by Roderick D. Turner
"If you drop it off with Jim, he'll have it ready for you by noon." Kayla Foster smiled at her partner, the conforming plastic of her suit's face plate distorting it into a grimace. She poked a finger at the Rad suit draped over his arm. "Derek, just get it done. I'm out of here."
Derek Aboto snagged her by the wrist as she turned to leave. "Kayla, I don't like you going out there alone. It's only a Rad day, for God's sake. What's worth risking your life over?"
Kayla scowled. "You know the answer as well as I do. Best stories ever come from what weirdos like to do on Rad days. Rad days happen maybe twice a year. And when they come, no reporter's ever ready." She tapped the twin mini-cameras mounted on her hood. "These babies are out to get the best report of the year. With or without you."
Derek threw up his hands in submission as she stormed off. "You've got a death wish, Kayla," he called after her. "I can't cover your back when I'm sitting here waiting for my Rad suit to be fixed."
Kayla was already through the Masson tower's main airlock and out onto the street. She toggled the auto transceiver to active mode as she started up her power scooter. "Catch up, and you share in the glory. Best report of the year, Derek. Guaranteed." She let out the clutch and the little electric scooter shot off down the deserted street towards the shopping precinct.
Derek picked up the words over his own headset, and sighed. Reckless, impetuous, aggressive. Any number of other adjectives came to mind, none of them suggesting a peaceful and secure lifestyle. Kayla was a time bomb waiting to go off, and he had an uneasy feeling the timer had run out. He knew he had to get out there with her fast, or this would be her last report. It was his gift, if you wanted to call it that. Second sight, prescience, awareness. "Some gift," he muttered under his breath. He switched his transceiver to auto mode as he ran down the hall to the main elevator bank. "Kayla. Don't turn this link off. I'll be there as soon as I can."
There was a derisive snort. "Anything you say, big guy. I'll keep up a running commentary, so you know what you're missing."
Derek rode the Masson-exclusive express elevator to the twelfth floor. He turned left off the elevator, scanned his pass card, and pushed open the secure door into Technical. Jim Withers looked up from a Net screen as Derek strode into the lab.
"What you doing here on a Rad day, Derek?" Jim asked. "Nobody works Rad days. Especially reporters."
Derek raised his eyebrows questioningly. "Nobody?"
Jim shrugged. "What can I say? I live here." He pushed his chair out on its rollers, leaned back and set his feet up on the desk. "What do you need?"
Derek threw his Rad suit down on the workbench. "We worked all night writing up a big story on the gang warfare down in Chimba village. Finished at about five, and checked the traffic report before we headed home. When Kayla heard today was a Rad day, she did what you'd expect." He jerked a finger back across his shoulder. "Suited up, and took off. No sleep in about thirty hours, and no food for at least eighteen." He hefted his suit, then dropped it again. "If these things weren't so damned expensive, maybe we'd have backups. My suit failed the leakage tests. I need it fixed."
"Tell him about the story, Derek." Kayla's voice sounded distant through the tiny earpiece. "Today's story."
"She online with you, Derek?" Jim asked.
Jim grinned. "Tell her I still think she's the craziest bitch ever to wear a camera."
Derek's face turned serious. "Hey, Jim, I know you and Kayla get along. But today's not the day for joking around. I need this suit, and I need it now."
Jim swung forward and got to his feet. He put a hand on Derek's shoulder. "Hey, it's cool. I'm on the case. You go grab a coffee or something, and I'll have it all sealed up for you." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "I think she's finally getting to you, buddy. Beats me how you stayed sane this long with a partner like her." He winked, scooped up the Rad suit, and headed to the back of the room. A moment later he had disappeared into the Chem lab.
Derek rubbed his hands across his face, let out a huge sigh.
"Hey, partner. Take it easy on Jim. Me and him had a thing once, and -- "
"Kayla, cut the crap. Give me that running commentary, and keep it detailed. I'm going down to Control and monitor you from there until my suit's ready."
Kayla was cruising down Masters Street, the southern edge of the downtown shopping precinct. So far she had seen nothing, met nobody, and had no inspiring story ideas. But in spite of her outward attitude and self-focus, she sensed her partner's unease. Something was eating him, and she knew from experience that when he got those feelings, you took them seriously. In your own way.
"You got it, big D. Just taking a speed stroll through the high price district, checking out the newest fashions. Makes you glad these Rad suits are so damned hard to come by. Keeps the rabble off the streets on days like today."
"Kayla, it's keeping me off the streets too, in case you hadn't noticed," came Derek's reply. "I'm almost at Control. Tell me if you see anything unusual."
Kayla winced. "Unusual?" she said. "Hey, there's this really hot chick riding a speed scooter and wearing a purple Masson Rad suit. Pretty hard to miss. Some radical with a good eye for a target should pick her out any time now."
Derek suppressed a chuckle in spite of himself. "Yeah, you're a regular purple people-eater," he said. "How's the weather out there?"
"For a Rad day, it's a little chilly. Especially down here amongst the high-rises. Most of the time you're in shade, and there're these howling wind tunnels that keep you pinned down when you try to walk. Never understood why anyone would want to live here."
"Control room sensors say the ozone levels are toxic, Kayla. You got complete inversion, enough nitric oxide to poison Superman. All that excess radiation coming through the ozone hole's flipping out the air chemistry, let alone frying everything in the G-damned place. Whatever stupidity you get up to, just make sure you keep that suit of yours intact."
"And now, for the second part of our lecture today, a word from our famous talking seal."
"Kayla, just be careful. As Rad day's go, this one is pretty intense."
"Then it's a perfect match for me. Never get a good story without a little danger."
Derek sighed. "Listen, I got your feed on the monitors now, so I'll have my eye on you remotely. Try to keep that intensity of yours in check until I get out there."
Kayla slowed the scooter to jogging pace, launched the back end off the pavement and touched the rear of the front wheel with her boot. As the scooter tried to flip itself end over end, she leaned left and twisted with her feet, executing a perfect front-wheel spin. She landed in line with her original path, then fired a gloating grin into her rearview mirror, so the cameras would get a good view of her face. "Don't worry, Derek. I'll keep things in line out here."
"Ever think of joining a circus, Kayla? They need people who like to show off in public, and risk their lives while doing it. You'd be perfect."
Kayla was about to reply in kind when a faint puff of smoke up ahead caught her eye. "Not now, Derek," she said. "I'm working." She cut the scooter's power and went to manual, what she liked to call 'silent mode'. Her gaze never left the building where the smoke had appeared, but there was no recurrence. The twin cameras whined slightly as the auto-focus tracked that of her eyes, zooming in to the building. "You catch that, partner?"
There was a pause, then "Something drifting out of a second floor window. I'm running it through spectral right now. Wait."
Kayla pulled the scooter into the deep shadow of a store entrance. Even from this distance, she couldn't make out anything coming from the building. If she hadn't seen that initial puff...
"OK, I got it. Someone's venting diesel exhaust, burning it clean so it's almost invisible. This new analysis system here is something else."
"I'm going in, Derek. That's the Gailmore, isn't it? Jewelry and furs. My guess is someone's trying to crack the vault."
"Kayla for God's sake, you're a reporter, not the cavalry. I'll call in a police assault squad. You stay put until they arrive."
Kayla was already moving across the street, still about fifty meters from the Gailmore building. She'd left her scooter in the shadowed entryway, but was lugging her portable power unit in case the camera batteries were low. There were no vehicles out front, and no sign of any activity. The main Gailmore airlock looked undamaged, and the alarm lights across the entryway were dark. On a Rad day, with all buildings vapor-sealed, any unauthorized entry or exit would trip the alarms. Unless, of course, the alarms had been deactivated.
"I'm heading round back, Derek. There has to be a loading area or something."
"Kayla, the police are on their way. Don't be an idiot. Stay out of that building."
"They must've deactivated the alarms. Else how did they get in, and how are they letting the exhaust escape? It's not coming out any authorized egress port, that's for sure." She had found an alley that ran down the rear of the building. The cameras whined focus on a small electric car parked below a loading dock, about half way down the block.
"Derek, you getting -- "
There was a sudden violent explosion, and the ground shook beneath her feet. The windows on the Gailmore's first, second, and third floors blew out in one erupting blast, the resilient plastiglass shattering as it struck the paved alleyway.
"Derek. Tell me you got that," Kayla said quietly.
"Are you hurt, Kayla?"
"Did we get it on disc, Derek? This doesn't exactly happen every day."
"OK, so you're fine. Thanks for the reassurance." Kayla heard a long sigh. "Yeah, of course it's recorded," Derek said at last. "Everything that feeds into this room is recorded. If your cameras are working, you got it. Now get the hell away from there before there's a secondary blast. Whatever idiots were raiding the building, they should never have broken the seal. Obviously nobody told them how explosive the air gets on a Rad day."
Kayla trotted up to the electric car, now covered with fragments of glass and burning fabric. She panned the cameras across the vehicle, then deftly flipped open the glove compartment, activating the permit display. The car was registered to a car rental dealership on the south side. This probably meant it was stolen, or that the dealership was controlled by whatever gang had masterminded the aborted heist. She caught the faint moaning of a police siren.
"Kayla you have the scoop. Now get the hell away before you end up another splat on the sidewalk, or the police think you engineered the whole operation."
"I'm leaving," she said. "Let me know when I hit the main street if you're picking up good footage of the fire." She ran round to the front of the building, ducked into the dark entry beside her scooter just as a squad car slid to a stop twenty meters away. The blazing flames, fed by the combustibles in the air, were already engulfing the entire Gailmore and its neighboring buildings. The whole block would soon be aflame. No fire-fighting services were available during a Rad-day, so there was nothing the police could do but sit and watch the place burn. "Holy shit, Derek. This is intense."
"Listen, Kayla. You got the feature spot for tonight's news, no contest. Leave."
Kayla nodded. "I guess you're right. It's not the story I thought I'd get, but it's better than nothing. OK, I'm heading west, then I'll cut through the finance district on my way back to Masson. You coming out for some air any time soon?"
"Just spoke to Jim. He has the suit ready. Listen, Kayla, just as you were coming around the building our scanner here at Control picked up -- well, maybe you'd better hear it for yourself."
Kayla turned up the receive level as she sped westward, listening to the garbled and intermittent signal Derek played back to her.
'...moving...deception...landing on...invasion force...lien form...Rad su...her way...'
"You catch that, Kayla? This scanner can track pretty well any encrypted messaging, but whoever was sending that has one up on us. Probably military. Maybe top government operatives. Something's going down."
"Jesus. Today? In the city?"
"The broadcast was from the downtown area somewhere. Listen, I'm grabbing my suit and coming out after you. Meet me at the Central Bank Plaza in ten minutes. I'll stay in voice contact."
"You got it. I'll keep my eyes open."
Kayla turned the corner and headed north on Allan, then made a right into the finance district. She was half way to the Central Bank when she saw a pedestrian crossing the street, a block ahead of her. The sight almost made her lose control of the scooter. The man wasn't wearing a Rad suit.
"Derek. Where are you, Derek?"
"About three blocks north of Central Bank. Be there in two minutes."
"I'm a block west of Oriental International. There's someone walking on the street."
"No Rad suit. They should be -- "
"Two more, Derek." She had slowed her scooter and whipped into the shadows, hugging the storefronts on the north side of the street. "Heading east, walking -- real fast." She checked the speed gauge as she kept pace with her quarry. "Derek, they're walking at nearly twenty clicks."
"I'm on my way. I'll come in from the north, intercept you at the corner of Davis. A minute, no more." There was a pause. "Kayla, are you sure they're not riding something?"
"On foot. Dressed in business civvies. Sunglasses, slick haircuts. Typical financial geeks. Except they can breath poison and walk at sprinting pace. Jesus, look at their legs move."
"Keep out of sight, and keep your distance. I'm almost there."
"Already taken care of. I'm -- shit, Derek, one of them's seen me. He -- it -- there's a weapon -- "
Derek aimed for the one with the gun, ran his scooter straight into him, bowling him over onto the roadway. He kept the scooter under control, caught a glimpse of reddish fur and long leathery legs as he sped past. The weapon, dislodged from the enemy's grasp, spun through the air and landed, miraculously, on the scooter. Derek pinned it there with a foot and swung the scooter into a hard turn, heading west toward Kayla's now retreating form. A streak of green light flashed past over his left shoulder, sent sparks and flames high on the wall of a business tower. Derek turned up the speed, dodged right at the next intersection. As he banked into the corner he looked back, caught a last glimpse of two reddish balls brandishing metallic objects, sprinting after him at a frightening pace. He thanked God for the scooter's speed, ducked into an alley, and caught Kayla at the next block.
"Still think you didn't need my help?" he asked.
"You sure left it to the last second," she answered. "Derek, those weren't -- "
"Human? You mean, were they aliens? Kayla, you saw them. You got them on film before I did. Did they look human?"
"Damned right. Except for the way they moved."
"Then if they are aliens, they look like furry red balls with long leathery legs," he said grimly. "And, they can change their appearance to look exactly like human beings." He tapped the weapon on the scooter with his foot. "Maybe we'll learn something about them from this."
"I saw -- one of them, the one that saw me, it changed. On camera. Before it pulled out the weapon, it turned into a red furry blob. I thought I was losing it."
"Either we're both crazy, or we have -- you have -- the biggest story ever." Derek pulled his scooter up in front of Masson. "Let's get inside and analyze those shots. And let Jim take a look at this gun."
They had it, all of it. The businessmen in suits. Superhuman pace. Transformation. The gun and its bolt of green light. Flaming and melting buildings. Holy shit. If these things could do all that, blend in with people, they could do almost anything. They sat in the Control room, staring in awe at the video. What a story. Now the world would know. Everyone could be at risk. There would have to be a globally united initiative to hunt down, make contact with these creatures.
The door to the room opened slowly. They both turned, sudden fear gripping them as the silvery barrel of the weapon appeared round the door. Then Jim's head peered in behind it.
"Guys, this gun -- " He ran his finger along the barrel, tapped a spot near the tip. "Made in the US, but -- totally cool." He gave them a quizzical, sidelong look. "Is there anything I should know?"
© 2009 Roderick D. Turner
Bio: Roderick D. Turner has been actively writing fiction since 1990. To date he has written one novel and close to 100 short stories. Four of his stories (aside from "Rad Day") have been published in paper or electronic form, and another recently reached the quarterfinals in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the FutureContest. His story Chaos Angel appeared in the May 2009 Aphelion.
E-mail: Roderick D. Turner
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