As the regular cops secured and cleared the Shard, the Black Watch muscled their vehicle back upright.
There was no art to it, no special tricks, just sheer brute force amplified by their exoframes. All six of them pressed their hands against the roof and cab of the truck and, on Yamamoto’s command, heaved as hard as they could.
Three tries later, the truck turned over and landed hard on its road wheels.
“Good work, everyone,” Yamamoto said. “Take five and check your kit. I need to update BPD Dispatch.”
Karim stepped aside and checked the Sentinel with his flashlight. The starboard wing seemed all right. But the port-side wing had snapped off, taking the minigun with it. He climbed into the cockpit and checked the status displays.
The gravity mirror was down.
Karim swore. The cops must have shot the vulnerable mirror while engaging the turtle. It was the Sentinel’s one point of vulnerability.
“She’s not going to fly anymore,” Karim reported. “Not without a long stay in the shop. We’re stuck with wheels.”
“On the bright side, we still have transportation,” Wood said.
Connor marched up to Karim.
“Rookie, you had the Husk dead to rights!” he shouted, jabbing his finger into Karim’s chest. “What the hell happened up there?”
“I shot him in the chest,” Karim said defensively. “No effect. He tanked the shots and turned aside like it was nothing.”
“You didn’t go for the grape shot?”
“I did. I shot him here.” Karim tapped his temple. “The bullet just bounced right off.”
Connor bunched his fists.
“God damn it!” Connor exclaimed, and sighed. “Never mind, rookie. Not your fault.”
Connor stormed to the rear of the Sentinel and threw open the rear doors. Climbing aboard, he opened the equipment cabinets in the back.
“Don’t mind him, rookie,” Fox said. “Connor doesn’t like it when the bad guys win.”
“At least we killed the spider and stopped the turtle from hurting more people,” Karim said.
“That’s only half a victory. And the turtle’s still out there.”
“We should go out there. He’s on foot, we have a vehicle, we can run him down.”
“Not so fast, rookie,” Wood said, joining the conversation. “We’ve had three back-to-back ops tonight, and there’s at least one more coming up. We need to top off our mags, recalibrate the bot, and make sure the Sentinel is roadworthy.”
Behind Fox, Connor pushed a tough box out to the open doors.
“Hey!” Connor shouted. “Load up with SLAP rounds! I’ve got some here!”
Karim had never seen a threat shrug off rifle-caliber rounds so casually. But where hollowpoints failed, maybe Saboted Light Armor Penetrators would do the job.
The team climbed into the Sentinel. Sheltering their magazines from the storm, the operators reloaded the mags with fresh cartridges and recalibrated their sights.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” Karim said out loud. “Why the hell would Husks attack a Shard of the SN so openly?”
“This is Babylon,” Yamamoto replied. “Nothing has to make sense here.”
The team chuckled grimly.
“I agree though,” Tan said. “This doesn’t make sense.”
“What’s your take?” Yamamoto asked.
“The Will of the Net is the newest and among the most peaceful of the New Gods,” Tan began.
“It’s a god?” Karim interrupted. “I thought it’s just the collective will of the Singularity Network.”
“It’s listed as one in the Babylon Accords. The Sinners say otherwise, but they treat it as a de facto god.”
“The Will of the Net doesn’t start any fights, but it will finish them,” Tan continued. “But I haven’t heard of the Network offending any other god in Babylon recently, or anywhere else out in the world, for that matter.”
“Maybe it didn’t offend a god,” Karim said. “Not a New God, that is.”
“What do you mean?”
“The world recognizes seven New Gods, correct? But they’re simply the most powerful of the Powers that walk the earth. There are thousands upon thousands of lesser gods out there in Babylon alone, like Galen. Maybe the SN offended a minor god.”
“That could be it,” Tan said thoughtfully.
A ghostly affectionate nose nuzzled Karim’s neck. Karim smiled.
He had met Galen six years ago, on the mean streets of Babylon. He had been responding to an armed robbery call at that time. Dispatch reported that a single male held up a grocery store at gunpoint and made off with the till. As the citywide camera network tracked the suspect, Dispatch coordinated the chase, systematically cutting off the bad guy’s escape routes.
When Officers Mustafa and Reynauld landed their gravcar in front of the robber, the suspect turned and fled into a nearby building, a temple of some kind. Karim and Reynauld followed.
Karim remembered the incense. The candles on the head-high shelves. The huge wolf’s head mounted on the wall, in pride of place. The suspect stepping out from around a pillar, pistol raised, shooting Reynauld once in the face, Karim twice in the chest.
Karim went straight down. His chest ached where his vest had stopped the bullets. The shots had hammered the breath from his body, leaving him gasping and panting. The suspect stood over Karim, the muzzle of his gun as huge and dark and unforgiving as a black hole. A half-forgotten prayer from Karim’s youth crackled in his brain but did not reach his lips.
And a huge white wolf materialized behind the suspect.
Do you need help? A voice asked.
“Yes! HELP!” Karim shouted.
Teeth flashed. Bone crunched. Blood sprayed.
The robber died on the spot.
The following day, Karim became a follower of Galen the Wolf.
Yamamoto’s voice broke Karim’s reverie.
“Whoever the Sinners offended, he’s a nasty one,” Yamamoto opined. “Smart, too.”
“How so?” Karim asked.
“Powers don’t fight each other directly. They can’t. Not without destroying the universe. So they recruit proxies and empower them to fight on their behalf. This Dark Power identified four psis, brought them together, and convinced them to let it into their souls. Those fruit we found in that apartment? It had to come from it too. It might be how the Power established its connection with the psis.
“The Dark Power sends one Husk to kill the Potter family. Ordinary members of the Singularity Network. Another Husk attacks Alpha Epsilon. A Superuser. The attacks are messages. No one in the Network, neither ordinary members nor Superusers, are safe. The Network sounds the alarm and tells its members to bunker up in the Shards. But the other two Husks are already waiting for them.”
“That’s a sound strategy,” Wood said, “but what’s the endgame? What’s the point of it all?”
“Who knows what the gods think?” Connor remarked. “They’ve been with us for over a couple hundred years, and they still haven’t told anyone what they really want.”
Two and a half centuries ago, darkness enveloped the world. The sun, stars, moon and planets winked out, plunging the Earth into perfect darkness.
Madness followed. The seas rose and fell, swallowing islands and spitting out continents. Landmasses marched across the ocean, breaking up and reforming into new, strange, shapes, dissolving nations and dispersing peoples. The light-starved masses tried to burn everything they had on hand, but the all-consuming darkness permitted only the most feeble of illumination.
As suddenly as the Long Night had fallen, new lights appeared in the sky and dispersed the darkness. A new sun, new moon, new planets, new stars. Then the New Gods descended from the alien heavens to take their place as the sovereigns of an altered world.
And among the millions of self-proclaimed gods, major and minor, none was the god of Moses, Abraham and Muhammad.
The government called the event Year Zero. Karim’s elders remembered it as the Calamity.
“We could ask ‘im,” Fox said. “Find the Dark Power behind this and ask him what he wants.”
“You can do that?” Karim asked.
“Sure,” Yamamoto replied, “if you know what you’re doing. And if you’re extremely careful. But we need to find the Husk first. The SN’s Counter Assault Team will be… Hold on, incoming transmission.”
The operators re-checked their weapons and gear. Yamamoto whispered into his radio. Karim patted his pouches, checking that everything was in place.
“The unis have found the turtle,” Yamamoto said. “They’ve cornered him in the Miranda hypermarket three blocks away. Civilians are still trapped inside. We’re going in. You ready?”
“Always,” Karim replied.
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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