The weapon was etched with diagrams and markings suggestive of its lethality. Yet the surface was soft to the touch and warm from its internal power source. Its butt was contoured perfectly to the soldier's chest and shoulder, and the muzzle extended for more than a yard from his body. It was a powerful death-dealing machine, to put it lightly. Accurate to 3000 yards, fully automatic, and powered by an internal electron pump, it was heavily and auspiciously vicious. When it was raised it glinted in the sunlight and seemed to breathe as it was fired. There was no recoil, and the air sizzled as a horizontal burst of purple light cut a swathe to its target. The shot was practically silent.
The personnel carrier a mile away had only the visual sight of a purple bolt as warning when a second later it was torn apart at the intersection of its cannon and chassis. The horizontal forces sheared the turret from its roots and tossed it hundreds of yards away into an administration building, causing a powerful secondary explosion as its own power core collapsed and imploded. The bolt of heated plasma continued through the next few houses before burying itself into the ground in the basement of a local's home. Everything inside was instantly incinerated, and the rustic building leaned over and crumpled like wet cardboard. The last sensation the foot soldiers inside their vehicle had was of a horrible sunburn before being boiled alive inside the oven-like APC, and anyone nearby was treated to singed hair and the foul stench of cooked human flesh and ozone. You could hear the surprised screams of bystanders even from where the shot was fired.
“Hmph. They spend hundreds of thousands on an APC only to have it ripped to pieces in a moment,” he said, as he vaulted off the concrete cover that had been his home for the past 8 hours and down onto the ground. His boots hissed and an inner set of hydraulics assisted his landing, and almost as quickly as he arrived the mysterious soldier was gone down an alleyway and into the slums that dominate Rio De Janeiro. The favelas were perfectly suited for stealth and recon; in the alleys you could stay easily hidden among the people and their tin homes which were all identical in size, and they provided good vantage points for reconnaissance in any direction. Although he got a few strange looks for his choice of clothing and people left him alone because he carried a weapon, 'AWOL' felt right at home. More than likely they thought he was one of the many gang bangers that roamed the slums rather than a trained soldier, but AWOL didn't care because the locals offered him free food as payment. It was a temporary situation simply working in his favor.
Since his desertion, AWOL had utilized every asset he could find and all of the multi-million dollar training he was given in order to survive. But with the Martyr, it was almost too easy. He could choose where, when and if he wanted to fight, and that was the most valuable tool he had. After excelling in the Marine Corps and doing a few year's service in the Navy Seals, he was assigned to the 'Loud Squad'; it was an opportunity to revel in what he loved most: efficient and brutal murder. After a trial period in Central Europe and several tours in North Korea, the task force was officially sanctioned and given funding. Equipped with hardware and tech that even the Special Forces would salivate over, they were the cutting-edge, with a 100% success rate. They never failed. But 'AWOL' always felt as if he was held back by his teammates; by the laws of war he had to follow and by the incompetency of his fellow soldiers. It didn't help he had long gotten used to the same 10 year old “cutting edge” equipment. After all, military policy was not to change what wasn't broken, and as long as their success rate and efficiency stayed the same, the men in power saw no reason to update the task force.
His personal squad's numbers were the best; they had the most kills and the fewest violations; they had the best mission times and of course they were considered the most adaptable. Dubbed the 'Big Bang' by his squad mates at the time, AWOL was vehemently opposed to any home assignments. So when his men were picked for a research bit back in the States, he thought he'd be back briefly to test out some new toys before being shipped back out better equipped to do the job he loved. He was almost looking forward to it when he was notified while en route that they would be taken off active duty so their 'expertise' could be fully utilized by the lab coats. AWOL, one of the siwmplest men alive, was torn. New toys and lots of cash or a nearly unbridled rampage on some ugly foreigners.
The choice was obvious.
By the time they had landed, AWOL's decision was made. He accepted his new assignment and within a week was on duty at the research facility offering his advice but keeping his eye out for anything of interest. On one particularly overcast and windy day he was called into the lab for a special demonstration.
“Big Bang, you there?” came a voice over his headset. “Affirmative” he stonily replied, waiting for the news that some fuck-up over in engineering had caused more delays.
“I've got something very special for you to see today. We're apparently being given a demonstration of something 'incredibly groundbreaking'. I'll let you be the judge; it's in unit 17. We'll be waiting.” The sound of static over the channel meant that AWOL's 'friend' had already ended the call.
After trudging across the sand-covered base to the designated unit, AWOL was greeted by his friend, a small thin man full of energy. “John,” he said, acknowledging him, “what've we got?” The little man excitedly led him into an indoor weapons range and that was when AWOL first saw it. Sitting on a raised counter was a gleaming rifle that looked incredibly off at the same time. Another little lab-rat walked out and after some muted applause began an informative presentation on its capabilities.
“I'm sure you're all wondering why we've brought in a rifle. While our department focuses more on vehicle and soldier-assist tech, we all know that most of the US's rifles today are produced with little to no testing at all. However, this is no regular rifle. As you can see it measures an impressive five and a half feet in length and features some curious design changes to the gun formula. The barrel is thick and features a horizontal rectangular muzzle tip; that, of course, is because this weapon does not shoot bullets.” The balding, nervous wreck called over 2 volunteers, and with their assistance he raised it. After getting clearance he gave the attendees a brief countdown before pulling the trigger. Light shot from its tip and cut its way to the target. It was the most beautiful thing AWOL had ever seen.
The three men were clearly not prepared for the knock back on it, because a half second burst was enough to throw them and the gun back ten feet against the plexiglass barrier in the range. 10 bullet sized bolts of what appeared to be molten jelly went downrange and melted through the 2 inch armor plating they had placed for the demo. The entrance holes ended up perfectly centered on the target that had been painted on the plating to judge accuracy. That explains his nervousness, AWOL thought to himself, but he couldn't help but smile when he realized the guy was a pretty good shot. Almost immediately he noticed the smell of ozone and the faint glow from the barrel of the gun. He clasped John on his shoulder, and John, mouth agape, looked up to see AWOL smiling for the first time since he had been on-base. It was a smile that made him very, very uncomfortable.
Disabling the security system was a piece of cake because the guard was asleep when AWOL walked in. Undermanned as a home base was, the research facility had an amazing suite of cameras that watched every aspect of the techies' lives. AWOL knew that a total shutdown would sound a silent alarm that would call in the cavalry, so rather than worry himself over the little details he snapped the guard's neck, turned off the lights and locked the door from the inside. With the guards' shifts in mind, AWOL now had plenty of time. Earlier in the day he had observed where they had taken the rifle and now the most difficult part was walking over and picking it up. He waltzed into the armory with his clearance card, scanned his retina, and told the voice recognition software “I'm about to kill a lot of people. Are you going to stop me?” The computer-synthesized voice responded “Authorization complete, have a nice day,” before opening the doors and letting him enter. AWOL smiled from ear to ear as he began gathering equipment and putting on the soldier-assist modules the had been testing. An almost full body suit of hydraulic systems and air pressure valves would serve sufficient for dealing with the knock back, AWOL surmised, and provide additional protection from arms fire.
On the opposite side of the base in the telecommunications suite sat John, thumbing his fingers through his hair as he conversed with the presenter about his project.
“So you're telling me that this...weapon of yours is feasible in the modern military?” John said, unconvinced.
“I promise you it is completely reliable. The built-in power source is self-sufficient, and as long as it has access to our atmosphere it can create its own ammunition, so to speak. You saw the demonstration...it's incredible, to say the least.” the man stated confidently.
“Yes but the issue of weight and size is a problem. We can't afford to equip more than a few soldiers in the entire military, much less a battalion of men. If I'm going to sell this to my superiors, they need to be sure that it is viable for not just a niche program but the entire United States Army. Besides, the cost of one of these units alone is enough to pay and outfit a company of soldiers.” John explained.
“You really should reconsider my proposal. You have all the necessary equipment here already. Your work on soldier-assist platforms is renowned and I'm sure that after some minor refinements we could easily sell the idea,” the man argued.
“I'm sorry but until I see it in a combat situation I can't be certain that it is worth the investment. The United States Military is a lot different these days than it used to be, especially after the introduction of the private weapons development industry. And because that won't happen until we decide to clear it, you'll just have to take your case elsewhere. It's just not cost-effective.” John got up from the table, turned around, and walked over the coffee machine to get himself a cup of coffee. “I'm terribly sorry to hear that. I wish you luck on your future projects,” the presenter said as John heard him shuffling papers and putting on his jacket. As John poured his coffee he realized that he had never heard the old man close and latch his briefcase. In fact, John thought, it was oddly quiet. He could feel a breeze behind him, and realized that the room he was in didn't have any windows at the same time he smelled the burnt ozone. John turned around to see the legs and torso of the balding man's body still standing as its only remaining parts, and a hole from the wall on his right perfectly centered on where he had been bent over the table shuffling his papers. The desk was gone and so was the wall opposite the hole, and John dropped his coffee and fainted. The liquid flowed over the now sloping and melting floor onto the shiny business shoes that had remained perfectly clean as their owner was incinerated.
“So that's how you work, huh?” AWOL said, regarding the weapon in his hands with a twinkle in his eyes and a somewhat childlike glee. “I'm gonna have to name you now, you know.” AWOL looked through the hole he had made in the armory wall across the base in time to see John collapse from shock at the remains of his original target. “That lucky little bastard. Do you think...” AWOL said as he raised the gun and aimed at the now unconscious John. A computerized voice came over the loudspeaker and said “WARNING, WARNING. SECURITY BREACH SECTOR 12. SECURITY BREACH SECTOR 12.” Lights started flashing and AWOL knew that he was losing his window. He slung the gun over his back and exited the armory.
6 months later he was still fighting off the remnants of both his own team mates and the 'Loud Squad' Task Force, who's priority mission was now to find and kill the only man on the planet with a plasma-based weapon. Along the way AWOL had destroyed millions of dollars in military hardware, hijacked his transportation, and enjoyed the life as the most wanted man in the world. A victim had told him before he died that he was “Death itself.” He responded by saying his gun was the instrument of death, not him; it was a Death-Etched Martyr. He had been running for some time when he got to Rio De Janeiro.
AWOL arrived seeking a brief rest while on the run. The Loud Squad followed, and for the first time, had plasma weapons of their own. He was no longer top dog. The first time he witnessed them in action was two days ago. While watching their movements at night he saw them using the locals as 'target practice' through his dynamic vision scope. When he switched to thermal he could see the balls of plasma hurtling through the air, leaving a lukewarm glow of red light in their wake. It seemed that they had decided to start acting like him, or, possibly, they had truly become like him.
AWOL is now, truly, running for his life. Things are catching up to him. The only advantage he has is the Death-Etched Martyr, officially designated the MXT-79. The only plasma weapon with adjustable power levels, and the only chance he has to survive.