A/N: I've had this for awhile. So if it seems a little..not up to par with my usual writing, it's because it is possibly over a year old by now....
Gone With A B.A.N.G.
Chapter One: Another One Bites The Dust
Captain Harlequinn Orion
There was a long pause, time seemed to slow as I watched Mana-Tapper Yatson fall with half of his chest burned and smoldering. It took all of my will power not to yell, giving away my position behind a load of cargo from the merchant ships. The attacker laughed and strode proudly over to Matson's writhing body. My fist clenched at my side, I looked to the nearest team member, Sniper Lotte. She was crouched low on the overhang, seething and aiming her gun to the space between the drake-mage's eyes. She pulled the trigger and a bullet composed entirely of raw energy erupted from the sniping rifle and hit its target. The attacker fell to the ground, a gaping hole where his face was. His body convulsed and his clothes ripped as his natural form emerged. A faceless dragon, the size of a large horse, lay on the cement floor, hissing and crackling. My team came out of hiding and chaos insued.
"Yatson!" shouted my second-in-command, Sword-Fighter November, running over to the boy. MT Marcus Yatson was only nineteen. I dropped my gun to my side and stared at the pale young face. His long nut-brown hair singed and his eyes wide open in the last reaction he will ever have. His blue eyes were clouded and I felt a pang of guilt. S Lotte was shaking with anger. She aimed and shot her gun at the enemy corpse. The dragon's chest exploded, splattering blood all over her freckled face.
"Stupid greenhorn," mumbled the oldest in the group, a forty-year-old Berserker named Jaspar, with sympathy. I sighed, running my hand down my face.
"Contact HQ. MT Yatson down," I told Magic-Technician Alfred. He nodded pulling out a compact computer the size of two hands. He snapped it open and dragged his fingers over the keypad, fixing in the correct code to HQ. SF November covered the boy's face with hisjacket and crouched next to him, staring for awhile. MagiTech Alfred finished the message and turned back to the team.
"They'll send a transport. Put the boy in the bodybag. Leave no trace," he repeated shakily. Jaspar snorted and did the dirty work, being used to stuffing his comrades inside those black zip-up bags they were given. Lotte fixed a special attachment onto her gun and torched away the blood. The dragon's body was then frozen by Alfred using a special nitro compoundand broken by November. The pieces were melted and our job was done.
"Bloody fantastic job, guys," mumbled S Lotte, lighting a cigarette.
"Hey, don't pin this on us! Marcus...MT Yatson went into combat against orders!" snapped Alfred.
"Yeah, but who was supposed to watch him?" she retorted. Alfred looked furiously at her and was about to say something.
"Shut up," I butted in, "What are you? First levels? We are an Elite team, even Elite teams loose men. We lost a fine soldier. I bet Jaspar had lost plenty to vouch for me."
The Berserker nodded, running a hand down his short beard. "Aye, we lost a lad of sixteen once. No experience, these MT's get killed left and right because they haven't any battle smarts. Half of them don't even have any street smarts!"
There was silence. It was true, this was the second MT we had lost in our campaign. Mana-Tappers were scarce, and since the abilities of these special soldiers was only recently discovered, many of them were fairly young but sent through hell in training school. But no amount of bookwork could prepare them for the field.
As a captain, I knew this only too well. I gave him direct orders not to go out, 'guns blazing', and take on the drake himself. I clasped my hands in front of me and rested my forehead on my thumbs after sitting down on a crate.
"We are to restock in Port Konok and then we are to be shipped to our next assignment," I told my team in a low voice. They listened carefully. "We most likely will be supplied with replacement MT at Konok. I expect everyone to have a day off, carrying your communicators at all times. I'll contact when we are to leave. We all need a break. Is that clear?"
"Yessir, Captain Orion!" they said in unison. I heard the hum of the transport's magic-burning engine and stood.
"Dispatched at the Port. Load up Yatson and sit yourselves down," I said picking up my pack. Everyone stole a look at the body bag.
"He didn't deserve it," mumbled SF November, "Damn draconians."
At Port Konok everyone parted ways. I was joined by November, who seemed to understand that I wanted to blame myself for Marcus' death.
"Listen, Cap'n. He was foolish and young. We've all been there. And we were lucky; he wasn't. Don't beat yourself up over it," his green eyes met my own green ones. We looked alike so much that people asked if we were related. Sadly, we weren't. We were both tall and well built. Angular faces and short dark brown hair. But he had a goatee, which he kept trimmed, and I always disliked facial hair. It itched.
"Why don't we stop in the Tavern? Drown our battle anxiety?" he offered with a smirk. I shook my head. "Paperwork and I need to meet the new MT."
"Oh," he replied a little downtrodden. He shrugged, "Suit yourself. Contact if you need me."
With that he took the left road to a tavern where beer was cheap enough to meet a soldier's salary and the women were not toothless and chunky. A rare combination. I shrugged my pack's strap higher and walked toward the B.A.N.G office.
B.A.N.G: Battle Acuity Native Guard. We were the hidden backbone of the government, precise and exact in our mechanics. I led a Fifth level team with the basic members. My team was also five of twenty that had a MT stationed. We were special ops for a branch known as Masque. We blended with the crowd and took out targets by baiting them into remote areas. We were jokingly called the Mafia, since we rubbed elbows with some shady fellows.
What were we targeting? The dragons, of course. Two hundred and fifty years ago, humans, elves, dragons, and whatever else there was coexisted easily. But then wars broke out and now our sect of civilization was at war with the Draconians, a sect of dragons who believed in torching humans and elves and ruling the land. Fat chance.
In our world, there was a balance of technology and magical properties. Humans utilized technology against the magically adept and shapeshifting Draconians. But Draconian magic was off the sources found within the dragons themselves, which could easily be depleted. So eventually they produced magic-technology, and we stole it to even the score. Then we upped them one by discovering mana-tapping.
Magic-tech was produced when technology could be powered by large amounts of harvested natural magic residing from the earth's gaia force. Mana tapping was a way that mankind could harness unlimited amounts of magic. But potential MT's were rare and the second they were found they were flung into training. Regardless of what they wanted. The demand for MT's was growing so they were cultivated early. Like poor Marcus. The youngest ever sent to battle I heard of was only ten.
I entered the building, feeling a rush of icy air bombard me. They liked to over air-condition these buildings. I went to my office, a cramped room with walls of windows and mounds of paperwork. High-ranking soldiers went past me in uniform. I was still in combat attire. They avoided me like the plague. I probably smelled of dead drake. Throwing my pack into the corner, I sat down on the swivel chair and kicked my feet up. Sighing, I tilted back and closed my eyes.
Someone cleared their throat. I snapped to attention and stood up to see my superior officer, Gilke, standing in the doorway, graying hair covered in a hat and hands clasped firmly behind his back.
"Captain Harlequinn Orion," Gilke said in a guttural voice.
"Sir," I said saluting.
"At ease," he growled. I dropped my hand and relaxed back into my chair.
"You lost another MT," he said. I nodded. "That's two, Orion."
"Sir-" I started to defend my team and myself but he held up a hand. It silenced me instantly.
"Orion, your new MT is in the training room. Go and meet him," Gilke ordered before nodding and marching out. I had the urge to flip him the bird as he walked away, but knowing the geezer he would have seen. I removed my jacket and set it on a hook before making my way to the training room.
The training room was more like another building. It reminded me of the gymnasium from boot camp. It was enormous; a high ceiling and there was no flooring. Just earth. It was probably one of the few places that had greenery around Konok. The industrial waste in this town was polluting everything.
There were trees, grass, and shrubs; there was even a small lake that was twenty feet deep. For people who worked on water rather than on land. But there was machinery possibly everywhere. Some of the trees were fake, and if you hit them hard enough you could see the metal underneath the facade. I loved the training room but rarely got a chance to visit.
Entering through the sliding door, I took in the view and spotted my supposed new MT sitting on a bench, pouring over a folder. As I got closer, I got a better look.
He was probably in his early twenties. His hair was long and fixed into a ponytail. It was a trait of MT's to grow their hair long. It was a brilliant color, looking black but when the light hit it, it was a jade color. There were also white locks underneath. He must have dyed it, it was popular nowadays to change your hair color. His slender face was turned down so his hazel eyes could scan the documents in the folder. He had wide shoulders and narrow hips, toned and shaped from training.
The new MT wore his uniform: dark brown battle-style pants with black lace-up shitkickers (tan leather boots if you don't know), a brown cotton tank, and the MT-issued black vest with the symbol for the rank he was in. MT bronze ring bracelets were wrapped around his wrists, supposedly an amplifier for mana. I was always dumbfounded how those large loops of metal never came off even though you could fit both hands through one easily.
The man looked up when he heard me. I was surprised to see his expression blank, and if anything, cold as ice. He tucked away the papers and stood to salute. He did it sharply and with precision, clicking his heels and everything.
"Captain Orion, I presume?" his voice was deep and resonated from his chest. It threw me off, it was too deep for his body type.
"At ease," I said, he stood with his legs slightly parted, arms clasped behind his back. I was taller than he was by at least an inch, but he seemed to hold himself taller than I ever could.
"What's your name?" I asked, using the tone I use for official business.
"Bastien Autumn, Fifth Level Mana-Tapper, gr-"
I stopped him by holding up my hand. His mouth snapped closed and he stared at me with those cold hazel eyes.
"I asked for your name, not your title."
"Sorry, sir," he said sharply.
"How old are you?"
"Twenty-six and a half, sir."
He was two years younger than I was, but he seemed even younger than that. I nodded and turned my attention to the scenery.
"MT Autumn, let's see a demonstration of your abilities," I said, turning back to him. He remained unmoved and stoic, watching me with his eyes.
"Yessir. Whatdo youwantme to do?" he asked in that monotone voice. I frowned. No personality. I looked around and found a keypad with the words 'Ene-Holo' written above it stuck inside a fake tree near the bench. I tapped in a code and a SF doppelganger appeared in the middle of the area we were in. It flickered then solidified. A product of magic-tech.
"MT Autumn, I order you to capture that target with minimal damage." Most new MT's had a hard time not damaging enemies so I wanted to see if he could follow orders.
With a curt nod, he set down the folder on the bench and marched until he was a certain distance from his target. The target itself started its defense, shooting temporary-paralysis shots at MT Autumn who expertly dodged them with little movement. He lifted up a hand, the bracelets glowing menacingly before the glow collected in his hand along with bits that appeared out of thin air. With three hand movements, visible tendrils of mana-infused roots shot from the ground and wrapped about its ankles. It tripped and fell to the ground. More roots were exposed and wrapped around its prostrate body. MT Autumn dropped his hand, the glowing dissipated, and turned to salute to me.
"Target subdued with minimal damage, sir," he said, hand shading his eyes in the salute. I smirked. This one was unreal. Not in his abilities but his attitude. It was cold and stoic, no emotion escaped into his features. He might as well be a robot. Most MT's were angry at something all the time or scared and fidgety because they were torn from their homes when they were very young. Bastien Autumn seemed to not care one way or the other. His purpose was to serve with efficiency and respect.
"At ease," I repeated, he dropped his hand, put his feet shoulder-width apart and clasped his hands behind his back again. Such a good little soldier.
"You have free-time for the next twenty-two hours. I suggest you pack up and enjoy it. Tomorrow morning, we will be sent to our next assignment. Regardless whether you are ready or not."
"At what time should I be present at the port?" he asked.
"Five in the morning. Be ready and I'll introduce you to the rest of the team. You are dismissed."
He nodded and picked up the folder he was reading. He saluted and walked out of the training room. The doppelganger was still struggling in its bonds. I sent it away with a few taps on the keypad and exited.
Who would have thought that the new MT would be so handsome?
The next morning, I was twenty minutes early. MT Autumn was already suited and standing at the entrance, pass in hand and looking at the transports carrying off people from the dock. I yawned. Too early for me.
"MT Autumn," I said tiredly, he snapped into a salute.
I stared at him like he was crazy and patted his back twice. He tensed, but I ignored it and said lazily, "Too early for salutes, Autumn. Let's get some coffee."
"Sir, I don't drink coffee," he said in that deep voice. Now I stared at him as if he were truly crazy.
"Don't drink coffee? How do you get up in the morning?" I said in disbelief.
"I get out of bed, sir," if I didn't know better, I would have sensed a hint of confusion in his voice. I felt a hand slap my own back.
"Cap'n," said S Lotte as she walked by, with her sniper rifle slung over her shoulder and pack over the other.
"Lotte," I replied. After her came November who looked dead on his feet.
"Harley," he said, probably the most informal thing he could have called me. His head bumped into my arm and he stayed there until I truly thought he was still asleep.
"Coffee?" he yawned, lifting up and stretching.
"November, meet our new MT, Bastien Autumn," I said gesturing to the man standing rigidly in front of me. The MT looked a bit baffled to see such casual greetings between the team and I. November blinked and held up his hand for a handshake.
"Nice to meet you, Bastien," he said, finally getting the tired edge to his voice. MT Autumn's lips thinned.
"Please address me as Autumn," he said. November laughed, slapping him on the backharder thanI did. A mistake.
Autumn had his arm twisted behind him and pressed against the wall. Which looked funny because he was shorter. He struggled in vain.
"Damn! Call him off, Orion!" he shouted into the wall.
"Drop him, Autumn," I snapped. He complied and November rubbed his arm.
"Gods, just friendly pat on the back," he said, glaring at the unmoved face of Autumn.
"Sir, permission for early boarding?" said the MT, turning his attention to me. I blinked, badly in need of coffee.
"Permission granted," I mumbled. Autumn saluted, picked up his bag and went to board the transport reserved for us.
"Iceman," mumbled Jaspar, who was apparently standing behind me the whole time. I jumped and nearly punched him for being so sneaky even though his bulk would have prevented him sneaking unnoticed anywhere.
"We had a kid like that a few years back. Orthodox and cold. Called him Iceman. He's the whistleblower who got Nameck court-marshaled for killing that drake against orders."
He slapped both our backs and said between his teeth that clamped a cigar, "Better watch yourselves, mates. He could be those guys they send to root out moles from the teams."
November and I exchanged looks and I sighed.
"Before I even process that, can we please get coffee?"
"I don't like him," Alfred whispered to me, staring over at Autumn. The latter was staring straight ahead despite the bumpy ride we were having. I didn't answer. He continued, "He really is like Jaspar said. Iceman."
"Better watch it, Ally," whispered Lotte, leaning in from across the narrow row. "Or else you'll be at the receiving end of a mana attack."
"And the good lil' MT soldier persona is creepy. You could order him to go fuck himself and I guarantee he'll be doing just that," Alfred leaned back and nearly shit his pants when we heard MT Autumn's low monotone resonate in the small hold.
"Article 67.8 of the BANG Outline of On-Duty Laws states that any solider can legally refuse orders that contain or hint sexual activities, molestation, or harassment of themselves, a prisoner, a pedestrian, or a fellow soldier," his eyes flitted over to meet Alfred's, not moving his head at all, "Therefore, if Captain Orion gives me a direct order to go 'fuck myself' I can refuse with no repercussions. And I could bring it to the military court and use it as evidence for the inefficiency of Captain Orion's ability to lead his team or a perversion in the ranking system."
Autumn's expression, tone, and position never changed during the reciting of the Triple-O-D Laws.
I couldn't help it, I laughed and so did November. Alfred had gone pale; he didn't think Autumn could hear him from way down there. Lotte snorted in amusement. Even Jaspar let out a raspy chortle. I wiped my eyes and smiled at the expressionless face of our new MT.
"You, Autumn, are a one-of-a-kind."
Autumn stared at me for a few seconds before putting his eyes back to the window. He didn't say anything more on the trip, much to the relief of Alfred. I pattedAl on the back and stood up, heading to the cockpit.
"Howdy, cap'n," I said, taking a seat in the co-pilot chair. A dark-skinned man with a nose stud looked at me with a smile.
"Ditto," Dillon said with a slightly accented voice, turning his head back to the skies we flew across. He was from the north, and he had a lot of tatoos that looked like black scars to me.
"How's the weather?" I asked, taking a soda from the ice chest hidden under the control panel.
"Bumpy back there? Sorry, we've been hitting some thick mana streams and it's like a bird in the engines, screws up the magic and chokes it for a second or two," he rubbed the stubble on his face before grinning, "Heard that new guy pulling a quote of the Laws. Seems pretty orthodox and straight from the schools."
"Yeah," I took a swig of soda, thinking of the new MT.
I have yet to see him show any emotion except hidden anger. His eyes were blank, and the monotone voice of his made him seem more robotic that human. It was unnatural the way he'd never turn and face you but look at you from the corner of his eyes. He never smiled, not even when November had slipped on something and fell flat on his ass, yelling out every cuss word in the book. Then a little girl came up with her mother and said he needed to watch where he was walking. I got a laugh. There wasn't even a smile in his eyes.
Like Jaspar said. Iceman.
"Sir?" Speak of the devil.
"Yes, Autumn?" I said before taking a sip of soda and waving my hand so he could stop with that annoying saluting. Dillon chuckled and shook his head.
"Excuse me sir, but there is a large amount of mana about a hundred and fifty clicks ahead," he stated, "To my knowledge, it would damage the engines. So, I suggest we try and avoid it as much as we can."
Dillon let out a low whistle, "This boy's good. My mana-tracker hasn't even picked up on it yet," he said, tapping a dial on the control panel. The needle wagged a bit before flickering to zero.
"Too good, Autumn you are bumped up to co-pilot," I said, getting up and crushing my empty can. He looked at me blankly, "Your job is to track and help avoid potentially dangerous mana streams to ensure the safety of the passengers."
"Yessir," he said with a salute and took a seat. Dillon started to talk to him about mechanics of the transport and how he should judge if the mana stream is dangerous or can be flown into as if it were a cloud. Autumn listened intently but kept his eyes on the sky.
I smiled and squeezed both their shoulders, "Y'all have fun up here."
I felt Autumn tense up when I had my hand on his shoulder, but he didn't say anything. I raised an eyebrow and shrugged to myself before walking out of the cockpit.
The team was almost ready to fall asleep when a giant lurch shattered any thought of resting. The transport jumped again, and I stood up, holding onto the handrails above. I made my way to the cockpit, cussing and stepping over Alfred, who fell off his seat.
"What the hell was that all about?" I shouted, entering the cockpit.
"Dragons attacked the wing," said Autumn calmly. As if on queue, a blur of red wings flew past the window.
"Fuck," muttered Dillon. "Taking evasive action, hold on to your asses!"
"Mana stream, fifty clicks."
Dillon pulled on the stick and I was sent crashing into the side of the cockpit. I cursed loudly, grabbing onto a handstrap above me.
"Sir, permission to command?" asked Autumn over the drum of engines and air rushing as the dragons circled. He had his head turned and stared directly at me with unfeeling eyes.
"Permission fucking granted!" I shouted. Autumn then stood up and went to Dillon, leaning over the seat.
"There's a mana stream right above that lone mountain there. Circle it so that your tail is facing it. Then slow down," Autumn instructed. Dillon made a sound of acknowledgment before pitching us into another swerve. Autumn held tightly onto the seat but I was flung into him. His hair was extremely soft. He pushed me back on my own feet and said in a rushed voice, "Captain, permission to utilize the mana stream to take the offense on the enemy?"
"Stop asking for permission and just do it!" I shouted, he nodded and disappeared out of the cockpit with astonishing speed.
"Sure hope he knows what he's doing," mumbled Dillon, using the mana-tracker to pinpoint the stream. He did a hairpin curve around the stream and I saw two dragons shoot past us in confusion. When all was righted, I had a feeling the mana stream was between them and us.
Suddenly, Alfred threw open the cockpit door, yelling over a new sound of air rushing from behind the transport, "He opened the fucking cargo hold!"
"What?!" I yelled back.
"He opened the huge door that leads to the cargo hold!" he yelled back. Dillon cussed, "What the fuck is he doing?!"
I ran out of the cockpit and found the ladder that led down to the cargo hold. Sure enough, it was wide open and Autumn was standing a few feet from a sheer vertical drop.
Pieces of loose supplies flew out and his hair flapped madly about because the tie came loose. His eyes teared but he remained stoic, holding both hands in front of him and by the lines etched on his forehead, he was concentrating hard. I saw two red blurs coming at us fast, wings flapping once every few seconds to gain momentum. Thank whoever that the important cargo was strapped down for just this reason.
"Autumn!" I yelled through a cupped hand. Either he couldn't hear me or was too in depth to stop the mana flow now. The glow in his hands flickered and then what I guessed was the invisible mana stream became a contained whirlwind, sucking in the dragons so that they twirled around and around. Autumn did a gesture with his the glowing hands and then the whirlwind became so strong that it tore the thin leathery skin between the dragons' wing bones. There were indistinct roars as they plummeted from the sky.
Taking a risk, I slammed my hand on the hatch control and the door came up. The circulating air stopped and the plane was really quiet except for Autumn's panting. I dropped from the last three rungs of the ladder and went over to him. I got within three feet when he collapsed onto his knees, breathing heavily. I rushed over and put both hands on his shoulders. He went rigid, but his breathing was still heavy and I could see the sweat on his forehead from the strain.
"You okay, Autumn?" I asked, helping him up. He was trembling slightly and his was still tense under my touch.
"I-In a minute, sir," he said, voice still in monotone but altered from his breathing. I looked at the cargo hatch and put his arm around my shoulder to help him walk.
"Sir, I don't need help," he said, finally controlling his breathing and trying to remove himself from my shoulder. I let him. He dusted his hands on his pants and straightened himself. I smiled when he looked at me for any further instructions.
"Good job, MT Autumn," I said patting him on the back. "Damn, why do you always go tense whenever I give you a pat on the back?"
He looked at me for what seemed like an eternity. Finally he said in a quiet voice, "It's involuntary, sir. I'll try to prevent it."
We went back up and there was an applause from the team for Autumn, who simply sat back down and stared at the window. He looked tired; he had overexerted his ability to tap into mana sources.
Dillon even shouted, "Great job kid! You ain't no greenhorn!"
I smirked at him when his eyes did a scan of the group. His eyes instantly snapped back to the spot out the window he had been staring at since we took off. He'd occasionally twitch involunatry and he was biting his cheek hard.
"Hey, co-pilot, mana-stream duty," I said, a little bit sorry that I sent him right back to work. He obliged without so much as a flinch, saying "Yessir" before he got up.
We landed on the outskirts of a neutral desert city called Nanlou. Adobe buildings, camels, and lots and lots of sand. Dillon said his farewell, saluting at us from the cockpit window before taking off with a new load of BANG team members.
"Alright, men. And a woman," I added when Lotte shot a look at me. "We'll receive our orders at an inn called the Diamond in the Rough, from here on out referred as DR because BANG just loves destroying our language with acronyms."
There was a slight chuckle from the team except, of course, from the Iceman who stared at me, listening to me like a good little soldier. I sighed and said with a grunt, "Move out."
A/N: Got to love stoic guys with unintentional sarcasm. Don't worry, I'll update C&C regularly as usual. I just decided to post this up so I can get some motivation to finish it. I got about ten chapters written....it's udpates will be few and far between, if I decide to continue it.