Excerpt: Body Option

The wind screamed past the reinforced glass of the cockpit as the Gemini Raptor dropped towards the jagged teeth of the mountain range studding the horizon. Grant Badu winced as the sun’s glare bounced off one of the two sleek shoulder tines at the precise angle to reflect into his eyes, and he squinted at the rapidly growing cliffs rising up in the forward view.

“Careful,” Grant cautioned Argent. “We need to fly low enough to avoid the Bah’zeth sweeps, but there’s no need to clip your tail feathers.”

“This isn’t my first flight mission,” Argent’s voice sniped through his earjack. “Or my tenth, for that matter. If I so much as see your fingers twitch for the override controls, I’ll spin you into a blackout.”

Grant flicked his eyes toward the blue heavens overhead, and held back a comment on insubordination. His rig in the cockpit afforded him a clear view of all directions from the cockpit as long as he rotated his suspension around. Argent, though, had eyes in every direction; he wasn’t merely the pilot for the Gemini Raptor Suit. He was part of it.

“Wasn’t impugning your flight pattern, Argent,” Grant replied, containing his amusement to a low rumble within his voice. “Nor have I reached for those controls in the eight years I’ve been working with you. Old habits die hard, is all.”

“Sure, but you still fly solo on weekends.”

“Why, Argent, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re jealous of me flying without you.” Grant cocked a deliberate glance over his shoulder at the impenetrable central column that housed Argent’s physical body.

Silence was his only reply.

Grant shook his head, mouth quirking, and turned his attention back to the display panels and various readouts at hand. They were dropping low over the Cressian mountain range that bordered his and Argent’s homeland of Crestovia, and it was time to cut back on the idle chatter. The mission required their concentration. Argent would rib him that Grant would need more than he, seeing as Grant was without Argent’s enhanced advantages.

Crestovia’s enemies had been legion ever since the split and restructuring of nations that had followed the Thirty-year Poison War. They were surrounded on all sides by countries and kingdoms that remained at war, both with Crestovia and one another, and that kept building bigger and more deadly machinery to pit metal against metal following the World Nations’ ban on chemical or human foot-soldier warfare of any kind. As the only land with a fertile valley and seaport access on their embattled slice of the map, Crestovia had poured their best resources into finding a military solution to keep their enemies off their necks. Grant’s own piloting expertise had come into play with the rise of the Gemini Suit program.

Trefoil Argent was not a machine. He was the brain in the center column of a giant cybernetic suit that had flight capabilities and was fully equipped with a number of weapons that Grant could wield from his suspension rig in the protected cockpit.

Where other countries used robots, or long-range drones, Crestovia had chosen a different, drastic solution. They had offered their young, bright, disabled children the option for body repair, or a crack at the Gemini Suit program. Many had opted for reconstruction, and served their country in other ways from military defense to diplomacy. Argent, and the small number of those like-minded children, had opted to fly.

Grant had never seen anything like it in his years of piloting, or military service. At first, when he’d been redeployed to the Gemini Suit program, he’d thought it cruel. How could they encase a human, a living being, within a buffered support column and relegate them to the status of a brain, a human computer that powered a mobile suit? Argent didn’t see it that way, though. He had taken to his cybernetic peripherals like Mozart to arranging chords. He flew the suit, walked through its giant legs, and fought with its state of the art mechanical limbs. Grant, for his part, controlled the weaponry, from forearm Gatling cannons to the precision laser knife, and sat with redundancy “override” pilot controls in the rare case a Gemini Suit overextended themselves and hit the critical break threshold. Many of the “brains” of the Gemini Suits had hit that threshold since the inception of the program, and been decommissioned for other types of civil service. Argent, one of the first to don a cybernetic suit and one of a handful of the Raptor class still in action, had never hit critical.

In fact, Argent had taken to the cybernetics so well, he was unique among his peers.

Trefoil Argent, Argent’s Raptor suit, was one of the first-run Gemini Suits. It was built on roughly human-shaped but aerodynamic lines that allowed the suit to double functionality as a flight-capable unit and a war machine that could stride into battle and dispatch its enemies more nimbly than any tank or drone. Argent had chosen the designation Trefoil, and the distinctive triple split tines of his symbol were etched onto the arms of the suit as well as Argent’s central column.

“We’re getting close,” Grant observed, scrutinizing the topography map on one of his readouts. They didn’t have an exact location fix from the Raptor, but a Bah’zeth robot had downed one of their fighter pilots a few days prior, and it had caused an immediate scramble in the upper ranks. Grant and Argent had been tapped as the best team for the recovery job, even though they’d been further out from the border.

“Acknowledged,” Argent said. He had been curt ever since the mission orders had come in.

Grant shrugged, suppressing his instinct to glance over his shoulder at Argent’s column again. He would notice, and it might make an already-tense situation worse. Still …

He couldn’t help himself. “You going to be ready?”

“Of course I’m going to be ready!” Argent snapped in his ear. He altered course, dipping an aerodynamic arm that also functioned as a wing, causing them to blow through the narrow gap between two close-set peaks of the range hard enough to rattle Grant’s teeth. “It’s just like any other peripheral. I’ve been using those all my life.”

Grant didn’t bother to disguise the frown that pinched his brow. Argent’s participation in their upcoming mission was nothing like any of the other peripherals he’d used before, but Grant didn’t know how to breach the topic without pressing Argent in a number of already sore spots. There was a crucial difference in Argent’s latest addition to his repertoire, and he refused to discuss it.

Once they made landfall, it would be Argent’s first time using a body option.

Buy the book!