of its back. Trix allowed the combi’s recoil to walk a line of automatic fire right up the sonofabitch’s spine. The Umbra crumpled like a marionette, spinning as it collapsed and awkwardly flinging a final burst of K1 rounds in a warbling arc. Vivian would later discover that one of those wild shots had passed through the concrete wall of Le Mystique, across the street, through the wall of the wall of the abandoned warehouse, up through two floors, and clean through her antique Fraggle Rock thermos.

Lia shot Trix a ‘what the fuck were you waiting for’ look and opened her team-wide channel. “The Umbra is down, but there’s still an Overdron stomping around in here.”

Fhost Declan III watched the Overdron clomp into the bar, lumbering after the Umbra. He regarded the corpse of his doppelgänger and felt an intriguing stirring in his loins. Then his formerly private club rang once more with the cacophonous sound of gunfire and his nascent erection wilted. He eyed the alleyway through the open back door, with its robotic wreckage still spurting hydraulic fluid amidst thick drifts of shell casings and considered his options briefly before settling on the most obvious answer to the present dilemma.

Vivian checked the camera feeds and saw the hulking TAG approaching Lia’s position. Then she noticed Fhost Declan I and III getting ready to make a break for it. “We’re about to lose target containment! Move in, NOW! We need all three of those cubes!” She sent the pink Spitfire Tsyklon in a mad dash for the front door. There would be a clear line of fire if it could get into position before the remaining Messrs. Gray committed to choosing the better part of valor.

Hasana slapped a fresh magazine into her combi and smirked at the neon green Tsyklon still furiously dry firing its Feuerbach toward the gazebo. She flipped the fire selector to full auto and yelled, “I’M ON IT!” as she rose and sprinted toward the garden door. The Tsyklon squealed in delight and galloped after her, click-click-click-clicking its empty weapon. Hasana vaulted the low garden wall, which exploded behind her from the impact of a heavy Vulkan slug. She turned and sent half a dozen rounds toward the Nexus, one of which punched through its eye and blew out the back of its skull. A coruscating plasma bolt sizzled past her face and Hasana dropped into a roll, coming up in a firing crouch behind an elegantly pruned Jacaranda tree and sent a burst of fire into the Unidron’s exposed leg. She sprinted forward as the drone sagged to its knee and then put another burst through its chest and shoulder when it tried to reacquire her. Hasana pressed her back against the wall next to the open garden door and reloaded. “Lieutenant,” she said, breathing hard, “when you get a second, could you please send me video of Diggler One’s position.”

Vivian grinned and immediately patched Hasana into Le Mystique’s security feed. She had the best damn team in the Sphere. “Hold, please. Spitfire Tsyklon is hitting the front door in three, two, one, MARK!”

The neon pink Tsyklon wedged itself into Le Mystique’s foyer, tearing ragged gouges in the sumptuous wood paneling as it scrambled to advance, rapidly cycling rounds through its Spitfire with an aggressive vvvvvvvvvvrrrrrrrRRRREEEEEEEEE! Dozens of small caliber bullets slammed into the waiting Overdron with more than a few finding their way through weak points in the TAG’s armor. Hasana calmly rounded the corner and advanced at a walk firing on full auto with her combi held low. At this range, in these confines, aiming was hardly a concern. Her opening salvo shredded the surprised Unidron and Hasana pivoted matter-of-factly to empty the remainder of her clip into the Mechanoid’s quivering flesh.

With her good leg, Lia launched herself out of the bedroom and into a prone position, carefully assessing the damaged Overdron and placing shots through rents in its armor as if she was sighting in her rifle on the practice range. Trix hurdled a low table and rushed up to support Lia, putting a trio of bursts into the Overdron’s targeting sensors. The Overdron managed to fire one last rocket before it collapsed, but the pink Tsyklon ducked, and the ordinance streaked outside, destroying a billboard half a block away.

Hasana dropped the smoking combi and drew her pistol. Fhost Declan I tried to squirm past her, but she seized his designer synthetic body by the throat and put five shots through his impeccably tailored shirt. The last remaining copy of Moto.tronic executive Declan Gray turned and fled out the back door. The pink Tsyklon burst into the bar and, with an angry EEH! EEH!, put an excessively sustained burst of fire through his back. Declan stumbled, slammed into the alley wall in a splatter of gore, and sagged to the pavement amidst the shattered remnants of the REMlock.

“Great job,” Vivian said. “Now grab those cubes and let’s pull out before the fuzz shows up.”

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