MERC CORP: The Retrieval


Board Game

Shriekka woke Alan up at 3:30. Sound alarm was set to ring at night in two situations only: either a mission lucrative enough to pull an all-nighter or a viable opportunity for revenge on past enemies. Since search algorithms that he programmed himself decided to wake him with a shriekka, there was nothing left to do but summon a holo of the mission straight to his optic nerves.

IT:2022.12.03:30 Mode: urgent.

Location: Xome/Stratoline. Coordinates [latent until mission is accepted].

Principal: [Anonymous].

Mission: Retrieve a load from a warehouse located near Stratoline city. Load: standard hermetic warehouse containers size category II: A, B, C, D.

Reward: 2,000 for each delivered unimpaired container. Bonus for time and efficiency of the retrieval. Additional 1,000 for each eliminated opponent.

Bio-threat level: warehouse - expected lethal atmosphere for humans, load - [latent] lethal for humans in case the container is unsealed. No danger for AlterBots.

Cargo: Amount of containers to be retrieved: 48 [updating…]. Markings on containers: [latent until arrival to the location of the mission].

Handover and payment: On the spot, person: John Doe III, corporation ASK Stratostandard Cleaning.

Additional information: As per video surveillance, the warehouse was depressurized from the floor side by insects.

Opponent: Possible presence of a swarm of insects. Fighting insects were not detected by surveillance, a small quantity of workers focused on robbing the warehouse was detected. [updating…]

Only the most essential information was highlighted. Location, load, reward, threat level. Alan accepted the mission automatically. He was going to read its full description on the way. As they say - time is money, think less, earn more, kick necessary asses.


He launched the interface of his AlterBot. Candy Girl, as he called her, was his gem, the apple of his eye. He was proud and he had good reasons. Especially that money doesn’t just fall from the sky. He had to earn it himself to afford a heavily modified model Taran KZP-24. Additional cannon for the body and gaseous speed boost, the latest Cyber Move Machinery product made Candy Girl a swift and robust destruction machine. For a moment, he wondered what to fit in a free input at undercarriage level. He picked something he endearingly called Sighty, as he participated a bit in the formation of this project. Sighty was nothing else than a half-meter can of pseudo-spray containing several thousand micro drones equipped with basic scanners. However, all those micro drones streamed collected data directly to the main weapon guiding module. It wasn’t very useful on an open battlefield but could come handy in a confined space of an underground warehouse.

Eight minutes later, piloted remotely by Alan, Candy Girl turned up in front of an entrance to a service elevator. People from the company that was supposed to pick up the freight were moving about. Their AlterBots were just almost done installing a mobile decontamination station. Other mercenaries, who accepted the mission, have also arrived. Alltogether with Alan there were five of them. Having briefly scanned their equipment, he noticed that everyone apart from him arrived with AlterBots with light munitions specialized in fast moving of goods. “Good”, he thought, “let them look for containers while I get back at vermin for what they did to Banana II, my previous AlterBot”.

Then a truck approached from the city side. Sontro Nuezi, the right hand of the Empire’s Minister of Internal Affairs Aevy Van Skregge, got off and a few policemen without unit badges jumped out of its rear hatch. Sontro ran up to the crew setting up the decontamination around the entrance to the elevator. One of the AlterBots finished assembling a lock, pulled out from the rest and headed to meet him.


“Change of plans, ladies and gentlemen,” shouted Sontro and his voice echoed on an open audio channel.

Surely the pilot of AlterBot ASKSC proposed switching to a private channel because there was a momentary fuss, when they were arguing and flailing their humans and robotic arms. The outcome of this argument was displayed before the eyes of its witnesses after a dozen seconds. The principal and city authorities had reached an agreement. A new option appeared in the description of the mission. Sontro put in something from himself. A bonus for anyone, who plants one of the bombs brought by the police. The city had better reconnaissance and decided it was worth to pay extra for planting a few bangers on load-bearing pillars in the warehouse, probably in order to send the rest of the warehouse and a piece of the insects’ underground tunnels to hell. Good clean dough that didn’t interfere with the main objective of the mission.

Alan walked his AlterBot to the truck and attached one of the offered bombs to Candy Girl’s last free input. He then got on the elevator with the AlterBots of other mercenaries and they descended eight hundred and twenty meters under the surface of Xome moon orbiting a gaseous giant Grunthoa to, apart from smashing vermin, score some points with president Hrakkoneer. You never know, when you might need good relations with the government of the moon, where Alan’s main base camp was located.

The elevator stopped and the door slid open. What he saw down there was difficult to describe otherwise than comparing it to a twisted set of a horror film about mutants. Sighty launched automatically, although it wasn’t possible without Alan’s action, and Candy Girl’s cannons were hot and working constantly for the next thirty minutes. At least that’s what Alan was telling everyone later in T-Crypt, a mercenaries’ bar, where a bottle of real, not reclaimed water cost more than anyone would pay for a dead insect. But there was no shortage of those willing to buy Alan another round.