ROE State Red
The six operators regrouped in the lobby, dripping rainwater on the lacquered parquet. As the team gathered around Yamamoto, he summoned a a street map on everyone’s eyeshields.
“This is going to be a straightforward assault,” Yamamoto said, “but don’t let your guard down. Husks always have a nasty surprise waiting. ROE State Red.”
Karim knew the reminder was for him, not the team. With Rules of Engagement set to State Red, the use of force guidelines were simple: if it were hostile, if it were armed, if it had lethal cybertech or magic, kill it. No warning, no chances, no mercy.
Yamamoto dropped a blue pin the building opposite 18 Harland Boulevard.
“Kayla, I want you to set up here. ZT will be your spotter. The two of you will cover the windows and the fire escape. The target has a penchant for escaping out of windows. If he tries that, nail him.”
She grinned like a wolf. Karim had never seen a woman smile like that before.
“Gotcha, boss,” she said.
“Do we need the bot?” Zen Tan asked.
“Yes,” Yamamoto said. “Configure for long-range sensors and fires. Can the millimeter wave radar see through the wall?”
“Normally I’d say yes, but in this storm…” The diminutive operator shrugged. “Only way to find out is to try.”
“Go for it.” Turning to the rest of the men, Yamamoto said, “Entry team will be Will, James, Karim and myself.”
“Woah,” Will Connor said. “The rookie gets to join the entry team?”
“Recompense,” Karim replied. “Galen lent me his powers in exchange for me carrying out his will.”
Connor grunted. “Don’t screw up, rookie.”
“The target is a Class B Husk,” Yamamoto continued. “He's a shapeshifter, capable of assuming a frog-squid chimera form. He likes attacking eyes, ears and mouths with his tentacles, and has a mouth for a stomach. The entry team will mount visors and mandibles.”
With a set of gestures, Yamamoto brought up a set of schematics. It was the blueprint of the apartment building, lifted from the city records and reproduced as a 2D image. The target was presently in a spacious four-room apartment. Karim stared at the map, committing the room layout to memory.
“We go in fast and hard,” Yamamoto said. “He doesn’t get a chance to resist. If he complies, we sedate and cuff him. If he transforms, grabs a weapon, looks at you funny, twitches the wrong way, take him out. No chances, not today, not ever. Got that, rookie?”
“Yes,” Karim replied.
“Boss, we don’t have records on the target’s doors,” Connor said. “I’m going to pack the shotgun and the MOE kit.”
Connor’s Method of Entry backpack held everything he needed to tear down any kind of reinforced door the team would encounter. The underbarrel shotgun was just for insurance.
“Good call,” Yamamoto agreed.
“Hold up,” James Wood said. “We’re missing something.”
For such a huge man, with shoulders the length of a barn and hands the size of hams, he had a surprisingly soft and small voice.
“Yeah?” Yamamoto said.
“He might have eyes outside his apartment.”
Wood meant security cameras, surveillance spells, any of a dozen possible ethereal creatures that served as guards and watchers.
“If he’s got wireless cameras, I can find them and spoof them,” Tan said.
“And if he’s got watchers, I’ll take care of them,” Karim added.
“That’s settled,” Yamamoto said. “Anything else before we go?”
“Uh…” Karim hesitated.
“What is it, rookie?”
“Don’t we need a… you know, a warrant?”
The team broke into laughter. Even Yamamoto joined in.
“Um… What did I say?”
Yamamoto grinned. “Rookie, remind us of your prior service experience.”
“Six years in BPD, two of them in SWAT, then four more years in the PSB, with the last year in PSB ESWAT.”
The Public Safety Bureau handled all major crimes in Nova Babylonia. Its Enhanced Special Weapons and Tactics teams did everything a regular SWAT team could do, but with a wider range of gear and capabilities, and occasionally deployed overseas. From ESWAT, the only step up was STS.
STS nominally fell under the ambit of the PSB, but with every passing moment, Karim suspected STS did things its own way.
“We do things differently in STS, rookie. We’re in hot pursuit of a Class B Husk, and an Elect in the service of a recognized Power pinpointed his location. That’s all the justification we need.”
A half-remembered lecture from Training & Selection floated up the depths of his mind.
“Oh,” Karim said. “Never mind.”
“Welcome to STS, rookie,” Yamamoto said. “Try to keep up.”
The Sentinel flew on autopilot. Staying barely above ground level, so close Karim could reach out and touch a streetlights, it dashed through the night. No lights, no sirens, but everyone knew to stay clear of a Black Maria and her twin miniguns.
There was no conversation, only tension. Metallic clicks and faint light carried through the rear window. The team was gearing up, configuring their kit, checking and double-checking everything. What few words they said were strictly about operational matters.
“I’m taking the SmartShot,” Fox declared.
“Sync IFF modules and the team net,” Yamamoto said.
“Bot’s loaded and good to go,” Tan reported.
Karim busied himself reconfiguring his helmet, fastening his ballistic visor and mandibles to the side rails and lips. Once locked and lowered in place, they offered full coverage against frontal attacks. They would stop bullets, but he didn’t know if they would stop the teeth of Husks.
The Sentinel set down a block away from the target, hiding behind an anonymous office block. The operators jumped out in pairs, forming a security perimeter. In augmented reality, all of them wore bright blue auras.
First off were Fox and Tan. Fox had swapped out her carbine’s upper receiver, exchanging her close quarters receiver for one optimized for precision fires. Now it boasted a twenty-inch barrel, a bipod, and SmartShot scope. Once she had a target marked with the scope’s laser, the scope would tell her exactly where to hold her rifle for dead-on accuracy—or guide a homing flechette to her mark.
Tan had retained his carbine, but next to him was a blue-painted drone as large as a Labrador, its boxy body resting on four wheeled legs. It was a Mastiff combat drone, standard-issue for every STS team. The bot’s weapon mount sported a long-barreled M83A1, set up like Fox’s but without the accessories, and its sensor head stared impassively out at the world.
“Ai’ght boss, we’re headed out,” Fox declared.
“Good hunting,” Yamamoto said.
The sniper team cut across the road, the drone obediently rolling behind them on its wheeled legs. The entry team gathered around Yamamoto and headed towards the target.
The rain lashed Karim’s visor and mandibles. The seal between the helmet, visor and mandibles kept out the rain, but the air in his helmet grew close and warm and humid, and his visor threatened to fog over.
Lightning flashed across the sky. Karim’s earpieces dampened the thunder. Wincing, he blinked against the purple worm engraved into his sight. Ahead of him, Yamamoto kept a steady pace, serene and stoic, a militant Bodhisattva strolling through a storm.
The operators arrived at 18 Harland Boulevard. The building was so downscale it didn’t have a name or a unique design; it was just a collection of prefab units stacked one above the other. Just another public housing project in Babylon.
“Deadeye, Samurai,” Yamamoto whispered into his radio. “Entry team is at the jump-off point.”
“Roger that, Samurai,” Fox replied. “Sierra team is in position. I’m on the scope, and I see lit windows and drawn curtains. No sign of the target.”
“Copy all,” he replied. “ZT, don’t fire up the radar just yet. We don’t know if he can sense it. Break. All callsigns, turn on your cams now.”
“Ari, activate video recording,” Karim said.
A bright red dot appeared at the upper right corner of the screen.
“Video on,” his eyeshields replied.
Everything he did now would be recorded for analysis and posterity. He could not afford to mess up.
The team made entry. Inside, they found no guards, no receptionists, just a bare open space that served as a lift landing and waiting area. A lonely camera dome observed them from the ceiling.
They piled into the elevator and hit the button for the top floor. As the team ascended, Karim felt a strange prickling running down his spine. Someone was watching him, but he had his back to the wall…
“Anyone feel that?” Yamamoto said.
“I think so,” Karim said. “Gonna check.”
He stretched his arms high above his head, feigned a yawn, and stole a peek into the Aether.
Without the eyes of Galen all he saw was a swirling black undifferentiated mass of cosmic energies. But hidden within the sea was a large unblinking eyeball.
An eyeball staring right at him.
“Watcher,” Karim whispered. “It’s watching us. I think we’re compromised.”
“Banish it now.”
Karim spread his arms out.
“Galen the Wolf! Wizard and warrior, ally and protector! Aid us now and banish the watcher and all other hostile beings around us!”
A high-pitched howl filled his mind’s ear. Silver fur flashed through his mind’s eye. More images flashed through his mind: an eight-legged wolf the size of a behemoth, flashing scarlet eyes, a forest of needlepoint teeth, snapping jaws, crunching gristle.
“We’re clear,” Karim said.
“Copy,” Yamamoto said. “Assume we’ve been compromised. Go dynamic.”
The doors slid open. Karim scanned. The target was down the hall to the the right. No civilians, no signs of trouble. The men formed up, weapons at the ready, and—
Metal locks snapped open.
“Contact,” Yamamoto said.
Down the hall, a wooden door opened inwards. An unseen hand unlocked the outer security gate and swung it out.
Karim raised his M83A1 to the compressed ready, thumb on the safety, arms coiled and ready to bring the weapon on target, the entirety of his being focused on the doorway and what awaited behind it.
And he saw…
“What the hell?” he whispered.
A mass of scaly green tentacles surged out the open doorway and rushed down the hallway. Every limb terminated in a sucker, a mouth, an eyeball, all of them reaching out for the operators, dripping mucus and strange fluids.
Karim brought up his carbine—
“Hagane!” Yamamoto yelled.
Karim blinked. “Huh?”
Yamamoto charged the swarming mass of tentacles.
“WHAT THE HELL?!” Karim exclaimed.
The distance between man and monster shrank. At the last moment, Yamamoto stepped off. His hand flashed. Green ichor sprayed across the walls and floor. Tentacles flopped wetly on the floor. Yamamoto waded in, right arm swinging once, twice. More severed flesh flew, and suddenly the tentacles retreated.
Karim hadn’t seen anything. What the hell had Yamamoto done? He didn’t—
“Draw steel and move, rookie!” Wood snarled.
The operator shoved past Karim, holding a huge blade in his massive right hand. Even Connor was joining in, producing a tomahawk from God knew where.
Karim swore. Fumbled his folding knife from his pocket and popped the blade open. It was a mere three and a half inches, tiny against the metal monsters the operators wielded, but better than nothing.
Yamamoto plunged ahead, cutting through the mass of tentacles. Connor and Wood hung back, keeping away from his backstroke, cutting down any tentacles that escaped their reach. Far behind them, Karim gripped his puny knife and followed Connor, feeling rather foolish.
The Husk bellowed in pain, his voice shaking the entire structure. Karim’s earpieces shut off, saving his hearing. The tentacles retreated, disappearing through the empty doorway, leaving Yuri Yamamoto standing alone in a pile of twitching, gore-covered limbs.
The metal gate slammed shut. The main door followed. Yamamoto flicked his arm, blood spattered across the wall and floor, and the light caught the weapon in his hand. It was a sword, the same short sword he carried at his left hip.
It was impossible. Karim hadn’t even seen Yamamoto’s hand move, much less draw the monstrous blade. How had he drawn it?
Questions could wait. He was still in a middle of an op.
Without looking, Yamamoto produced a small strip of cloth from a pocket, wiped down the blade and resheathed it. The cloth went back into its pocket. Wordlessly the men stacked on the door, lining up in single file down the corridor, then put their knives away and gripped their carbines.
“Deadeye, Samurai,” Yamamoto said. “We’ve engaged the suspect. He fell back into his room. Prepare for sync shot.”
“Samurai, Deadeye. Copy.”
“Samurai, ZT. Acknowledged. Activating radar.”
The Mastiff’s sensors fired up. An explosion of translucent images filled Karim’s eyeshields: cables, pipes, furniture, computers, so much noise he could scarcely tell what he was looking at.
“Ari, sensor filter, level one plus,” Karim said.
The extraneous details disappeared, leaving a huge messy blob dragging itself to a corner on the right side of the room. The blob resolved into the shape of a Husk, an holy amalgamation of frog and octopus, and a moment later the eyeshields traced a red outline over the image.
“Target marked,” Tan reported.
“Breach, bang and clear,” Yamamoto said.
Connor stepped out of the stack and tried the knob of the security gate.
“Locked,” Connor said.
“Mechanical breach, roger,” Connor confirmed. “Farmer, gimme the hoolie.”
Wood unstrapped the sixteen-inch Halligan tool from Connor’s backpack and handed it to Connor. The breacher jammed the adze end above the topmost hinge and in between the door frame and the gate, gripped the shaft with both hands and forced the tool through a clockwise motion, attacking the hinge.
Karim withdrew a flash-bang from a grenade pouch and held it in front of Yamamoto. The team leader nodded. Karim pulled the pin.
Connor grunted. The hinge-side bar of the security gate bent under the strain, wood cracked, and the hinge peeled away from the frame. He removed the tool and jammed the fork end of the Halligan into the frame below the topmost hinge and pulled again. Wood splintered, metal groaned, and suddenly both frame and door came loose from the frame.
“Deadeye, Samurai,” Yamamoto radioed. “Green light.”
“Acknowledged,” Deadeye said.
A muffled thundercrack filled the air. Glass shattered. A second, louder, shot followed. The Husk shuddered twice under the dual blows.
Connor grabbed the door and flung it to the floor. Karim tossed the flash-bang. The stun grenade sailed through the air and detonated right at the entrance, erupting in light and thunder and smoke.
Yamamoto charged in, turning right. As his suppressed carbine cracked a quick double-tap, Karim followed in Yamamoto’s wake, going left.
Rain sprayed into the room through a shattered window. Karim flowed along the walls of the living room, stepping through an arc as, and saw a huge squid-frog lying behind the dining table.
A pair of enormous holes had been punched into the side of its head, so close together they overlapped each other, bleeding copiously on the floor. There were two smaller holes right between its eyes. More rapid cracks rang out, and a fresh geysers of soap-scented claret spilled across the floor. Through his red dot sight, Karim saw only a corpse, overkilled beyond reason.
Black Watch does this? What the hell—
He locked down his thoughts, halted a step away from a passageway and peeked out. The hall beyond was empty.
“Clear!” Yamamoto reported.
“Clear!” Karim agreed.
A huge, wet sucking sound came from Karim’s right.
“What was that?” Wood muttered.
A smaller humanoid form crawled out of the Husk’s open mouth, growing larger and larger, and with every inch it gained the corpse it had left behind deflated.
It shrieked and pounced on him.
Karim went down, slamming heavily on the floor. A skinny wet blood-dripping thing loomed over him, screaming into his face. Hot fluid sprayed over his face. Sharp claws raked his visor and mandibles. It raised its right arm again for another try—
Yamamoto kicked it in the side.
The thing rolled off Karim in a wet mess. Slick as greased lightning, it scrabbled down the hall on all fours.
“We’ve got a splitter!” Yamamoto warned.
The thing shrieked. A window opened, and the sound of the thunderstorm crashed into the apartment. Yamamoto and Connor surged down the hall in hot pursuit. Wood helped Karim up on his feet.
Thunder crashed. Twice.
“Samurai, Deadeye. Tango down.”
“Where’s the body?” Yamamoto asked.
“Splattered on the street. Need insurance?”
“He’s done,” the sniper said.
Previous part: 1
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