The Coriolis Whiplash

Summary: Sergeant Sean Sung arrives at the O'Neill cylinder Canned Arcadia for some relaxation. The last thing he expects is to be drawn into a surreal sniper duel with a cyborg assassin.

Sergeant Sean Sung arrived on a shuttle from the Lagrange-4 Industrial Sector, onto to stumble into a situation of very different gravity. He stowed his things in the guest rooms that dominated the "northern" section of the cylinder, which were formally the scientists' living quarters. As he saw from the outside, Canned Arcadia was among the first of the O'Neill cylinders completed, spinning orbital habitats that reminded him of giant aluminum cans in space. The habitat's latest owners shared that opinion.

Originally, it was simply "Arcadia," a research station for growing bioengineered plants in microgravity. As other habitats were fabricated, its role as a scientific outpost was eclipsed. The station was sold, and refitted as a nature preserve and resort, visited by terrestrial celebrities and tourists alike. For his role in saving a general from a terrorist attack, he was granted an all-expense paid trip instead of regular leave. The long transit time was making him reconsider if it was truly worth it or not.

Sean left the guest quarters, and he wandered towards the primary botanic gardens. Each sector of Canned Arcadia was partitioned, as to resemble a series of interconnected biomes. Each had a circumference-spanning boardwalk that enabled a human guest to comfortably walk the inner diameter of the entire cylinder, without worrying about disturbing the synthetic ecology beneath them. As he walked above a forest of impossibly tall trees, he saw a peculiar site.

Seeing the horizon wrap around him caused Sean's jaw to drop. He'd been deployed to fight in habitats before, but the Arcadia flora made it look like a long, green halo. It was a far cry from the tin-can habs and derelict spacecraft he normally cleared for work. He saw drones spinning in peculiar ways in the center of that great verdant ring, as they used the Coriolis effect of the habitat to travel without using much power. Hearing footsteps behind him, he turned to see he was not alone.

The interloper was dressed in finery too expensive for a baseline human, and wore a frame too idealized for a baseline human. She walked like an Olympian goddess, a technological Diana. A swarm of defense drones hovered around her, likely to deter paparazzi, obsessive fans, and stalkers from getting too close. She turned towards him, her red hair swaying in the artificial breeze. He never got to hear what she said.

That was because Sean pinned her to the ground as the explosion ripped through the canopy above them. He sensed something amiss in those fateful prior milliseconds, which only his military-grade augmentations and instincts detected. He saw her lips open in shock, but he pressed his finger to his lips. Whomever this woman was, she was important enough to have someone wanting her dead. He pulled her over the side of the boardwalk, directing her to crawl underneath the synth-wood planks. It was not much, but any cover was better than none.

More concerning to Sean was that his opponent could see through the canopy. He wondered if the boardwalk itself would not be as useless as a sheet of lace. He saw a wisp of spoke from the opposite side of the station, and he saw something whip through the center of the station, riding the winds towards him. While the entire process lasted only a few hundred milliseconds, he already knew what it was: a smart gyrok, a micro-missile gyrojet round that could hone in on specific targets. It could use microradar to detect heartbeats of hiding humans through meters of walls, and even control itself to navigate through buildings. The first one made it through branches to reach him. The next one, he correctly reasoned, would be closer.

Sean darted through the woods, weaving through the tightest trees he could find. A branch detonated above him, and he heard it crash down from above. Frantically, he tried calling station security, but there was no response. Instead, the station's internal channels were all overwhelmed with white noise and repeating, and likely faked, distress called. Whatever security forces were in the stations would be locking down the dorms, not patrolling the artificial wilderness, or distracted by the false distress calls. By the time anyone arrived, he and the woman would be dead, and the assassin on the next shuttle out.

Sean followed the map in his mind to the nearest security station. It was locked, and fortunately for him, empty. He kicked opened the door, revealing a musty desk and locked arsenal of arms. He used his military-grade override to force the locked cabinet to surrender his weapon: an Incisor IX-9, an electrothermal-chemical sniper rifle that fired smart slugs. He ran outside with his new weapon, just as another gyrok flattened the security station. He looked up and fired.

Sean figured the sniper was no baseline human, or if he was, had some high-grade tactical robotics backing him up. No one could shoot like that, given all the variables. His own IX-9 was the less impressive weapon, with its sole gimmick being a laser rangefinder that enabled it to always ensure consistent kinetic energy on a target, regardless of range. He set his to deliver maximum energy, so that it would pulverize anyone it hit.

Sean timed the gaps between his opponent's shots and realized something. His opponent shot and ran, as consecutive shots increased the likelihood of detection. He did not need to pick his opponent's position out from the trees, but merely hit something close enough. The branches and bark would act as shrapnel, given the energy his IX-9 put out. He braced the rifle against a genetically modified redwood, and he waited.

Sure enough, Sean saw the contrails of another smart gyrok. He estimated the bearing of his foe, which was consistent with his earlier estimates. The enemy did not yet know he was armed. As he calculated his foe's probable position, he pulled the trigger as the gyrok closed in. If he was lucky, the spin of the habitat would deliver his slug into his opponent's location. He took cover, since he knew this was his only chance. The explosion blossomed around him, even as he dove for cover.

Sean woke up in a hospital bed, with excited doctors cheering around him. They explained they'd found him barely clinging to life, but his opponent was far worse. The other sniper, apparently, was a feared cyborg assassin hired to kill the woman he'd met earlier, who was an incognito celebrity from Earth. The other sniper correctly determined him to be the greater threat, but failed to account for his quick thinking. That was the second assassination attempt he foiled. He hoped not to run into a third.