In 2572 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum-security penal colony to the Martian underground. Today, still wanted by the ruling megacorp, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help and if you can find them, maybe you can hire The A-Team.
“I’m here to collect Captain Murdock.”
The VA nurse smiled up at the tall, handsome, black man at the nurse’s station. He wore an immaculate army uniform that bore major’s oak leaves and an impressive array of medal ribbons. She smiled at him because there was just something about his smile. Whatever he asked her, she felt sure she’d want to say yes.
“Oh yes, Major Travis. For the tests.” She frowned. “What kind of tests are they exactly?”
“Classified, I’m afraid,” the major said. The nurse nodded, not surprised. Mr Murdock went for many classified tests according to his records. All to do with the war apparently. It made her wonder just what had happened to him back then.
“Okay. He’s in room 542, let me show you the way.”
“Thank you, nurse.”
After a pleasant stroll along the corridor, during which she gave Major Travis her contact details, they reached room 542 and she unlocked the door.
“Thank you, Crystal, I’ll take it from here.”
He went inside and she heaved a sigh. Mr Murdock always had the best-looking visitors.
Major Travis slipped into the darkened room and saw an odd glow beyond the bed. He turned on the light.
Murdock popped up from behind the bed.
Face shushed him and then pressed a button on the control strapped to his wrist. He felt the tingle of the force field against his skin as the Pseudo Suit projection collapsed, revealing his slightly shorter, and much paler, self.
“You knew I was coming,” Face said, still refusing to believe Murdock’s claim that he could see through a Pseudo Suit. If he could… well how could he? He couldn’t. He was just crazy. Unless that was why he could… Speaking of crazy. He frowned at Murdock’s odd headgear, a helmet with a flashlight strapped to it.
“What’s with the hat?”
“I’m digging the tunnel again.” Murdock took off his improvised miner’s helmet.
“Murdock, this room is on the fifth floor.”
“It is?” Murdock frowned and looked thoughtful for a while. “Okay, I’m going to have to revise my schedule.”
“Just get ready, will you?” Face looked nervously at the door. “You’re the one called me to get you out of here. This job you say you’ve got for us better be something good.”
“Of course it is.” Murdock grabbed his jacket, cap and bag. “Do you need me to gibber as we leave? I could drool too.”
“Thanks,” Face said. “But I think we can manage without either. Right, gimme a second.” He fiddled with the control again and ‘Major Travis’ reappeared.
“I don’t know why you bother with that,” Murdock said. “The nurses won’t spot you.”
“Oh yeah? What about that ‘wanted’ poster of me they have?”
“I think one of them took it home.”
Face smirked. “How many’s that now?”
Murdock rolled his eyes. “Let’s go, before your batteries run out.”
They walked out of the room, both giving Nurse Crystal big smiles. Face did feel more secure inside the suit. He could walk right past Decker himself and not be spotted with this thing switched on. Hannibal refused to use one, of course. He pointed out that none of his wigs had even had a software glitch at a crucial moment and he had never had to recharge any of his rubber noses.
They left the VA and walked into the jasmine scented air. Above them, the sunset tinged the sky soft peach and delicate wisps of clouds with silvery edges drifted slowly. Face wished they’d get some new sunset simulations, he felt sure he’d seen this exact same one only last week.
“Let’s grab a cab,” Face suggested.
“Can’t we walk?” Murdock said. “You know I don’t get out much and it’s a lovely evening.”
It was always a lovely evening of course. The controlled environment of Redmond City, the Martian capital, never bothered with rain, or cold wind. Under the domes, every day was a fine day. Not too hot, not too cold, a gentle breeze now and again, wafting the scent of blossom.
It was enough to drive a man crazy.
Face checked the battery level for his Pseudo suit generator. Enough juice for them to walk back to his current residence, without him undergoing a sudden change of identity. He glanced around at people as they strolled. How many of them might be fakes too?
Be who you want to be today.
And be someone else tomorrow.
That’s how the tag line ran on the ads for the latest top of the range suits. They’d been developed originally for the entertainment business, but like any new technology had naturally been co-opted for crime and dating.
You could go out looking as handsome or beautiful as you liked, but of course, you took the chance that the beautiful or handsome person you picked up was no more who they appeared to be than you were.
“Suit.” Murdock was saying quietly, looking at women as they passed. “Real. Suit. Suit. Real.”
Face didn’t care, not when it came to only looking. But he still didn’t believe Murdock could see through them.
Face currently lived in the penthouse of a highly exclusive boutique hotel, with discreet but tight security. The staff thought he was a famous actor. Using a Pseudo Suit to impersonate a real person had recently been made illegal, but Face just happened to know that right now this guy was in a secret rehab centre on the dark side of the moon and would be there for at least another month.
Shame he would be sober by the time he got the bill for this place, Face thought, flashing a smile at the receptionist as they walked through the lobby. She just loved his long wavy red hair and that cute gap in his front teeth.
A moment later, they entered his suite and he became himself again with a sigh with relief. Useful the suit might be, but it did make him feel hot and prickly wearing it for more than an hour at a time.
“Right, call room service, Murdock, I’m going to take a shower before the others get here and then you can play us that message.”
Retrospectively, Face thought, he’d made the right choice in picking a hell-raising movie star to impersonate, because the team had trashed the hotel room without even trying. BA could knock stuff over just by looking at it, Face felt sure.
Now Hannibal and Murdock sprawled on the king size bed with their shoes on, eating potato chips from the minibar. BA was testing the tolerance limits of the arms of a chair. Only Amy seemed to manage to sit there in an armchair without breaking anything.
“Okay, Murdock,” Face said, walking into the room fastening his shirt cuffs and feeling sharp potato chip crumbs sticking to his bare feet. “You’re up.”
“‘Kay.” Murdock sat up on the bed. “You guys remember a young fella from the war, name of Matt Warner?”
“A pilot, wasn’t he?” Hannibal said.
“Yep. Rookie, just out of flight school. I flew with him as my co-pilot a few times and he wasn’t half bad. He used to ask to be assigned to fly with me.”
“Which means he’s as crazy as you,” BA muttered.
“They sent him to Venus straight out of flight school?” Amy said, sounding shocked. Face, his shoes on now, came over and perched on the arm of the chair beside her.
“They were getting pretty desperate by that stage, the casualty rates and all.” Murdock shook his head and the team fell silent for a moment, remembering just how desperate that time had been.
Venus had been half way through a twenty year terraforming cycle, when the megacorp that owned it went bust. The other corps all tried to grab a piece of what would be the best real estate in the solar system once the terraforming cycle finished. And a hostile take-over turned into a war.
A war, Face thought. A war on a planet evolving a million times faster than normal. Only lunatics would fight in an environment that changed while you were looking at it. You could go on patrol in a temperate forest and come back out of a jungle.
And that wasn’t even the worst part.
“Did he survive the war?” Amy asked. “Warner?”
“Oh, yeah,” Murdock said, nodding. “He survived, got married. To that Irish girl from HQ, remember, guys? Got their resettlement packages. Yeah, he did fine. Till now.”
He took a small plastic square from his pocket.
“I got this in the mail from him a couple of days ago.” He tossed it to Face who caught it, stepped up to a small control panel on the wall and fitted the plastic square into a slot. A panel on the wall slid aside to reveal a screen. Face frowned.
Murdock shrugged. “I guess they don’t have a 3D imager. Hey, out on the frontier you know.”
“Frontier?” Face suddenly had a bad feeling about this job. Helping out an old war buddy was great, but nobody had said anything about the frontier. “Where exactly did this message come from?”
On the screen, an image appeared of a smiling man in his early thirties with mid brown skin.
“Hello, Murdock,” Matthew Warner said. “Greetings from Ganymede.”
“Ganymede is a hell of a long way out,” Face said. They’d viewed the first few minutes of the message and Face could see Hannibal’s eyes start to sparkle. Frontier world, limited law enforcement, endless possibilities for the Jazz.
“But you heard what he said,” Hannibal pointed out. “Almost all of the miners out there are war vets and they’re getting harassed out of their claims. The claims they got as part of their war settlements. We can’t let that happen.”
“Yeah,” BA said. “It ain’t just Warner. All the others. We don’t know ’em, but all of them was out there on Venus same as us.”
“And they’re going to pay us,” Hannibal said. “They’ve grouped together to pay our fee.”
“Which will maybe, maybe cover the cost of the fuel to get the ship there.” Face pointed out. “Which will take a couple of weeks at least and –”
“Face,” Murdock said, “let me play the next bit.”
Face shrugged, not imagining he’d change his mind. The last thing he had time for right now was a month long round trip out to the moons of Jupiter. Not with all the good things he had on the burner around here, all of which needed supervision. Sighing, he waved his hand at the screen again and the playback resumed.
“…week ago the main guy behind it all showed himself. We all knew him right away.” Matthew paused, leant forward towards the camera, his face serious. “It’s Douglas Kyle.”
Face jumped to his feet, staring and not taking in anything else Matthew’s image said.
The name spoken again, by Amy this time, broke the spell it had placed on Face, and he turned to her as she went on.
“Major Douglas Kyle? The one who went rogue after he was convicted of torturing prisoners?”
“The very same.” Hannibal said, grim faced. “He pretty much disappeared after the war. A lot of people thought…” He glanced at Face. “Hoped he was dead. Looks like they were wrong.”
“Kyle.” BA shook his head. “Man, that dude’s chip fritzed out for sure.”
Face could believe that. Back on Venus, you spent your whole life in fear. Not just of the guns and the shelling and the radiation. Of course you feared those, but what you really feared was something you couldn’t see.
Nanites. Molecule sized machines, which swarmed in their trillions over the planet as part of the terraforming programme. They invaded the very cells of the animals and plants in the rapidly evolving environment and rewrote their DNA to accelerate their very unnatural selection process.
And they would happily rewrite the DNA of any humans they found too. The only thing that kept them away was a chip, embedded under the skin, which gave off a repelling signal.
But like all technology, the chips malfunctioned sometimes, especially in areas of high radiation. Every veteran knew of some poor sap whose chip had fritzed out and who had to be invalided home with more limbs than when they arrived.
Of course, that was an obvious effect. There were others. Face had read once that a quarter of a human’s genes were dedicated to building the brain. If the nanites messed with those genes… He glanced at Murdock. Even just a short glitch with the chip and… He shook himself.
“Okay, Kyle, yeah, I agree, I’d love to go pound that bastard.” He glanced at BA, who looked ready to start the pounding now. “But it is still a long way out. Let’s take a few days to put things together, gather supplies, make plans. Sound good?”
“Yeah,” Hannibal agreed. “Face is right, no sense in going off half –”
The door burst off its hinges and uniformed men piled into the room, pointing rifles. The man leading them, pointed a pistol in a two handed grip, aiming straight at Hannibal.
“Everybody freeze!” Decker ordered.