Chapter 3:

Target Delta?

The Kitty: From Wives To Wormholes!


“State your business,” said the guard on my dashboard receiver.Bookmark here

“Contract work, I replied. “Full permit to traverse down there, number 1-1-0-9-6. My ship’s got approval, have the rest of the credentials along with it.”Bookmark here

“Send them over.”Bookmark here

The dash screen asked for the authorization code to allow the security detail to I.D. match the Rocketfeller. Using the keypad to my left, I punched it in. After a brief time of waiting and hoping nothing was out of place, the signal light outside turned green.Bookmark here

“Everything checks out, ma’am. Be careful in there.”Bookmark here

“Will do.”Bookmark here

I had travelled to the edge of town where my journey to the underground would take place. The facility ahead of me was a hulking mass of super concrete and steel, separated by a massive titanium bulkhead that begun to open. The speed was arduously sluggish, ember sparks flowed at its feet followed by smoke trails. The cockpit vibrated like land on an unstable faultline, feeling tremors on my hands gripping the piloting wheel and the noise of its metallic scrape, as the layers unraveled, was so loud I could hear everything from inside the ship almost like I wasn’t even in it. This was a time, like other times, where having two sets of ears was a curse.Bookmark here

After an agonizing minute, the darn thing finally cleared the path into the tunnel where the only way forward was down. I shifted the Rocketfeller to a relaxed speed and flew into the cold, metallic abyss.Bookmark here

Wasn’t first time going to The Underground, but getting the permit was a kick to the head. It was given to me through a past job where I had to deliver a shipping crate filled with things I never bothered to ask about to an underground gang called The Buntercuts. Before then, I needed to bribe a permit officer on-the-take to register an old, untraceable permit signature from a deceased delivery pilot, only instead of payment, he tasked me with a job of telling off some guy cheating on his girlfriend because he didn’t want to break up with her. Bookmark here

Unfortunately, turned out the cheater was a trained combat fighter, and pretty soon we engaged in a sort of urban gladiator battle! Bruiser had a mean roundhouse kick that I took about as well as anyone could take on a good day, but I won the fight because I happened to have a meaner uppercut. Anyhow, guy lived, warned the broad, left the place before anyone got to know my name, returned with the job done and had the permit well in hand afterwards. Not the worst job, but suffice to say, guy still owes me a favor after taking a roundhouse kick to the head.Bookmark here

Where was I? Oh yeah, the descent to The Underground was a familiar sight. The whole downward tunnel could almost be compared to going down to some kind of Hell if robots had an afterlife at all. So much metal, the structure was completely mechanical in nature. It was a dimly lit place, but from the headlights of the ship, there was more purpose than just being a tunnel. Bookmark here

The whole structure was primarily a conduction grid from the power facilities of The Underground, mechanical plates of the tunnel shifting, essentially making the tunnel itself spin around me, tilting its plates on occasion, all in rhythm with one mechanism to another like cogs in an old-fashioned clock, in service of feeding the topside vast quantities of power. Even if they say the plates are grounded, I wouldn’t bother testing that theory. Always felt that a single tap would cause the Rocketfeller to explode.Bookmark here

Passing by the cockpit window were autonomous service drones, battalions of them, likely being sent to areas of the tunnel that required maintenance, instructed by the greater grid integrity A.I. like a conductor of an orchestra. The lower I got, the more I’d see them and for good reason. There was a build up of fog and heat haze at this level of the mechanical tunnel; I was at the hottest portion of it now, Level 40 to be exact, which is where the engine is located. Bookmark here

Thing ran like clockwork, which also meant it was about as hot as open exposure to the sun in outer-space without a suit; in other words, way too hot. The thing between me and me becoming someone’s roasted dinner was the ship’s temperature moderation systems, but even I worried about them as I flew by.Bookmark here

Around Level 67, the temperature gradually lowered, the fog and haze fading, but it was turning brighter and more green in terms of lighting. Below the ship is a glow getting closer and closer. As the descent continued, so did the radiation counter’s climb. The parts of the tunnel that rotated and shifted its metallic plates ceased to be; I was below the mechanical parts now, replaced by the sight of super-concrete as the glow grew and the colors around me became more tinged with green.Bookmark here

I squinted as the glow grew brighter, the dashboard’s radiation counter going absolutely off-the-wall. Level 85. 86. 87. Then before I could process it, I entered the glow and, for a bit, the light enveloped me. Before long, I came through the other side and finally saw it from the window: That place people on the surface want to forget.Bookmark here

Among the landscape was a dingy, ungodly green world of ruin and tripe. A vast array of dirty fields, sickly trees, small towns made of dirty plaster, radiated wood, and sheet metal slapdash, haggard, and decaying; the waters of rivers glowing in unnatural splendor; the grand fusion reactors on the far side of this underground megastructure alight like artificial deities, pumping their great powers for everyone except the loyal subjects lying beneath their feet. The last two things were the only sources of actual light here aside from The Central Hub in the distance, the closest thing to an actual city. Bookmark here

There was no sky, no sun, natural or synthetic. It was nothing but a massive tomb, a cold, radiated industrial tomb. I could see the ants who looked like people below; they reminded me of just how fortunate I really was to know what clouds look like. A familiar sight, a sight I could never get used to; this juxtaposition between the world I know and the one currently outside the ship. I had entered Level 92: The Underground of millions of souls.Bookmark here

My descent almost at an end, I flew toward the ship-stop located in the direction of The Central Hub. I knew landing anywhere else would be unwise, but more importantly, the sewer sector of The Underground was located somewhere there. To be honest, I didn’t have much of a plan aside from just heading there and hope I’d get jumped, taken to their leader either by force… or by my own will. Bookmark here

Makeshift control towers were in view among these slums. I slowed my flight speed, no point rushing in. It was then that I heard my dashboard signal a communications query, asking to let it through. I already knew who it was from. Without much thought, I confirmed the invite and a uniformed agent appeared on the screen wearing a visor.Bookmark here

“Zero-zero-nine-archer, this is Control Point Zeta,” said the air controller. “Rocketfeller, identify yourself.”Bookmark here

“This is the Rocketfeller. I am a permitted guest, permit number 1-1-0-9-6. Freelancer on a private business trip.”Bookmark here

“Freelancer? Great, as if we need another one of your kind around here.”Bookmark here

“Hey, how about some hospitality why don’tcha?”Bookmark here

“Depends. Inspecting permit.”Bookmark here

More waiting over the permit… great. The government kept tabs on this place, though they didn’t bother with enforcement among the population. They didn’t care about the conflicts here, they simply set-up shop to monitor them, prevent possible invasions or terrorist threats against the surface and block unauthorized immigrants. Obviously their presence didn’t stop whoever I’m after from getting past them. They must be more covert than expected, which only made me wonder just who in the world the conspirators could be and who’d be leading them. Surely I’d be able to guess based on past experience eventually. Decided to keep this in mind as I glided the ship onwards in silence, taking in more of the sights. Bookmark here

What to say about The Underground? Well, I once heard Deiter compare what he’d see of this place as being akin to what he learned in Earth’s history books and dockets about an event called “The Great Depression.” Impoverished colonies called “Hoovervilles” were among the subjects brought up and, looking them up myself, I can see what he means. Bookmark here

Dainty shacks, vulnerable, rundown, poorly constructed, littered the great expansive of the outskirts I was flying over. I could see the people walking along the dirt and (likely radiated) fields of grass and plantations. Some were even looking up at my ship which, considering the few-of-a-kind ship I was piloting and how these folks have probably never seen one like it, was about as welcoming as entering a club where everyone wants to pin you down for your keys.Bookmark here

“Kitty Sugawara, right?” asked the air controller.Bookmark here

“Age 27, 5-foot 8-inches, Citizen I.D. 2-2-4-5-E-E-A-0-5.”Bookmark here

“Permit confirmed. I’ll mark your assigned landing point, Lot 24. Oh and proceed with caution around here. Things have been crazier than usual lately.”Bookmark here

“Good to know.”Bookmark here

Communications ended. Shortly after, I received a notification from the control tower on the dash, along with it the coordinates for Lot 24 where I was designated to land. I boosted the Rocketfeller’s speed accordingly. It was taking me to the Eastern side of The Central Hub.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

The Central Hub —or at least the Eastern side of it— was a sort of grimy expanse of sizeable, if cheaply constructed buildings and towers made of brick with mold and damage along its surface, all to varying heights among the denizens minding their business, whatever it might be. At the heart of this was the ship-stop, Lot 24, a large dome-like place surrounded by steel fortifications and security towers. Bookmark here

Come to think of it, I seem to have been the only flying vehicle in the air. Others were likely parked in the lot and whatever transportation available looked to all be of the land variety. Rusty landcars with actual wheels roamed the concrete streets, packed window-less landbuses hauling their loads of people (some even sitting on the roofs), landbikes passed by with a leisurely pace. Couldn’t wrap my head around using any of these things for regular cigarette shopping, let alone going to a job, and not go insane by the inconveniences of being tied down by circles with rubber feet on them.Bookmark here

As I came to Lot 24, I ceased my trajectory and entered hover mode. As if expecting me, the dome roof began to open up like the mouth of an Orion sharkbeast, two sides of a rounded bulkhead coming apart and expanding a gap to enter through. What it exposed was a flat plane of bland, shiny stone ground with markings indicating where to park. There were only five other ships there, three of which looked to be standard local government convoy cruisers, the other two were some fancy-looking rides. Considering this place’s reputation for its red-light attractions, I didn’t bother thinking further about what those high-rolling boosters were for.Bookmark here

I started my descent to a spot designated for large crafts, a size my light star-cruiser was equivalent to. The bulkhead doors began to shut together as I did and the overhead lighting of the dome parking lot turned on, christening the space with their bright, sterile glory. I landed without issue, though that’s to be expected with a lot so lifeless. No, what wasn’t expected was having a group of four uniformed personnel enter through a door and start walking toward my ship like I was in a deep jam! What? How in the— What did I do? Okay, I began to get tense from this, not gonna lie. Eyes were certainly widened by the shock. Was there something I overlooked? Did they find out my permit didn’t truly belong to me? This was bad.Bookmark here

As my heart raced and my tongue tingled with the light dread of being locked up, I cautiously left my cockpit and headed toward the airlock. When it opened, I peeked outward and turned my head to the right as the agents came closer with stern faces, by which time I exited the craft to meet them. The guy in front, a red, one-eyed Cylocon, appeared to be their leader, bulky with a commanding posture. Their uniforms were a medium-blue jumpsuit with steel torso, shoulder, and leg armor plating and boots, topped off with visor-less grey helmets strapped on with syntho-leather chin-guards and their division logo on the crown. They had waist holsters carrying what appeared to be Taurus N2199 energy pistols. Standard-issue gear; nothing special, nothing gaudy, definitely legitimate.Bookmark here

Then it hit me; these weren’t local law enforcement, but Borstali-Regal division security agents in charge of overlooking and enforcing the surface’s rule over the entire underground. What were they gonna do to lonesome ol’ me? If they were random goons, I’d just knock their lights out if they tried something, but lord knew what the consequences would be if you did the same to actual law enforcement, especially around these parts, and especially if they were surface special forces.Bookmark here

They neared my position and I braced for the worst, keeping a usual calm and cool demeanor even if I was quaking in my boots knowing resisting was gonna land me in a hot chair. Upon arrival, they stopped and looked at me.Bookmark here

“Are you Talon Company?” asked the Cylocon.Bookmark here

“What if I am?” I asked.Bookmark here

Then… he saluted. In fact, his men also saluted, all with the same sternness and sense of responsible tact. Two of them were Gombars, the last guy being a slim, four-armed Rastesse, not that his slimness fooled me, not with those tendrils for arms.Bookmark here

This wasn’t what I envisioned. I envisioned being pulled away, have my guns and equipment confiscated, and enter a questioning chamber where I’d play “good cop, bad cop” for a few hours and talk my way out; wouldn’t be the first time. Maybe get slapped around a bit, yelled at. Doctored permits to The Underground were a federal offense when all was said and done, never thought I’d be saluted for it.Bookmark here

“I’m Captain Delito of the Borstali-Regal division, first-class security detail assigned from Surface Command. My accompanying men are Corporal Haagasal, Corporal Zumoor, and my second-in-command, Lieutenant Erigan. We’re here to escort you and your men to headquarters.”Bookmark here

Now I was just plain confused, not that I made it obvious at face-value. What did I just stumble into? It’d been a long, long time since anyone bothered saluting me in any genuine way aside from fuel station attendants, and that’s if they were fresh faces and not a bunch of jaded jerks. Bookmark here

They probably looked at my star-cruiser and figured me to be a military captain or something; not everyone would fly a full-blown star-cruiser around like I do. Didn’t help that my trenchcoat and hat gave me a sort of “important-looking” air about me like I was undercover or so high-up the food-chain that uniform standardization didn’t apply to me. This was clearly someone else’s story and it’d be smart to clarify that I wasn’t who they thought I was and move on. Bookmark here

However, being low on information, it was peculiar that they were here at all and expecting someone. I figured some valuable info could be found from this whole mix-up and decided to play along.Bookmark here

“Excellent men you have here, Captain,” I said in my best approximation of a military commander. “What’s the sit-rep on the situation?”Bookmark here

“Been gathering our arms since morning, but we’re still in the dark, as requested. We’ve questioned the locals, interrogated a few of the gangs, but have made no substantial progress in our intelligence gathering, especially since there aren’t any surveillance cameras and the like. Unfortunately, all of whom have been questioned are unfamiliar with yesterday’s attackers, let alone what species they are or what faction they belong to. All that could be gleamed was that they operated like an efficient military force and were ‘large and stone-like’ in appearance.”Bookmark here

Large and stone-like? That wasn’t enough to nail down who I was after, but it was a start. Problem is that there were quite a number of “stone-like” races in the galaxy, plenty of which tended to be large. The Abberons, Caldunes, Ulamarians, just to name a few I remember at the top of my head. Even the Zordamanizor had their own stone-like faction and they’re a utilitarian race of liquid steel people for crying out loud!Bookmark here

“It’s at least something to work off of, Captain. Know any leads about where they might’ve headed?”Bookmark here

“It sounded like they were heading in the direction of the sewer sector just West of here. Higher-ups speculate that they’re holed up in there as the sewers are labyrinthine with many pathways, chambers, and potential exit points, making an ideal hideout. It’d take too long to block all of them without bringing the entire army, if it’s possible at all considering the known danger zones and, by then, the tangos would probably be gone by the time it’s all accomplished.” Bookmark here

“And their motive?”Bookmark here

“That’s what we were hoping you’d inform us about. Orders were top-secret: Take a small squad, say nothing, wait for the confidential briefing by you and your forces about the attackers and what to do with ‘Target Delta.’”Bookmark here

Target Delta? Codenames were involved now? Deiter was right, if it hadn’t gotten too deep, it was getting there and doing so faster than light. I had a better picture of who I was up against, even if nothing clarified anything, but there was a greater issue at hand: Getting out of this conversation without cuffs around my wrists. It was only a matter of time before they’d realize I was just some freelancer, which was an awful picture. A freelancer? Imitating a military officer? To fool government security agents to look for military threats? For all they’d assume, I could be a spy or worse; the leader of these tangos! I should’ve done the smart thing, but I got curious and— Well now, my curiosity would make this whole thing ironic if I couldn’t give them the slip first.Bookmark here

“Alright. This all seems like promising intel, gentlemen,” I remarked. “I will just head out and… go West.”Bookmark here

“What about the briefing?”Bookmark here

“Ah yes, the briefing. We’ll have that later.”Bookmark here

“Negative. Command was clear, this is a Level-1 joint operation. No further actions until a briefing is conducted at headquarters with us as your escort. Where’s your team?”Bookmark here

“Team? Well… uh… they’re in the ship, I told them to stay inside.”Bookmark here

“Why?”Bookmark here

“To establish contact and confirm that you guys are the real deal. Can’t be too careful with a Level-1 joint operation, right?”Bookmark here

My composure was slipping with each sentence as I watched their faces turn to a combination of confusion and suspicion. The Captain swayed his head little and raised his only brow, then positioned two of his fingers on his helmet.Bookmark here

“Command, we may have a unusual situation occurring,” he said with his eye directed to the side. “Roger, the officer is female… trenchcoat, sir… brown fedora, appears to be an unusual variant of human… animal ears on her head, sir.”Bookmark here

My nerves were giving out to the pressure; they were going to find me out. I only hoped they’d listen to me when the time came, but I doubted it more and more as seconds went by. The men behind him stared at me with looks intended to intimidate as the Cylocon captain continued his mission of digging my grave.Bookmark here

“She came in with a Rocketfeller… I don’t know, 3rd Generation I think… yes… roger that.” The captain returned his look to me. “Ma’am, identify yourself.”Bookmark here

Looks like I couldn’t prolong the charade anymore. That question alone sealed any possibility of a straight-forward resolution. Knowing there wasn’t an option that wouldn’t involve hostile action and a bounty on my neck, I shrugged.Bookmark here

“You got me,” I declared, trying to be nonchalant about it in hopes they wouldn’t assume weakness in me. That was a character flaw as much as a strength. I could be on the gallows and I’d try to play it cool. Thing is, it’d have been smarter if I did play the coward here. Been less suspicious in hindsight; can’t be such a dangerous person if you’re sobbing your makeup off, but I had too much pride for that. Might as well hang my gallows high.Bookmark here

Of course, the captain and his men pulled out their pistols and aimed them at me, albeit with the safety on, how generous of them. I raised my arms and stared.Bookmark here

“Put your hands behind your back,” the captain ordered, “you’re coming with us. Lieutenant Erigan, cuff and subdue the human.”Bookmark here

Of course they’d send the darn Rastesse to put on the cuffs. “Roger,” he said.Bookmark here

As this Sergeant Erigan came to me, he used one of his tendril arms to pull out handcuffs, lasercuffs that is. Rather than being bound by metal, I’d have to contend with laserwire. He came behind me and used two of his other arms to grab and force mines behind my back, using his other two to bind me with the cuffs. Wasn’t gonna resist, it’d be stupider than what I had just pulled.Bookmark here

“Human has been cuffed,” declared Lieutenant Erigan.Bookmark here

The captain walked up to my face. “Tell me, human, what is your name?”Bookmark here

“The name’s Sugawara, Kitty Sugawara” I answered, ”I’m a freelancer.”Bookmark here

“Freelancer? And what’s a freelancer doing in The Underground?”Bookmark here

“Hired to do a job. Find a missing husband who was kidnapped, probably by the same people you’re after.”Bookmark here

“And why exactly did you try to impersonate military personnel, Ms. Sugawara?”Bookmark here

“Information.”Bookmark here

“Information? Awfully suspicious of you. Perform a search, Lieutenant.”Bookmark here

“Roger.”Bookmark here

The Rastesse started to twist and pat his tendril arms on me, starting with my waste, arms, then my chest. My chest area was especially notable to him, patting it more than the others. He then slid two on his tendril arms down my trenchcoat.Bookmark here

“What are you, a deviant or something?” I quipped. Of course, I knew the reason, and it wasn’t gonna be good for me as the guy suddenly pulled out what caught his attention directly from my dual shoulder holsters. He raised them up; my two babies in plain view for all.Bookmark here

“She was armed, sir!”Bookmark here

“Show them to me,” the captain commanded.Bookmark here

The Rastesse reached my babies over to the captain. After a brief glance, his eyes widened and he clutched them from his lieutenant’s tendrils. The Rastesse let go and he came to inspect them deeper. He walked back and started showing them off to the rest of his men.Bookmark here

“Well, this is something alright.”Bookmark here

The “something” he was referring to were my dual energy magnum revolvers, the Futura Rev. 7s. Created by Heston Arms Crafters, an Earth-based manufacturer, they had the firepower to one-shot a Biloon Tusker, a large bipedal creature with a natural, triple-layered exoskeleton armor, dead in their tracks with their hyper-charged Human-Zaxult hybrid energizers. Bookmark here

Every blast was ventilated at the barrel, the gunmetal and black contrasted with the light blue glow of the fusion cell battery, power indicator, and active-heatsink tech, with every curve and angle screaming as a work of human art. Most of all, they were guns purely for me as the biometric handle grip and trigger was registered to my hands alone. I have a connection from my very soul to these beauties, and now they were being violated by hands not my own, the scoundrels.Bookmark here

“Heston Futura Revision 7s, eh? Now how does a freelancer in this star-system get to have galaxia-grade firearms like these? Do you even have a license, Ms. Sugawara?”Bookmark here

I didn’t bother to respond. I was mad, revolted that they were treating my Futuras as showpiece curiosities. Truth was I didn’t, at least not anymore. Galaxia-grade weaponry required intergalactic registration and licenses as they tend to be considered military stock or special-use wares for interplanetary warfare or higher. My license expired years ago and I could never get them renewed, not without leaving The Amaron System, so I tried to keep their existence hidden from eyes that bothered with such matters.Bookmark here

“Even if you hadn’t tried that stunt, I could bring you in for illegal possession of intergalactic weaponry. That alone is enough to send you to the big house on The Silver Moon you know.”Bookmark here

They laughed, all of them. All I could do was take it. At this rate, I wasn’t gonna finish this job, all because I took a dumb risk. Mrs. Movak would never see her husband alive again and I’d be sent to The Silver Moon’s maximum-security penitentiary over my revolvers. I guess I really was never that smart.Bookmark here

But just as their laughter died down, something interesting happened. The Cylocon captain made a surprised expression and put his fingers on his helmet again.Bookmark here

“Sir? Yes, she is… Wait… who is this? I— I understand, but she has broken multiple laws an— But… Are you positive?” He stared at me in silence, and his men could only look on. Where the conversation was heading, it seemed to be going somewhere he didn’t want it to go. “Understood,” he said in defeat, “if that’s the order, I’ll do it. Over and out.” He put his fingers down and looked at his lieutenant. “Uncuff her”Bookmark here

“What?” the Rastesse questioned, puzzled.Bookmark here

“That’s the order, but not mine, Lieutenant. This comes from the top beyond the top.”Bookmark here

Just like that, this Lieutenant Erigan uncuffed me without question, no words. Personally, I was just as mystified as they were. Whoever their captain talked to, from what I could pick up, didn’t seem to be the same commanding voice he was used to. It was someone else and whoever they were managed to keep me on the other side of the bars, at least for now. My arms were free again, and in a sudden turn, the Cylocon captain tossed my revolvers like a softball toward me, flinging them in a trajectory. I caught them, one in each hand.Bookmark here

“Just get out of our sight, Earthling, right now,” the captain demanded. “You got lucky this time, but we now know what you look like, what your name is, and what you pulled. We better not meet again, you hear me.”Bookmark here

Fair enough. Holding both guns in my right hand, I began to unravel my trenchcoat with the other, untying the waistband before unbuttoning the thing. Opening a gap, I placed my revolvers to where they belonged, nice and comfy in the genuine leather embrace of my shoulder holsters. Then I started walking away toward the exit, casually, re-fitting my coat as I did, like I just robbed a bank with impunity as the Borstali-Regal agents looked on in spite. Mid-way, I stopped and turned to the captain, hopefully for the last time tonight.Bookmark here

“For the record, I’m not an Earthling,” I commented.Bookmark here

“Does it matter?”Bookmark here

“It evidently does. Good night, Captain Delito.”Bookmark here

With that out of my system, I did what I should’ve done ages ago; continue my journey through The Underground. As I did, the thought of this “Target Delta” ran through my head. Most of the information the agents had said were things Deiter had already brought up, though it was now confirmed that the sewer section really was the place to go. But stone-like attackers? Target Delta? Bookmark here

It looks like there were more layers added to this cake of a job. First is me, second is Mrs. Movak, third is her husband, fourth are the ones who kidnapped him, fifth are the Borstali-Regal, sixth are the guardian angels who managed to let me go, and the seventh is this “Target Delta.” What a mess. What a nostalgic, horrifying mess. I left the broader galaxy to stay away from something like this and now I was brought back in. No going back, not after coming here. My mother would’ve wanted me to continue after all; to be a highwayman.Bookmark here

My next move would be to make my way West, in which I was likely to encounter The Quantifusers if Deiter was right about them. I could only hope that their leader would tell me more and fill in the gaps left unfilled. Why did they come here? Who were they? Who is Target Delta? The more this continued, the more I forgot I was supposed to be a private eye on a missing persons case.Bookmark here

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