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THOSE THAT ROAM XIV: Icing on the Cake - Part 2
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Firestar's on a mission to add one last finishing touch to the team.
Submitted By Sprawl on 13/04/21
SYN3H Chronicles, Sprawl, THOSE THAT ROAM, Mars Explorer 
This Document originally posted in the "SYN3H Chronicles" Group

Firestar's career as a Pilot was renowned - he had tested the first jet for IASA more than a decade ago, and since then had been one of the Lead Pilots for IASA - he had declined to go up on the first Mars Expedition because IASA still needed him to test more vehicles, and he didn't feel ready for Mars just yet. Since then, however, things had changed. Now, as he cruised through the streets of the sprawling Los Angeles in his Mercedes convertible, letting the warm coastal wind swish through his hair and the golden rays of the September Sun soak his skin, a real excitement bubbled within him. The Second Mars Expedition could really happen - but Dr Owens and Commander Richardson were absolutely right. Even with the advent of the Vehicle Specialist, John Kincaid, there was one thing everyone knew for sure: the First Expedition had failed because of one thing above all - yes, of course there were technical faults and unknown variables, but the main reason was simply because they could not defend themselves.

The forces of the notorious bounty hunter, Wilder Frederiksen, who had somehow managed to get onto Mars without anyone realising, and before even the Mars Expedition got there. Falconer and MacDane had also alluded to the presence of some extra-terrestrial creature, which had really brought a sudden end to the mission; whatever the final cause, the mission needed a defence specialist.

Firestar had style, you could see that from how he dressed - smartly but smoothly. Azure blue hawaiian t-shirt, beige chinos and sandals were pretty sutiable in such agreable weather. But he was still afraid - he may be a big man in his own field, but now the fear rose inside him. The man Dr Owens had sent him after was a Weapons Specialist, working underground for various PMCs and other contractors. His codename was "Ender", and he had produced some of the finest military systems on the planet - and certainly in the USNA. Firestar parked the car, got out, and locked it. He ran his hand over the pistol in his back pocket. Who knows? he thought to himself. This guy could be some crackpot, some crazy gun-nut who'll cap me there and then. Better to be ready.

Firestar was no stranger to conflict. He'd fought in the South-East Asian war of the last decade, and had won more than a handful of medals for his bravery. He'd been terrified when he saved his two comrades from and IED infested zone North of Shanghai, probably moreso than those two, but he'd got them out, and the Marines didn't forget. Soon after he transferred to the Airforce, where he began to really get into the heat of combat - albeit in the air. But this was different - this could be dirty, and damn unpleasant. 
 
He crept slowly, and cautiously into a dark sidestreet, near where he had been told Ender was operating.
"Not too far to go now, Firestar," MacDane's tired voice crackled into his ear from the comlink. Firestar peeked round a corner. Just old wooden fences, and a whole load of rubbish dancing in the wind across the concrete. 
"This is foul," Firestar grimaced, edging across to the other side of the alleyway.
"So glad I'm not there," MacDane chuckled gleefully on the other end. Firestar made a face. "You're metres away, it should be the door on the end." Firestar began moving. He checked constantly for movement and strange sounds. He looked up periodically to scan his surroundings for some sort of surveillance system. He could here tyres screech in the distance, but that wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Firestar moved in, hurrying across to the door, and easing it open.
 
No alarms. Nothing. This was good. There were some steps leading down into some sort of basement area. Firestar decided this was the time to take out his gun. He slid it out and trained it on the door at the bottom of the stairway. He moved in increments, squinting through the darkness. His comlink crackled out, probably due to interference. The door was close now. He reached out his hand for the nob. His fingers clasped it, and he rotated his wrist to the right, turning it in one quick motion. He opened the door.
 
It was dark inside, very dark. A lone monitor in the corner gave light to what seemed to be a converted sitting room. On the sofa, a man with a dark scraggly beard, cargo pants and an old army jacket was sprawled, snoring gently. Relief flowed through Firestar's nerves, and he lowered the weapon.
 
Now what? Firestar thought to himself. To be frank, there was only one thing for it.
"Are you Ender?" the sleeping man jerked upright, pointing a revolver at Firestar's head. His finger was primed on the trigger. Firestar was just about to raise his gun, but the suddenly awake man had him in his power.
 
"Who the hell are you?" the man sneered menacingly. "Are you the guy who's been hacking my systems? Or do you work for him? Or them?" Firestar raised his eyebrows.
"Sir, I assure you I know nothing about that. I'm here to give you a job offer." The man paused, narrowing his eyes.
"A job offer?" Firestar grinned.
"Yeah - so are you Ender." The man held the gun up a little more, but then lowered it.
"Yes. I'm the man they call Ender. This is all I have." He gestured to the weapons sprawled around, and finally to the revolver in his hand. "I have to make a living somehow, right? It's all I know. my father, and my father before him - all gun-runners. I've taken to designing them. But there's one thing I won't do, and that's kill with them."
Firestar pointed at the weapon in his hand.
"That's a mighty big revolver," he noted. "You weren't planning to use it?" Ender showed it to him.
"It's custom built. It cannot take lethal rounds. It has six chambers filled with Xorenine stun charges. It might not kill you, but it will keep you out of action for a sure while."
 
At that moment, there was another screech of tires in the distance. Firestar looked up at the ceiling.
"Did you hear that?" he asked. Ender shrugged.
"Yeah sure, I hear it all the time, it's nothing." Firestar frowned.
"But this area's deserted, and it's late evening now." Ender nodded.
"But still, there's gotta be people out and about, y'know," he looked again and Firestar. "So you really want to offer me a proper job?" he asked.
"Yes," Firestar confirmed. "Weapons Analyst for IASA. We need someone to run and design our defence systems and our weapons." Ender's draw dropped.
"IASA...?" he whispered incredulously.
"Yes, we found you luirking about in the underground, and crazy as it seems, we want you. Even the Whiteknight PMC think you're the right stuff."
"Yeah well, I am pretty good, friend."
 
There was another screech of tyres - loud and very nearby. Firestar's head snapped round.
"There's something not right," he said sharply. Ender stroked his beard.
"I need to shave sometime," he mused. Firestar glared at him.
"Not now," he snapped, taking out his gun. "We're not alone anymore." Hurried footsteps echoed down the stairwell. "Is there another exit?" he urged the analyst. Ender pointed to a trapdoor. Firestar ran over to it, and hauled it open. He jammed his finger down, signalling for Ender to descend. He rushed over and began climbing down the ladder.
 
*WHAM!*
 
The door exploded, wooden fragments ricocheting round the room. Firestar was hurled backwards, his head slamming against what he thought must be some sort of bed. He scrambled up, firing his pistol into the smoke. Men armed with Carbine rifles swarmed in. Firestar dived for the trapdoor, and as he did so he just caught a glimpse of a logo on one their vests - SPI SYSTEMS. What the hell was that?
 
He slammed the trapdoor shut above him, and sprinted up to Ender, who was setting charges on the walls.
"This'll probably wreck some guy's house - but they'll find it hard to get us after this." Firestar didn't comment, completely winded, but kept on moving with Ender beside him. He had just realised they were in a sewer, and groaned. Ender turned as they reached a crossroads. The SPI troops had just reached the bottom of the ladder. Ender pressed a black button on his wristwatch, and the tunnel exploded, in a scream of white light. Firestar stumbled back, jamming his hands to his ears. The bricks evaporated into clouds of dust, and the entire tunnel section collapsed.
"RUN!" Ender roared. They bolted to the left and headed deeper into the sewer, with stone fragments raining down behind them. Firestar looked back - this was unnerving, to say the least. Who the hell were these people? IASA's job had just got a lot more complicated.
 



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