Calliope Cervantes: The Art of War begins with Know Thy Enemy, or you can see the full list of Calliope Cervantes stories.

* * * * *

Calliope reclined in a cushy chair at a local IRS office, watching Okame’s eyes flicker under closed eyelids as the woman skimmed through the data she had downloaded from the unfortunate Lorenzo Pratt. If she hadn’t been instructed to keep quiet, Calliope probably would have tapped her foot impatiently. As it was, she tried to focus on a streamed holovid, some period piece about terraforming Mars; the only thing that made history less boring was watching people shoot each other or get naked.

“Hmm,” Okame said finally.

“What’ve you got?” Calliope asked.

“Not much, I am afraid.” She cocked her head to the side and frowned. “I broke the encryption easily enough, but the financial information is useless.”


“It is fragmented, unlabeled. Incomplete arrays of numbers that could be anything–dates, credit amounts, file numbers. Impossible to say, unless you had access to all of the discrete files.”

“Dead end, then.” And a dead man, too, unless Lorenzo had a personality backup done recently.

Okame smirked. “Perhaps not. I was also able to access some of his mail. There appears to be a transaction occurring tomorrow night.”

“What kind?”


“Ah, the best kind.”

“I am sending you the coordinates now.”

Calliope tapped her comlink and pulled up a map. “Santangeles, huh? Last time I was out there, someone threw me off the Andreas Cliffs in a pair of broken hoverboots.”

“What did you do?”

“Fell, mostly.” She grinned at the memory. “West coast, here I come.”

* * * * *

Calliope stood on a platform across from the delivery site, leaning on her portable bike. They were only ten stories up, swimming in unbreathable smog, with the buildings packed so closely together that she wondered how a transport was going to maneuver around the walkways that criss-crossed from one entrance to the next. Traffic was mostly cars and bikes, small personal transport like hers. It helped that there were so many places for her to watch from, but she knew it meant there were that many more places for others to watch her.

At a few minutes past the scheduled time, the truck dropped down into the surface smog; it had been using regular traffic lanes above, apparently. Most militias didn’t bother to patrol this low, and the private police forces were more concerned with solving crimes than preventing them. The skivers had the run of the place, and she was on her own.

She watched the truck hover, wondering why it was taking so long for the building doors to open so it could get inside. With a whir, the back door of the vehicle slid up and someone pushed a small box until it fell over the lip of the truck bed and slowly descended into the smog below.

“Son of a–” It wasn’t going into a building, it was just dropping the cargo here. There must be someone waiting on a lower level to receive it. Calliope fumbled to get a tracking drone off her belt, smacked it against her hip to activate it, and tossed it at the truck. She couldn’t be in two places at once, but if she couldn’t catch the culprit red-handed then maybe she could double back and find the delivery boy.

That done, she grabbed her bike and vaulted over the edge of the platform. The wind rushed past her ears as she used her hoverboots to stabilize her fall so she could get the bike between her legs. It started with a shrill whine, pulling her out of her swan dive in time to see someone else on a bike strap the cargo to the back and take off.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Calliope murmured, gunning the engine. The sound was apparently loud enough for the other rider to hear, because a dark helmet swung around to glance in her direction before speeding up.

The two bikes dodged walkways and careened around buildings, narrowly missing other vehicles and the occasional pedestrian. Given that he was riding with cargo, his speed told her that he was using illegal boosters. Naughty, naughty, she thought. Gradually the chase led them up toward the regular lanes of traffic, fifty levels above ground; if they made it to the skyways, hot pursuit restrictions would mean Calliope would have to let him go. Gritting her teeth, she powered up the thrusters and shot forward, flanking the other bike.

“Pull over!” she shouted, her voice amplified by her helmet. The fugitive responded by trying to sideswipe her. She grinned. “Try that again and I’m authorized to use deadly force!”

As if in response, a shot rang out behind her. So her new pal had brought a friend? The more, the merrier.

The lead bike took a sharp turn and she used her hoverboots for extra stability, edging closer even as she weaved to avoid her pursuer. She didn’t dare risk a glance back to see where he was, and while she probably could have blown him to pieces with a smart SCID, she’d already hit her excessive force quota for the year. Still, if she couldn’t dazzle him with her brilliance…

Calliope pulled a small sphere off her belt, nearly dropping it as her target’s fancy flying forced her into a sudden barrel roll. She leveled out and waited for the right opportunity–there, a set of parallel walkways coming up. She squeezed the sphere and tossed it over her shoulder, where it flashed bright white as the sun. A scream behind her confirmed that the rider was blinded, and the sickening crunch that followed suggested that he wasn’t going to trouble her further.

Unfortunately, in concentrating on ditching the shooter, she hadn’t noticed that her target was heading straight for the wall of a building.

At the last second, he pulled up, and she tried to follow suit. Again, she had to use her hoverboots to give her the extra push needed to keep from crashing. Her portable bike whined in protest; it wasn’t designed for that kind of abuse, and it made that clear by shuddering heavily and powering down.

Calliope’s boots kept her from falling, but there was no way to follow the much faster bike with them. She tried anyway, fiddling with her bike’s controls in a desperate attempt to get it working again. By the time it groaned to life and she made it to the skyways, there was no sign of her target.

Still, she told herself philosophically, at least she had a backup plan. She synced her tracking device with her helmet and watched as a map appeared, the red dot that was the delivery truck reflecting in her eyes like an inner fire.

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7 Responses to “Maneuvering”

  1. Interesting sci-fi, with a female protagonist. Just joining you, I’m afraid. Unless I’ve read an earlier piece. Thanks!

  2. Amalia T says:

    I really enjoy the humor in these pieces– “What did you do?” “Fell, mostly.”
    I felt a little bit bogged down by the opening of the second scene, but otherwise, thumbs up! Your dialogue is clean and effortless, even when she’s just talking to herself!

  3. Valerie says:

    Thanks for reading, you guys! I struggled with that bit myself, Amalia, because it seemed like it required some extra description of the location so I didn’t just throw up a chase scene with no locational context. Did you think the rest of the description set the scene well enough that I could trim that first paragraph? How little explanation can I get away with before it’s too vague?

  4. Amalia T says:

    Hmm. Okay. I think: Cut the first sentence entirely, because it’s so bulky– I like the detail that the air is unbreathable, buuuut I’m not sure it’s necessary set up for the scene. (Maybe you can fit it in somewhere else? like, the previous scene where she’s like “oh blech, I’ll be cleaning out my suit filter for weeks breathing that air” or something I don’t know.)

    this sentence here tripped me up a bit too: Calliope had come on her own portable bike, which she leaned on while she waited.

    Maybe shave it down, or rephrase it? Right now it just feels a little bit awkward and slows me down with the “which”. You can probably just get away with her leaning against it, without explaining it was how she came to the scene.

  5. […] “Calliope Cervantes: The Art of War-Part 4, Maneuvering” by Valerie V. […]

  6. PJ Kaiser says:

    Valerie – I’m getting caught up – nice story – I like calliope and your segments are nice and crisp. I got a bit confused by some of the action – trying to imagine the action as it was happening. But your dialogue is great and I very much like the premise – well done! I look forward to reading more 🙂

  7. Dad says:

    Well done. But then again my comments are likely to be subjective. I wonder why?

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