Hop on over to Joyfully Jay today, and through Sunday, to read my guest blog “Heavy Metal Lover” extolling the virtues of mecha and how it’s played a surprising role in my creative development.
For today’s WIP Wednesday, I offer an exclusive excerpt of “Body Option” that isn’t available anywhere else.
For five years, Grant Badu has been part of a solid fighting team with the Gemini Suit called Trefoil Argent. Together, they fly and fight so effectively, their combat record so impressive, that they’ve become informally known as the Infallible Duo.
When a case containing classified military innovations is stolen and shot down in the foothills of disputed border territory, Grant and Argent are tapped for its swift recovery. But the mission requires pilot Argent to take on the one cybernetic option he’s been avoiding, for reasons even Grant doesn’t know.
The heels of Grant’s boots, polished to mirror levels of shine, clicked sharply on the tiled surface as he strode up the hallway that led to the Pegasus Eyrie’s mission room. When the Gemini Suit program had been established, Crestovia’s Air Armed Forces—AAF to everyone—had created stations at strategic points across the country that had been dubbed ‘Eyries’ for the Suits they deployed. Each line, from Raptor to the latest Hawk, was named for birds of prey and the station designations had stuck. He had been summoned back to the Eyrie that morning with a message flagged highest priority. The southern border had been quiet lately, so of course something had come up on Grant’s furlough, because that was his luck. Icarus Eyrie was closer to the southern lines, but when something required a lightning strike and guaranteed success, the AAF always tapped the Infallible Duo.
He reached the mission room and paused on the threshold as always, tossing off a crisp salute and admiring the view, perched as it was over the flight deck that launched the Gemini Suits. Argent’s chirp of greeting was loud in his ear from his position on Grant’s shoulder.
“Captain Badu, please enter.” An older, white-haired man with a silvery moustache was present at the head of the table. A general, Grant noted his insignia with surprise. They were infrequently graced with the presence of someone that high in the ranks.
“And my partner, Trefoil Argent,” Grant said pointedly, gesturing to the silver-metallic bird of prey on his shoulder. The fact that Argent was attending the mission meeting in peripheral form, rather than flesh, was something that shouldn’t go without acknowledgment.
“And the immensely talented Trefoil Argent, of course,” Dr. Badger Prane was quick to add, in the manner of an introduction.
“Ah, yes,” the general said, clasping his hands and bending a stare on Argent, who bobbed his head in a preening motion though his pinions required maintenance rather than grooming. “The other half of our Infallible Duo.”
An auspicious greeting, Grant noted, wishing he could make the comment in aside to Argent, but he hadn’t mastered the skill of sub-vocalization, while Argent could make free with his remarks to Grant without others hearing. “Sir?”
“Please, be seated,” the general said. “I’m General Drake Barcek, I’ve been in weapons development for the past five years since receiving my latest star.”
Grant nodded, seating himself at the table and taking note of those present. Dr. Prane was one of the top minds in the Gemini Suit program, and made the rounds constantly to ensure that the pilots were well-treated and looked after. Across from him was Grant’s own commanding officer, Lieutenant General Jasinder Palova, looking stern. Her dark face shuttered in a considering squint and her uniformed arms were folded across her chest. Typically there was more support staff for a mission briefing; the lack of extra faces around their table had him wondering.
Must be secret weapons development, Argent remarked in his ear. Grant responded with the slightest dip of his chin to indicate agreement.
“A plane went down in the Cressian range this morning,” General Barcek said, lacing his fingers together and sending a formidable pale-blue gaze Grant’s way. “The plane was carrying proprietary technology obtained through espionage. Unfortunately for the Bah’zeth, but fortunately for us, they flew toward Bahazeth without the proper airspace access codes, and were shot down.”
One of Grant’s brows winched upward. “One of our own turned on us, and tried to make off with Crestovian military technology,” he summarized.
“In short.” A flicker of annoyance crossed General Barcek’s face. “This is bad for us, very bad. Our available data indicate the plane crashed in one of those cave-riddled areas. We need to send someone for retrieval, and fast.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Grant said, glancing at his colleagues and noting that Dr. Prane was grimacing and gnawing a knuckle. “That’s the kind of mission we can launch for, as soon as Trefoil Argent is prepped.” At the periphery of his vision, Lieutenant General Palova began to shake her head.
“It’s not that simple,” General Barcek said.
Of course it’s not, Argent said in his ear. Grant ignored him.
Dr. Prane left off gnawing his knuckle and sat forward in his chair, spine upright and eyes wide.
“It’s been brought to my attention, when I reviewed your specs for the mission, that Trefoil Argent does not have a body option,” General Barcek said. There was mild censure in his voice.
“I wasn’t aware that existing as a cybernetic suit required one,” Argent piped up, the fluting tones of his high tenor undercutting the saucy delivery that bordered insubordination. When dawning horror broke over Lieutenant General Palova’s face, he added a sharp, “Sir.”
“Not require, no,” General Barcek said slowly, pushing his fingers upward and steepling them, brows lowered as his eyes swiveled to pin Argent with a long stare. “Unusual. Most pilots your age, racking up hazard pay at the rate you have, can count a body option among the list of their peripherals to walk among us … enjoy the fullest life has to offer, as it were.”
“I quite like this peripheral, and my other cybernetic options. After all, a body option cannot fly.” Argent unfolded one silvery wing and extended it, birdlike head cocking as if to view it. “Sir.”
General Barcek grunted and shifted in his seat. “Couldn’t believe it when they told me,” he said, shaking his head. “A pilot of your considerable skill, long since financially solvent past the cost of cybernetic debt, and you don’t have a body option.”
Argent’s beak opened. Grant reached his hand up and pinched it shut.
“General Barcek, are we making conversation, or is there a point to this line of inquiry?” Grant asked. It was direct to the point of rudeness, and Lieutenant General Palova’s eyes narrowed in a very particular way that let him know he’d be getting his ears dismantled and whacked against his head later, but his question was worlds closer to social acceptability than anything Argent would have delivered.
“Yes.” General Barcek coughed into his fist, began to turn red, and re-settled in his chair, folding his hands beside a tablet display. “This mission will require Trefoil Argent to be assigned a body option.”
Grant removed his fingers in haste as Argent twisted his beak out from thumb and forefinger, head tilting in the way that meant he was going to nip, hard.
“It’s quite a steal for you,” General Barcek was saying. “Haven’t paid the money out for one, already, and now the AAF will foot the bill because we need you to have it for this mission. Works out quite well, when you look at it that way.”
“What if I don’t look at it that way?” Argent said flatly. “I’ve never seen the need for soft and squishy parts. I’m a pilot. I fly, I don’t—” He snapped his beak shut.
Grant huffed and thanked his own lucky star that Argent hadn’t completed that thought in front of the General. We’re fighter pilots, we fly and we fuck. Argent had never gone with the peripheral that would let him follow through on the second. He did plenty of the first, and claimed it was all he needed.
Grant went stone-faced to avoid betraying any expression to General Barcek, Dr. Prane or even their commanding officer. Dr. Prane and Lieutenant General Palova had questioned him repeatedly, right around the time of Argent’s yearly flight-readiness evaluations, on why Argent consistently held off on getting a body option. Grant’s loyalty sealed his lips. In truth, though, he didn’t know. It was one of the few things Argent had never confided in him, and Grant had too much stubborn pride to ask for something not freely given.
“Lieutenant Argent,” Lieutenant General Palova said sharply.
Argent tilted his beak in the air and shut up, but turned his head so one black eye-lens was fixed on those assembled at the table.
“This mission requires it,” General Barcek said, straightening his shoulders. He had a barrel chest that was halfway slid into a gut that strained the seams of his deep green military tunic.
“Any multi-legged cybernetic peripheral worth its weight–”
General Barcek spoke over him, raising his voice and increasing in volume until Argent fell silent again. “For those unfamiliar with the cave system of the Cressian range,” he said, modulating his volume when Argent ceased speaking, “it’s riddled with veins of lead and other heavy metals, those with insulating, signal-dampening effects.”
Grant’s jaw tightened and his nostrils flared. “Metal peripherals won’t do well there,” he re-phrased, to confirm his own understanding.
“Your metal peripherals will not do well there,” General Barcek repeated, fixing Argent with a gimlet stare. “The link for the body option is different, and stronger, based as it is on DNA rather than circuitry. You don’t uplink, you transfer.”
Argent’s metallic pinions rattled together as he shifted on Grant’s shoulder. Grant tried not to frown; existing through cybernetic peripherals as he did, Argent had no need to fidget. He was making his opinion known with that rattle.
“It’s a two-person mission on foot,” General Barcek continued. “Our coordinates can put you in the approximate location where the fighter plane was downed, but gunner and pilot will need to proceed into the caves to track down and retrieve that case.”
“It’s imperative that we deploy our best team immediately in order to recover that technology,” Lieutenant General Palova said, taking up the thread of the mission briefing. “Without question, Captain Badu, Lieutenant Argent, you are that team. Which brings us to this table, here and now.” She rapped her knuckles on the table’s surface.
“Thank you,” Grant said, when it became apparent no one else would speak, especially Argent who only rattled his pinions again. He smoothed a dark-skinned hand down the front of his uniform and tugged. He was still in fighting trim beneath his green tunic, though his days of working up from foot soldier to fighter pilot were long past. He had manned the weapons from Trefoil Argent’s cockpit for eight years once he’d promoted into the Gemini Suit project at twenty-four, and the suspension rig was enough effort that he had to keep up on regular workouts and stamina runs to remain fit for the job. “General. Lieutenant General. I’ll fly wherever Argent takes me, but accepting this mission comes down to his choice.”
It was Dr. Prane who spoke up, manner soft and conciliatory. “Argent?”
Argent replied with several strident clicks and caws more reminiscent of the bird of prey that his current form resembled—a shape he’d chosen for his primary off-duty cybernetic peripheral. At last, following a conclusive sharp click, he settled down, talons squeezing Grant’s shoulder until he grunted. “Not like I have much choice, sir. I guess I’m getting a body option.”
Release date: Wednesday, April 2nd.