Check out an excerpt from Kieran Shea’s Koko Takes a Holiday, out from Titan Books on June 10th in the U.S. and June 20th in the U.K!
Five hundred years from now, ex-corporate mercenary Koko Martstellar is swaggering through an early retirement as a brothel owner on The Sixty Islands, a manufactured tropical resort archipelago known for its sex and simulated violence. Surrounded by slang-drooling boywhores and synthetic komodo dragons, the most challenging part of Koko’s day is deciding on her next drink. That is, until her old comrade Portia Delacompte sends a squad of security personnel to murder her.
Koko Martstellar watches Archimedes sleep beside her in bed and blows out a plume of crinkle-flake smoke straight at the room’s ceiling fan.
Yeah, so things got a little out of hand tonight, she thinks. Big deal. Koko knew an incident like this was bound to happen sooner or later. All of The Sixty’s pleasure vendors have been hurting of late, what with the instability in the lower trade markets tamping down discretionary income and all, but honestly, what was the CPB HQ thinking? Opening up The Sixty Islands to the Kongercat re-civ ilk—what, just because they’re flush with credits and can afford it? Not to besmirch the heavily promoted ceasefires and the internationals kowtowing to re-civ play niceties, but those freaks are just plumb crazy.
After crushing out her smoke in a halved husk of a coconut on the nightstand, Koko leaves Archimedes in bed and slips on a pink silk kimono. She leaves her bedroom and tramps downstairs to check the incoming messages on the bar’s central register. The news on the projection prompts is as bad as she expected. The Custom Pleasure Bureau is sending a security detail around in a few hours. The communication indicates it was their intention to be there sooner, but Koko’s brothel operation is built on one of the few SI islands without a connecting bridge system. ETA 9:00 am, sharp. Huh. For a fleeting moment, Koko rues not letting those two re-civ Kongercats just have their way.
Koko had been going over the books in bed upstairs when Archimedes cried out for her that there was a problem in the main bar. Archimedes has always been a bit of a fusspot, so Koko figured the boy was merely out of fresh ice or grenadine or something. Not the case at all. Koko stalked right out of her bedroom and instantly knew the score. As her fellow mercenaries used to say back on deployment, the two Kongercats had jacked up a total BSGD situation.
Bad shit, going down.
Kongercat re-civs are pretty easy to distinguish from the run-of-the-mill SI patrons, what with their hereditary facial lesions, papery skin, and Chinese heritage. Generations of excessive radiation exposure from smartwars and general malnutrition have a way of muddying up the breeding, and those two were no exception. Loud, too. Eight drinks into a mean-drunk loud. The women held knives to two of Koko’s best boywhores’ throats, and from the look of things, they were raising their elbows and getting ready to saw.
Koko didn’t hesitate. On the landing outside her room, she kicked open the bamboo trunk braced against the railing and snatched up the Belgian sub-cutter. A hell of a weapon—favored for street-sweeping action. Of course, when those two re-civs saw the huge gun in her arms they drew sidearms concealed beneath their vests. Expected, of course, and a quick finger-squeeze and a wipe left to right was all it took.
Oh, well. No matter. Portia Delacompte will have her back on something like this. A self-defense infraction with a couple of former hostiles on The Sixty for carnival? Are you kidding? Portia Delacompte has seen plenty of bad craziness with the likes of such savages herself, and Delacompte knows how theses BSGD scenarios go.
Ten years Koko’s senior, Portia Delacompte hung up her own mercenary spurs years before Koko. Traded in her weapons for spreadsheets, went corporate, and sharked her way up through multiple leisure-syndicate postings until Delacompte landed the cherry gig of all cherry gigs—Executive Vice President of The Sixty Islands Operations. It wasn’t long after this wild success that Delacompte reached out to her old comrade, and at the time it was an offer that was, as they say, hard for Koko to refuse.
Run her own brothel and saloon on The Sixty? The most expensive and violent pleasure resort on the planet? Color Koko grateful. She took that opportunity with both hands and feet. Koko figured she was more than a tad overdue, actually. After all, she’d yanked Delacompte’s fat out of the fire on more than one occasion, and after that one terrible night back in Finland, Koko just assumed things had finally found their way of working themselves out.
It isn’t such a bad life running a brothel. Keep the customers well-oiled with the hooch, manage the games of chance, and pair up guests with whomever they desire from her roster of sexual pleasers. Nearly an equal split between haimish work and a snoozing hammock routine. It beats making planetary regions stable for long-term capital concerns, that’s for sure. Most evenings Koko even kicks off early and finds herself joining the party.
Standing at the bar, Koko reflects upon an earlier time when she and Delacompte were out fighting for the multinational conglomerates. They had been on a re-stabilization mission for ElektroCorp and were pinned down beneath marginally radioactive debris near the obliterated ancient seaport of Sanya. A former noodle-manufacturing facility. Jejune, Koko had been a few years into her service, but one bombed-apart industrial landscape looked pretty much like any other to her. Initially, things had gone well on the mission. But then, in a blink of an eye, everything went straight to hell. With two operatives from their brick killed, she and Delacompte ended up cut off from the rest of their unit.
“Hey, Delacompte,” Koko said, “has ElektroCorp even looked at the recon saves we uploaded? Their pre-op barrages scorched out everything, and this whole sector is toast. What’s the big deal with this place anyway?”
Delacompte was using her tactical knife to cut a chunk of amphetamine chew from a block she had removed from the flak rack on her compression suit. Delacompte handed a wedge of the sticky, black chew to Koko and then slabbed off a chunk for herself. With her thumb, Koko crammed the chew into the feeding gate below the chin on her helmet. After a short disinfectant spray, the inner seal on the helmet’s feeding gate opened and Koko fished out the potent gunk with her tongue. Like gnawing on a burnt hunk of rubber. Amphetamine chew was vile-tasting stuff, but it sure as hell kept you focused when you were in the shit.
“Real estate,” Delacompte answered, waving the barrel of her KRISS F9 pulse rifle slightly. “All this? This area is a prime shipping quarter. Grind it out and dump the scrap offshore, bring in the prefab hardware, and ElektroCorp can be online for immediate manufacturing and distribution in a year flat. This is all about emerging markets, Martstellar. These de-civ Kongercat gang lords know the investment value, and the short of it is they think they deserve a piece of the action.”
“That they are. That they surely are.”
Koko shifted her legs. “I hate to break it to you, D,” Koko said, “but we’re kind of on the worse side of screwed here.”
A sneer slithered across Delacompte’s lips. “No, we’re not.”
Delacompte’s blasé contradiction floored Koko. “What? What do you mean, ‘no, we’re not’?”
“Just that,” she answered. “We are not screwed. Not entirely.”
Koko looked left and then right. “How do you figure? One, we’re outnumbered. Two, our unit is fragged and down multiple heads. And, three, we’re at least an hour from any sort of evac from ElektroCorp.”
Delacompte sheathed her tactical knife on her belt. Chewed thoughtfully.
“You’re not framing the big picture, kid,” Delacompte said. “Look, Davidson’s and Kami?ski’s bricks are holed up right over there near the waste tanks on either side of the gap framing the Kongercats’ position, right? You and me, we’re going to lay down a diversion and draw them out. That’s how we’re going to play this.”
Koko uneasily ventured a peek over the pile of rubble in front of them and then hunkered back down.
“Um, I know you’re point on this mission, D, so no disrespect here, okay? Those are some long freakin’ odds.”
“Have a little faith,” Delacompte said.
A little faith? Screw faith, Koko thought. The data streaming into her ocular implant told Koko both Corporal Davidson’s and Corporal Kami?ski’s bricks were down two mercs each. That meant, including their own two casualties, the insertion team was short six heads in total. Davidson had their entire unit’s medic under her wing, for crying out loud, and the medic’s beacon indicated that the medic’s body was now in four, count them, four separate pieces. Additional bio sweeps also indicated the Kongercat de-civs were in a spiraled thatch formation of at least three hundred, dug in at fifty-seven meters in front of their position. True, the Kongercats’ weapons were antiques and they couldn’t hit water falling out of a boat, but this was their ground. All they had to do was let fly, toss a few IEDs, and the whole ElektroCorp mission in Sanya was cooked.
Koko stared at her boots.
Man, she didn’t want to die here. Not here. Not in some smoking wasteland surrounded and outnumbered by a bunch of tumor-faced de-civs. Koko expected some kind of fry-out at any second and secretly hoped if an assault did come it would be mercifully quick.
Once again, Koko admired Delacompte’s absolute calm under fire, her unflappable leadership. Whenever they happened to be paired up on a mission, Delacompte never let even the most lethal of situations appear out of her stalwart control. Her tenacity and élan was something Koko had been trying to emulate ever since she had the good fortune to meet Delacompte. And the ElektroCorp assignment in Sanya was, what? Their tenth syndicate mission in the field together?
At first Koko thought their crossing paths on so many aggressive actions was merely coincidence, but eventually Koko learned there was no such thing as coincidence on reconstruction and industrialization ops. Too much at stake. And rudimentary examination of such operations showed success was in the statistics, right? So the corporations and syndicates took great pains to build complete, efficient teams. After all, when world conglomerates and their surviving puppet governments are trying to jumpstart commerce after a couple of centuries’ worth of false-start Armageddons, all the deadly ducks needed to be in a row.
Koko took a quick look at the webbed-out carcasses of the two mercenaries who were with them up until about five minutes prior. The dead faces of the two fallen were so serene inside their helmets, if it weren’t for the blood and pulverized bone you’d swear they were catching a few Zs. Poor bastards never knew what hit them. One minute you’re dittybopping around, collecting operational data and sucking down your morning’s paste rations, the next you’re lit up and deep-fried.
Delacompte saw Koko looking at the bodies and slapped Koko’s arm.
“You see that tower structure there?”
Koko turned her head and peeked over the mound of broken debris in front of them.
“You mean the one leaning just to the right of the enemy’s position?”
Delacompte nodded. The condensation in her helmet’s screen made her look almost faceless, like a ghost. “Yeah, that’s the one. Totally weakened base on that sucker. We’re going to discharge everything we got at the foot of that tower and hope she’ll topple right over in front of the Kongercats.”
“Everything we’ve got?”
“But we’ll be defenseless.”
“That’s the idea,” Delacompte said confidently. “These de-civs have to believe we’re desperate. Unloading on them full bore like that will convey a sense of panic. If they think we’ve unloaded everything, then maybe they’ll take the opportunity to launch an all-out counter-offensive. If they do, the plan is to have Davidson’s and Kami?ski’s crews out-flank them. If we’re lucky and we lure the Kongercats out, only a few of them will be left standing when the smoke clears.”
Koko motioned to the dead bodies behind them.
“And what? We just hope they don’t cut us to pieces like these two?”
Delacompte didn’t waste a look on the dead mercs. Instead she squatted down closer to Koko to make her point clear.
“Look, Martstellar,” Delacompte said. “I’m real sorry about these two. Hell, when ElektroCorp does our wash-up, I’ll even take the heat, let them dock my credits for their expense. The truth is we can’t wait this out. No way, no how. Those Kongercats are going to make their move, and they’re going to make it soon.”
Koko dipped her helmet. The rush from the amphetamine chew kicked in just then, and Koko felt the chemical heat burning up her blood.
“God, I hate this,” she griped. “Why can’t these obstructionist de-civs roll over for initiatives like everybody else?”
Delacompte laughed. “Hundreds of years of tested living, that’s why. Global contagions, a few centuries of smartwars, all the environmental and geopolitical ruin… like anyone, these pains in the butt are just trying to make their way in the world. Not to mention this is your job, solider, so quit complaining. This works out and we go one-on-one with these de-civs? You’re going to impress the hell out of them with your moves.”
Koko grinned. “Didn’t know flattery was part of my compensation package, Big D.”
“Martstellar, you’re a shit-hot hand-to-hand fighter, and you know it.”
Koko couldn’t help but feel a small flash of pride.
Screw it, Koko thought. She cranked the levels on her weapon and armed every last pulse grenade on her rack. Koko then attached a grenade launcher to her own KRISS F9 pulse rifle and fed the grenades into the weapon’s breech. Meanwhile, Delacompte patched the orders to Davidson and Kami?ski’s bricks via her own ocular. After some confirmation static, a synchronized countdown began on Delacompte’s mark.
“You ready?” Delacompte asked.
Koko sucked in a deep breath. Exhaled.
“Born and bred, boss.”
“Then let’s do this.”
Koko Takes a Holiday copyright © Kieran Shea 2014