Broken System: Chairman of the Board pt 1

“Tell us again, what exactly happened in there?” the officer asked in disbelief, “I have a hard time believing one man did all… this
“That’s because it wasn’t a man.”

The board of directors was an innocuous enough name, considering the harm they did on a daily basis, it was in this board room that peoples lives were decided; who could afford to feed their family, who could live like a king.
 Who would die. And how.
On Mars, EM Corp was god. Suiting the traditions of the red planet, it was a god of war. EM made its fortune shortly after the solar expansion rush, colony ships were designed to break down and provide everything the settlers needed to survive, hab-domes, atmospheric processors, waste recycling, everything but one thing.
 EM Corp filled this niche, shipping defence weaponry across the system, supplying patrol boats, orbital shields, small arms and conversion kits to weaponise mechs. Not all of this ended up with the intended recipients, which suited EM Corp even better; fear of piracy sent demand for advanced weaponry skyrocketing.

But today, despite signalling the death of entire populations, their most pressing concern was what to have for lunch.
 “Listen, Amanda, we had the swan choucroute two weeks ago-”
 “Yes, and everyone declared it was the best thing we’ve had all year!”
 “Would both of you be quiet! I believe it’s our friend from Gusev Colonies turn to choose”
 The argument had been raging for over half an hour, the last item on the agenda prior had taken 15 minutes, and would cause starvation across half of Io.
Jurgen Prochnov leaned back in his chair, he was a petty man, and as the representative from the Gusev Crater manufactories and hab-domes, he held the balance of power on the pressing issue of lunch. He was going to enjoy this fleeting grasp of power.
 “Well, my friends, I have no particular preference, the real question then seems, who can persuade me to back their decision?”
 “Damn it, Jurgen, at this rate we’ll be here all day!” the Chairperson moaned
 “Keep it up, Alexander, and you’ll talk yourself out of this contest!” he chuckled

Fortunately the board was finally saved from the monotony of debating lunch. Unfortunately it was because two security guards burst into the office armed with submachine guns.
 “Apologies, Directors, but we have a situation”, chief of security Broussard had a talent for understatement
 “Well, out with it, Broussard! We don’t have all day!” Lester Guilfoye was starting to rise from his seat, a uniquely sadistic man, but one who panicked at the slightest threat to his own body
 “We have an intruder, they entered from the west and they’re already in the main building”
 The board was silent. Nothing like this had even happened before.
 “I… I want whoever it is found, and I want whoever is responsible for this breach fired! I want their lives ruined for this!”, Tomas Ingrams; hardly a man for half measures
 “Oh that second part won’t be a problem, Mr Ingrams… we found one of the secondary patrol teams behind one of the waste recyc buildings. Dead.”

They had planned the approach perfectly, smuggled into the dome during the security shift change, they had hidden in the outer ranges until noon, when the directors would be inside, and the other employees would be starting the lunch shifts.
 The secondary patrol came just as expected, a 5 man team, one rover, out on long range reconnaissance, homebound.
 The trooper manning the heavy weapon mounted on the rover fell from the vehicle, it had been a long patrol, coming to the end of a 14 hour drive. He would still be punished for breaking discipline.
 His comrades stopped the rover, the two troopers in the back hopped off to fetch their friend, their bounding steps almost comical in the reduced martian gravity. The intruder had struck at just the right time, the lack of rest and eagerness to return home had made the crew careless and slow. For example, neither of the two troopers were wondering why their friend wasn’t getting up yet.
 Two feet from the body they stopped.
 Half his head was gone, replaced by a hardened mass of glue and fragments of skull. A breaching rifle.
 They knew there was no point looking for a shooter, they abandoned their friend and bounded back towards the rover, only one had brought his rifle, the other lay in the rear of the vehicle.
 Very sloppy work.
The driver and front passenger were dead. One had a bullet hole through the faceplate, the other had a hole sliced through the neck seal of his suit. They panicked.
 To be fair to them, panic or not, they were both going to die quickly. It was all the work of a minute to load four bodies into the back, then the intruder got in and sped towards the compound, all in all, it was a rather scenic drive.
 Except for the detour to the waste recyc building.

 “They killed a whole patrol. And nobody knew about it?”, Amanda Pilliers asked incredulously
 “Yes ma’am. Whoever they are, they took out a whole team and used their vehicle to approach the building.”
“Things like this don’t happen, Broussard! People don’t just drive up to this building!” Guilfoye screamed
 “Lester! Let the man speak for Ares’ Sake!”
 The room fell silent.
 It was the first time Glenn Crewson had spoken since that morning. He was a man of few words, but those he did speak, he wielded like a weapon.
 “Now Mr Broussard, if you will, tell us what you need from us.”
 “For now, directors, we only need for you to stay in this room, we are here to provide additional security, the rest of my men are spread throughout the building.”
 “Should we call for more men? Do we know how many intruders there are?”
 “Sod that, do we know when we’re getting lunch?”, Jurgen was eager to return to his moment of power, though few at the table still had an appetite.
 Especially after the sound of gunfire echoed up the hallway.
 “They’re here! They’re already here!”, Guilfoye was practically in tears.

Security was being pulled back from the greater Hallas compound already, a crew of two had been left at Hallas gate and all long range patrols had been recalled, Commander Sarif, the head of EM Corps private military had already seconded all his military personnel to Broussards internal security.
 As the intruder slipped through the corridor, they encountered tougher and tougher resistance, they had entered the building on the second floor, bypassing the lobby, the first guard they encountered had only a handgun and a suit. The suit offered no protection, and they never had time to draw their gun.
That was 12 floors and 20 guards ago, by now they started pushing a mix of adrenaline and combat stims into their system, heightening already superhuman reflexes and strength, a careful balance of tactical awareness, perception, and raw aggression.
The knife they held in their hand was a karambit, a curved, wicked blade held under-handed, as they approached a corner they twirled it nonchalantly. They sidestepped around the corner and came face to face with an armoured guard. Cybernetically enhanced nerves shot messages from the brain to their hand in half the time normally possible, genetically altered muscles tightened and flexed with a strength belied by their size. In the time it took for the guard to widen her eyes, the knife had risen and embedded itself in her neck. She fell before she could even make a sound, her spine severed.
 Moving faster, the intruder levelled their pistol, as they advanced down the corridor towards the board room, the defenders were fortifying their positions, reinforcing intersections, securing blast doors and emergency airlocks. Automated turrets slid from their housings in the ceiling, vicious, multi-barreled rifles automatically tracking back and forth, waiting for a target.
 None of these stopped the intruder, in fact, few even slowed them down; hastily improvised barriers turned to vapour under a steady salvo of plasma shots, fusion grenades wiped out entire squads, and a single blast from the underbarrel microwave attachment fried most electronic locks. The automated guns, curiously, didn’t even fire once, the intruder waltzed underneath them, seemingly invisible to their infra-red scopes.
They finally reached the 25th floor, the board of directors would be nearby. The guards had fortified the entire corridor, barricades had folded out from the walls, armoured guards standing ready as the intruder peered round the corner. Immediately they pulled their head back as a flurry of hard rounds ate away at the wall.

“Dear Ares! What is happening?”, the Mawrth Vallis representative was pressed up against the back wall, as if the ancient oak panels would swallow up and protect James Forde for all time.
 More realistically, thought Crewson, it would simply provide a canvas for his brains.
 “Everybody, move to the side of the room!” bellowed Broussard
  Miller and Radek, the two newest members of the board, bristled in indignation at being ordered about like common servants, but when Broussard and his trooper trained their guns on the door, all dissent vanished.

 The gunfire was deafening, the dozen guards demolished the far end of the corridor, intent on pinning their enemy down until reinforcements could arrive.
 The front guard rolled back sideways behind his barricade, he ejected the magazine from his gun then stopped, he could feel something, the wall seemed to be… vibrating. He turned to gesture to the trooper on the far side of the hall, but before he could raise his hand, the wall exploded.
 Thanks to the deafening roar of gunfire, nobody had heard the bark of the intruders plasma pistol, they had blasted down the wall and entered the offices adjacent to the corridor, their enhanced physique had demolished the thin walls until they had reached the troopers positions.
A pair of directed charges against the walls had eviscerated four of the guards in the blink of an eye, and turned the corridor to rubble, the intruder burst through the remnants of the wall, flickering  through the smoke and dust like a spectre.
 The plasma gun jumped once, a trooper to the rear flew backwards, a smouldering hole appearing in his chest, before he had even landed the intruder was among them. Without skipping a step, they flicked their blade out and through the throat of one guard, simultaneously they spun and threw out their other hand, still holding the gun, they drove the pistol butt through the face of another opponent, killing him instantly.
 In the blink of an eye, over half of the guards were dead, as the remaining seven began to react, the intruder slid beneath the first few rounds, then drove their foot into the side of one of their knees, a sickening crack echoed out, but before its owner could even cry out, the intruder was up and had jabbed the barrel of the pistol into his throat, snapping his neck.
 The plasma blast vapourised his head a heartbeat later, and sent another of his comrades spinning off the ground, the entire upper left side of his body vapourised.
The last three raked the smoke with gunfire, desperately backing away from the slaughter before them.

 The intruder was actually enjoying themselves, it had been years since they had been able to operate like this, they had spent years operating purely in the shadows, unseen and unheard, untraceable. For once they were able to dance in the gunfire, to truly enjoy the chaos of battle, the ecstasy of combat. They vaulted over a body and tucked into a roll, the intruder could feel the bullets pass by their head, mere millimeters from death, their blood was already swimming in stims and adrenaline, but the dopamine and serotonin induced joy was entirely natural.
 The intruder let out a laugh, augmented by the speakers built into its mask it came out as a sinister synthetic cackle, one of the three guards recoiled at the sound, the other two were already in reach, rising up, the intruder drove the knife into the stomach of one, then forced it up under the armour plating, severing the mans heart.
 Lifting the body with one hand, the intruder shot the other guard point blank with the pistol twice, obliterating their entire torso and filling the air behind them with a fine black mist. The final guard emptied his magazine in fear, tearing scraps off the remains of their comrade as her target sheltered behind it. As the gun ran dry, she didn’t even take her hand off the trigger. She died still squeezing it.

 The gunfire outside subsided, chairman Marlowe allowed himself a moment of hope.
  “Do… do you think we got them?”
 We. As if he had done anything.
 “Trooper Dawson, come in, this is Broussard”, the chief had one hand on his earpiece, but his other hand kept his gun trained on the door.
 “Dawson, come in! What’s happening out there?”
 The door handle began to turn, Broussards palms started sweating.
 “It’s okay Sir, we got them”, came the voice from the door, as it opened the two guards started lowering their weapons,
  The thought that raced through his mind saved Broussards life;
I don’t recognise that voice
As the door opened, Broussards assistant started to step forward and lowered his gun, there was a flash of EM Corp armour appearing round the corner, suddenly the door burst fully open and the armoured body flew through at breakneck speed, cannoning into the guard and pushing him against the boardroom table with a sickening thud, Broussard tracked the body and placed a trio of shots expertly into the side of its chest.
 Unfortunately, the body was moving so fast he was unable to stop it landing on top of his comrade, nor did he have time to notice the fact it was already dead. He saw a blur move in through the doorway, before he could turn his gun around, he felt a blade pressed against his neckand an impossibly firm grip seizing him from behind.
An artificial voice rasped behind him
“You must be Augustus Broussard, what a pleasure to finally meet you, although” it sighed, “I honestly expected more from you”
 “What is it you want?”
 “Oh my dear, Augustus, I already have it.”
 The cruel, insect-like mask turned to face the cowering directors
 “Hello my friends, so sorry to just stop in and ruin lunch.”

Augustus could feel his attacker turn to face the directors and he knew he had only a moment to act, he pistoned one elbow back while throwing the other hand up to deflect the blade, his enhanced reflexes gave him an edge over his distracted foe, meanwhile his subtly augmented hand was able to deflect the blade with only superficial damage to the skin grafted over its metal structure.
 He span to deliver a brutal kick to the intruders midrift, but they were no longer there, in the time it had taken to pivot, the blurred figure had withdrawn and moved sideways. He turned the twirl into an improvised sideways tumble out of instinct, and barely avoided a plasma pistol round which vapourised a directors chair worth more than he made in a year.
 He knew he had to close the distance to survive another shot, and threw himself clumsily at the intruder, he succeeded in knocking them off their feet, and felt a momentary relief as he heard the pistol clatter away. They both rose and backed off a step, the intruder, now clearly visible for once, was truly a terrifying sight and Broussards blood ran cold.

 The figure was clad in a camouflaged bodysuit, the material was strengthened with subtle armour plating, the material able to change colour depending on the terrain, the back held a hardened backpack, tightened across the body so it remained immobile. The main aspect that terrified Broussard was the insectile mask; slanted artificial eyes housed a plethora of scopes and sensors, from infra red to far ultra violet, augmented reality services would be overlaying tactical data constantly, giving the intruder the best tactical awareness possible.
 The bullet resistant mask also featured two curved ‘mandibles’ like an ant; inside of which the vox system and breathing apparatus, meanwhile the sides featured noise dampeners, directional microphones, and radio relays.
The reason Broussard knew all this is because he had seen these suits before. They were top of the line, a single suit cost more than some small ships. They were designed to maximize protection and flexibility for the most hardened, impossibly conditioned and trained experts. It was built for assassins.
 He knew all this, because EM Corp had built it, and he knew none of his staff could even come close to stopping an opponent wearing one.

He moved as quickly as possible, now that he knew what he was facing, he was desperate. If he could drive the assassin away from the door, the directors may have the chance to escape, he could at least salvage some form of victory.
 He feigned to the left before attempting a shoulder charge, the enemy danced a smooth twirl and sent Broussard flying into a side table, a light tap throwing off his balance.
 As he stood up he realised something was wrong, he felt a warmth spreading down his back. Instead of tapping the burly man to throw his balance off, the figure had sliced him with their curved blade, blood was flowing freely from the incision.
 Soon he would start losing strength, the cut was deep, surgical, precise. He had one last choice, he had to pin his opponent long enough for the directors to get past, sacrifice himself for their lives.
 He screamed as he charged, a piercing bellow to match his heedless attack. He landed on the floor and had a moment to wonder what had happened, how had he failed to even touch his opponent, he tried to speak, but his throat was gone, replaced by an expanding pool of blood.

 The intruder carefully closed the board room doors and took a seat at the head of the table. They finally took off their mask, let down their hair and took a deep breath of fresh air.
 “Now,” she smiled, “shall we talk?”

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