Karim flew. Yamamoto manned the radio. In the rear, the rest of the team reorganized and readied their kit. Karim dedicated half his brain to controlling the Sentinel, the other half monitoring the radio.
“Control to all callsigns, be advised, two active killers reported at Singularity Network, Shard One. Witnesses report two suspects inside the building and at least ten casualties. The suspects are Husks, say again, Husks. TAC is en route. All units respond Code Three.”
“Control, this is Black Watch,” Yamamoto replied. “We’re taking the call. TAC, pull back and support us.”
“Roger that, Black Watch. Good hunting.”
“Black Watch, this is Car One Adam Three-One. We are on scene and are about to make entry.”
“Car One Adam Three-One, negative, do not make entry,” Yamamoto said. “Form a cordon. We are five minutes out.”
“Black Watch, we can’t wait… Holy SHIT!”
“One Adam Three-One, what happened?” Control demanded. “What’s going on?”
“Spiders! Hordes of spiders! Shots—”
His voice died in a liquid scream.
“One Adam Three-One! What happened?” Control asked. “Come in!”
“All stations, all stations, two officers down at Singularity Network Shard One. Street cams show a… a horde of spiders. Large spiders crawling all over the street. They’ve overwhelmed One Adam Three-One. Spiders are to be considered armed and dangerous.”
“Allah Yarahamuhu,” Karim whispered.
“You’re Muslim?” Yamamoto asked.
“I was. But Allah isn’t here. Not in the mosques, not in this world. Only the New Gods.” He sighed. “Still, some habits are hard to break.”
Yamamoto made a soft sound, almost inaudible over the thunderstorm.
“Could you repeat that?” Karim asked.
Yamamoto’s hands danced in front of his eyes. Every motion was fluid and precise, just enough movement to trigger the augmented reality controls, but no more.
“This is going to suck,” Yamamoto said.
“I’m streaming the street cams. There’s an army of spiders surrounding the Shard. We’ll have to burn them all down. Boomer, break out the GPMG. Rookie, spin up the miniguns.”
Karim gulped and flicked a switch.
The six-barrel side-mounted miniguns whirred to life, their high-pitched whine audible inside the cabin. A red crosshair appeared on the windshield. Karim glanced at the ammo count and the status display.
“I’m taking the guns,” Yamamoto said. “Rookie, focus on flying.”
“Copy,” Karim said.
The neatly-planned grid-like streets and blocks of Tech Town spread out before Karim. The beating heart of Babylon’s innovation economy, it was the natural habitat of the Singularity Network. Shard One, the first Shard, was a former Old World church, repurposed to serve a machine god waiting to be born. Surrounding the two-story building was what appeared to a large, black, moving mat.
It wasn’t. It was spiders. Spiders as large as dogs, their huge purple bodies pulsing wetly with an ethereal glow. Their heads were covered in eyes, human eyes, staring out in every direction. They strode about on ten massive legs, huddling protectively together even as they spread across the road. A trio of specimens sprawled over a police car, illuminated by its flashing sirens. Nearby, a gang of spiders gathered in a circle, jaws tearing and legs stomping.
They were feasting.
“Boomer, you've got top cover,” Yamamoto said. “Everyone else in the back, get on the gunports. Rookie, orbit the Shard. We’re going on a thunder run.”
Karim slowed down, aligning his vehicle with the road below. The spiders looked up at the vehicle, clacking their jaws and pawing at their air with their terrible legs. Yamamoto turned his head left to right, up and down, taking it all in, the crosshairs mimicking his every motion.
“Can they hit us from here?” he wondered.
Bright green dots danced across the windshield. The glass darkened immediately, shielding against the glare.
“Warning, laser strike,” the gravtruck’s AI announced. “Warning, sensor pod blinded.”
“That’s your answer,” Yamamoto said. “At least they’re just dazzlers. Black Watch, keep your visors down. Going in hot.”
A terrible sound filled the world. It was a liquid ripping, the sound of shredding canvas filtered through water, the air tearing apart under two thunderous assaults. Fire flowers bloomed in the night. The gravtruck slowed down.
Twin lines of blazing red tracers seared across the road, so fast and so thick they were solid scarlet laser lines. Everything they touched died. The rest of the operators added their guns to the firestorm, Connor on the top hatch with his general purpose machine gun, the others shooting through the gun ports.
It was madness. Absolute madness. Karim had seen the aftermath of some high-profile STS cases in his previous lives, but it didn’t come close to flying a hurricane of fire and steel.
And yet, deep within, he heard his blood sing.
As Karim banked around the Shard, a black bolt shot past the window. Then a second. And a third.
“They’re shooting back!” Karim cried, and increased power to the gravity mirror.
The world vanished in a dizzying blur. The city lights swam clockwise away from him, the falling rain slanted to his right, red and blue sirens blinked and flashed, automatic fire thundered through the world. Yamamoto worked the guns like an artist, running his crosshair from one concentration of spiders to the next, his fingers squeezing imaginary triggers in momentary bursts.
Round and round the Sentinel went, Karim flying purely by instinct, making a dozen minor adjustments a moment to avoid crashing into the nearby buildings, barely missing them by inches. A couple of black blobs splashed against the windshield, but the rains quickly washed it off, and Karim barely noticed it.
“I don’t see any more movement!” Connor reported. “I think we’re clear.”
“Put us down by the front door!” Yamamoto ordered.
Karim brought the Sentinel around to the main entrance. Dozens of spider cadavers buried the road, their unnatural lifeblood mingling with the rain. Karim picked a clear spot and began the descent.
“BPD call signs, this is Black Watch responding to incident at SN Shard One. We’re in the Black Maria. Do not, say again, do not shoot us.”
The second the Sentinel touched down, Yamamoto jumped out. Karim grabbed his gear, popped the door and climbed down the vehicle.
His foot crunched on a spider leg.
Wincing, Karim shut the door and scanned, carbine ready. The monstrous spiders around him were pulped and blown apart, most still, some still twitching. They were all dead. Probably.
The team took up security positions around the truck. Near the rear of the Sentinel, Tan fiddled on his control panel, directing the bot to scan the corpses.
“The drone’s threat profile’s been updated,” Tan said.
“Excellent,” Yamamoto said. “Breach, bang and clear. Bot goes first, Boomer second, everyone else next. Rookie has the banger.”
The team stacked on the door. Connor cradled his general purpose machine gun to his chest, the barrel still smoking. He was carrying an absurd amount of equipment—his breaching kit, his carbine slung around his neck, his GPMG in both hands, his ammo, his armor—but his exoframe bore the extra weight without complaint and he moved lightly on his feet.
Karim retrieved a flash-bang from a pouch—his last banger—and pulled the pin. Fox and Connor forced the double doors open. Karim tossed the banger and looked aside. Light and thunder assaulted his senses.
The bot raced through the doorway. Connor was in next and stepped left. Karim followed Connor, passing through the smoke, and raised his carbine.
It was a slaughterhouse. Corpses—men, women, children, spiders—lay sprawled across the floor, all of them shredded. More spiders swarmed across the dead, making a beeline for the door, their glistening eyes locked on Karim’s, so many of them he could barely count. At the far end of the starkly-lit room, their mother awaited.
A monstrosity among monstrosities, the gargantuan spider-thing tottered on ten huge legs, its fur-covered body brushing against the ceiling. Enormous fangs dripped clear fluid that sizzled on the floor. Rising above its thorax was a second head, a human head, the head of a woman with neck-length hair, eyes staring blankly at the world.
Then Connor fired.
A red riot gushed from the assembled flesh. A blizzard of bullets cut through the spiders and kept on going, penetrating and tumbling and fragmenting, disintegrating everything before it. Connor fired from his hip, unleashing a stupendously long burst, aiming with augmented reality, the exoframe compensating for the recoil. The drone fired also, spraying down the swarm.
Karim planted his red dot sight on the spider’s head, the woman’s head, and pressed the trigger.
The carbine bucked. The Husk’s head snapped back, blood spraying outwards from a halo. But the thing was still up, and he blasted her main head once twice thrice. Connor’s GPMG passed over the rest of the body, still blazing, and the Husk vanished in red mist.
Karim lowered his carbine and beheld the remains of the spider. She had died hard, died ugly, and after that kind of damage there was no coming back.
Suddenly the shooting stopped. Connor transitioned to his carbine and kept moving. Following the wall, Karim scanned the fallen corpses, checking for signs of life. The floor was awash in blood and corpses and brass-colored polymer cases. As the rest of the team flowed in, the operators put finishing shots into the spiders.
The lobby terminated in a T-junction. Connor and Karim met in the middle and swung out, Connor to the left, Karim to the right.
Through the red dot sight, Karim saw a blank white corridor. White doors in black frames ran down both walls at regular intervals. And, at the far end, a gigantic turtle. A turtle standing on two legs, with a pair of clawed hands, and an iron beak for a mouth.
“Contact!” he cried, thumb flipping off the safety—
It opened its jaws—
He stroked the trigger—
The monster jerked—
Purple light seared across his sight. The wall beside him exploded, the shockwave hammering him down. He tucked his chin automatically as he fell, curving his spine. When he hit the floor, his pack and pouches slammed into his back
“Rookie!” Yamamoto yelled. “Are you okay?”
He hurt. His back hurt. He didn’t know if he could move. But he had to anyway. He tried to sit up but hot electric pain radiated down the muscles of his back.
A male voice, proud and strong, filled his mind.
Today is not your dying day. Stand and fight!
Fresh strength surged through him, chasing the pains away. He pushed himself back up, balancing himself against the pitted wall.
“Hey! You okay?” Yamamoto repeated.
There was a huge crack across his ballistic goggles. The shrapnel from the blast had ripped shallow tears across his uniform. But he was all right.
“I’m fine,” Karim said. “Let’s go!”
Sprinting down the corner, carbine ready, Karim peered into the Aether and saw a trail of bubbling brown acid, curving sharply to the left at the end of the corridor. Pale auras, blue and yellow and silver, curled up in the rooms lining the corridor. Karim ran in the monster’s wake, feeling hot sticky immaterial stuff cling to him and willed himself to ignore the sensations.
The left turn was a stairwell. Karim charged up the steps, finger on the frame, thumb near the safety catch. Heavy footsteps pounded above him. Arriving at the landing, Karim turned right.
Another long, narrow corridor with many doors on his right. The turtle was out in the open, hand curled around a door knob.
“STS! FREEZE!” Karim shouted.
Roaring, the monster turned to him, opening his mouth.
Advancing on the creature, he hammered it in the chest one-two-three-four times. The thing bellowed and turned away, facing a huge stained glass window on the left side of the corridor.
Karim raised his carbine an inch and a little bit, found his head, pressed the trigger. The carbine bucked and roared, the sight picture settled, and the Husk was still moving and—
It crashed through the window and disappeared from sight.
“Holy shit!” Connor exclaimed.
Karim raced to the shattered window and peered out. The monster had landed far from the door, just past the field of corpses. Gunshots rang out, police-issue pistols and a patrol rifle. The Husk ducked behind the Sentinel, out of Karim’s sight. He swore, crouching and shifting, trying to get a bead on the monster.
The turtle roared again.
And with a metallic crash, the eight-ton Sentinel tipped over on its side.
“El Shaytan alaykom!” Karim swore.
The cops kept firing. Karim lowered his goggles and peered out into the night, but he didn’t have an angle on the monster.
“What happened?” Yamamoto demanded.
“The sonofabitch tipped the Sentinel over!” Karim said.
Yamamoto’s jaw dropped. And shut just as quickly. He peered out into the night.
“Dammit,” he said. “He’s gone.”
If you like stories that blend sci fi, fantasy, horror and authentic combat, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.
To stay updated on my future novels, sign up for my newsletter here.