The rest of the apartment was empty. The men wiped off their sweat and turned off the eyeshields’ cameras. As Karim checked his helmet, Yamamoto turned on the lights and issued marching orders. Wood went downstairs to confirm the kill and manage the scene. Connor stepped outside to guard the scene.
That left Karim alone with the team leader in the living room.
“Rookie, you okay?” Yamamoto asked.
“A hundred percent,” Karim replied. “Claws didn’t penetrate the facial armor.”
They had, however, left fine scratches across the visor. After the night was through, Karim would have to replace it.
“You got lucky there,” Yamamoto said. “Was that your first Class B Husk?”
Previously, Karim had encountered his fair share of Husks—but usually he was cleaning up after them, or investigating their crimes. In ESWAT he had hunted down a few Class Cs, but those Husks were little more than run-of-the-mill bad guys with paranormal powers. Not psychotic man-eating shapeshifting horrors that refused to die.
“It’s a far cry from training sims, isn’t it?” Yamamoto remarked.
Karim had fought more than his fair share of Husks in Selection & Training, but they were all computer-generated monsters in virtual reality training simulations or Elect instructors who carefully modulated their powers in force-on-force scenarios. There was no way to fully prepare for the sheer violence and brutality a Husk could bring to bear.
“Class Bs and higher are extremely hard to kill,” Yamamoto said. “Never assume it’s dead until you’ve checked the vitals and insides. When in doubt, always shoot. You’re not paid to bring ammo home.”
Yamamoto’s tone was studiously neutral, yet every word carried the force of a thunderbolt.
“Got it,” Karim said.
Yamamoto stood over the shrunken remains of the frog-squid thing, pressed his hands together, and bowed.
“You’re praying for the dead?” Karim asked.
Yamamoto said nothing for a moment. Then he righted himself.
“He was human once,” Yamamoto said, “and no matter what form he took, he was a sentient being. We must not forget that.”
Karim blinked. From he’d heard of the man, he’d expected a stone cold killer. Not this.
Yamamoto continued speaking.
“We’re going to secure the apartment for the unis and search for evidence. I want diaries, drugs, maps, plans, anything and everything that explains why he did what he did.
“Roger.” Karim hesitated. “Uh, I’ve got a question.”
“Why did you engage the tentacles with blades?”
“We’re in the projects. Low-cost housing, low-cost materials. The tentacles are small and fast-moving, and even if we hit them, our bullets will blast right through them and the walls and kill poor little Suzy next door.”
“We own every round, rookie. Sometimes that means knowing when to use another weapon.”
“Word of advice: the moment you get a chance, invest in a knife. A fixed fighting blade, not that utility folder you’ve got in your pocket. You want to stay in STS, you’ll need it. Especially if someone tries to pounce on you again.”
“Got it. Is that why you carry a sword?”
“Not a sword. An o-tanto.”
“A tanto is a traditional Japanese war knife. An o-tanto is a larger version of a tanto. This one has a nine-inch blade.”
“Japanese?” Karim asked. “What’s that?”
Yamamoto opened his jaw. Worked it for a few moments. Knitted his thick black brows. Closed his jaw.
“The ancestors of Daiwa,” Yamamoto said, finally. “But don’t worry about that. We have a job to do.”
Karim checked the bedroom the husk had attempted to escape from. A long blood trail stretched from the doorway to the open window. Looking out the window, he saw a black form smashed against the distant sidewalk, illuminated by a lonely streetlamp.
The Husk must have worn the frog-body like a shell, hiding inside it until the operators had declared the room was clear. Or maybe the Husk had cannibalized its still-living flesh to craft a new body to house its consciousness in a final bid to escape.
His instructors had repeatedly stressed the importance of shooting a target to the ground, then shooting it again. They’d talked about how Husks were more resilient than humans, but until today, it was only something he’d experienced in lectures and training sims.
No more second chances, he vowed. No more complacency. If it was hostile, it was worth filling with holes.
He pulled open the drawers and searched the closet, finding shirts and pants and underwear and socks. A wallet held an identification card in the name of Samuel Hogg. Hogg was tall but skinny, yet there was a desperate emptiness in his eyes that seemed familiar. Was he the Husk?
Forensics could confirm the DNA later. He had a job to do.
Opening a drawer, he found a clear plastic zipper bag. Inside it was a handful of strange fruits. Each specimen was the size of his palm, plump like a tomato, with thick rough ridges running down the length of its body.
And its bright green coat glowed.
Karim turned off the lights. The strange fruit emitted an otherworldly green light, bright and vivid, and in the corners of his eyes he saw hints of stranger hues his brain could barely comprehend.
“I’ve found something!” Karim called.
Yamamoto entered the room, his footsteps completely silent, and stared at the glowing fruit.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Karim said.
“Me neither,” Yamamoto said. “It’s definitely eldritch. Log it for forensics. But first, look into the Aether and tell me what you see.”
Karim closed his eyes.
Galen, I wish to borrow your eyes again, to more clearly see the Aether.
Electricity surged up Karim’s spine and concentrated around his eyes. Opening them, he saw the underlying fabric of reality. Bright, clear immaterial rivers of multicolored hues floated in mid-air, retracing everybody’s paths.
These were their energy signatures, the imprint their souls left behind in space-time. The closest stream, deep purple overlaid with Galen’s blazing white, was his. Yamamoto was gold and silver and blue, unusually bright and powerful. Connor was a deep red and black, while Wood left a trail of green and brown and sparks of yellow.
A thick, choking stream of filthy energies cut across the room. The Husk. Once the former human’s aura might have been emerald mixed with chocolate, but a Dark Power had wormed its way into his soul and weaved its own essence into his consciousness, leaving behind something something warped and twisted and ugly.
He looked through the walls, retracing everyone’s footsteps, checking for…
“Ya Allah!” he exclaimed.
“What is it?” Yamamoto demanded.
“There are three more Husks.”
If you like stories that blend sci fi, fantasy, horror and authentic combat, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.
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