One Target, One Team
The Sentinel’s wings were clipped, but she could still drive.
Karim worked the pedals with two leaden feet, breaking every traffic law and taking every turn at dangerous speeds. Dozens of voices chattered over the radio, dribbling out information piecemeal. Yamamoto sat in the shotgun seat, silently processing it all.
“The unis have cornered the turtle inside the hypermarket,” Yamamoto said. “They chased him into the building, and when he tried to escape out the back, another car cut him off. The cops fired at him and drove him back inside. He’s somewhere in the building, but no one knows exactly where.”
“This doesn’t make sense,” Wood said. “He’s armored like a tank. He could bust through the cordon easily.”
“Maybe he’s scared of getting shot,” Fox said.
“Or maybe he’s setting up an ambush,” Tan added.
“Regardless of what he’s doing, it’s on us to flush him out,” Yamamoto said.
“Did anyone make contact with the subject?” Karim asked.
“Nope,” Yamamoto replied.
“Rookie, you can’t talk to Husks,” Connor said. “They’re not going to listen. You just shoot them.”
“Any blues inside?” Wood asked.
“Yeah. An off-duty SWAT guy led a team of unis inside.”
“Lambs to the slaughter,” Connor muttered.
“If they get lucky, they take him out for us, and we can all go home,” Yamamoto said. “If they don’t, they’ll buy the civvies time to escape. And for us to get there.”
Karim shook his head. “You guys sure have a dim view of the cops’ chances of survival.”
“They’re trained to handle human criminals,” Yamamoto said. “Husks are a different breed of bad guy. Deadlier, faster and stronger than ordinary humans. You saw how the turtle soaked up your shots. You think police-issue pistols and shotguns will scratch him?”
“No,” Karim admitted.
“It’s on us to finish the job.”
“What if we can’t? What if the thing’s too well-armored or too powerful for us to neutralize?”
“We upgrade his threat assessment to Class A and deploy the assault armor,” Wood said.
“There’s no time,” Yamamoto said. “We have to stop the killing now. It’ll take too long for the AAs to arrive.”
“Then what?” Wood said.
Yamamoto sighed. “Code Black.”
“What’s that?” Karim asked.
“We evacuate the area, contain the Husk, then call in the Air Force and drop a thermobaric bomb on his head.”
“Holy… Have you ever done that before?”
Yamamoto refused to elaborate.
No matter the hour or how foul the weather, there was always someone somewhere in Babylon looking to buy something, and there was always someone willing to sell it. Miranda took that concept and escalated it as only a megacorp could.
The hypermarket was massive, occupying a single city block all to itself, with an equally expansive parking lot. Three stories tall, it catered to every possible need any citizen of Babylon ever had. Within legal limits, of course.
Police cars and ambulances piled up outside the entrance. Cops shuttled in and out of the building, hustling civilians to waiting paramedics. A SWAT gravtruck screamed in from above, landing just past the outer perimeter.
“Take us next to the SWAT vehicle,” Yamamoto ordered.
Karim pulled up next to the vehicle, just as a dozen SWAT operators piled out of the vehicle. Yamamoto waved at them.
“We’re STS!” he shouted over the rain. “Who’s your team leader?”
“That’s me,” a grizzled sergeant replied.
Yamamoto extended his hand.
“I’m Yamamoto. What’s your name?”
The men shook hands.
“Glad to see you guys,” Yamamoto said.
“We’re going in together?” Rogers asked.
Yamamoto shook his head. “No. We’ll take the Husk.”
“The clock’s ticking, and the hypermarket is a huge place.”
“Agreed, but this Husk is extremely dangerous.”
Rogers bristled. “My team has taken down a couple of Husks without your help before.”
“This isn’t a turf thing.” Yamamoto gestured at Karim. “My guy over here shot the threat multiple times and the rounds bounced right off him. If you guys don’t have penetrators, you won’t do squat against him. You got any?”
The sergeant sighed. “No. But we’ve got to do something.”
“As you said, the hypermarket is a huge place, and there’s only six operators in my team. We need trailers. Come in behind us and secure the stairs, escalators, doors, every exit you can find. We’ll push any civilians we find to you. If the threat tries to escape, pin him down so we can finish him.”
“Got it. But if this threat is as dangerous as you say he is… you sure you don’t need backup?”
“We’re STS. One target, one team.”
The operators of Black Watch filed into the hypermarket, the SWAT team at their heels. Past the cashiers and along the aisles, cops stood guard at choke points, radios and phones close to hand. Their pistols were peashooters, their shotguns not much better, but it was all they had.
Yamamoto clapped Karim’s shoulder.
“Time to earn your pay, rookie,” Yamamoto said. “Where’s the threat?”
Karim borrowed Galen’s eyes and looked.
There were only humans on the ground floor. Cops guarding the exits. More cops combing the aisles for innocents and bad guys. Civilians curled up in corners or hiding in the storeroom or racing for the doors.
And a huge black soulstream cut a dark swath through the aisles.
“I see his trail,” Karim muttered. “Stand by.”
The soulstream ran up a travelator and dashed into the second floor. It wound sinuously through and around unseen obstacles, and abruptly came to a halt, resolving into the shape of a huge turtle.
The Husk was crouching behind something, his head sweeping back and forth. But it wasn’t the same turtle he’d seen earlier. Was this one… larger?
“I see him,” Karim said, pointing. “Level two, red four.”
Tan pointed his bot that direction.
“I’ve got him,” Tan declared. “Bot has him locked.”
A solid red figure appeared across Karim’s eyeshields. A figure of a massive bipedal turtle, crouching behind a shelf.
“Let’s get him,” Karim said.
“Hold on,” Yamamoto said. “Is there a map of the place?”
“There,” Fox said, pointing at a nearby holographic display.
The team gathered around the stand, studying the layout of the floor. Now and then the operators glanced up at the ceiling with their goggles, cross-referencing the turtle’s position against the map.
Tan tapped the map. “The subject is over here.”
The turtle was hiding near an aisle of toiletries at the right side of the floor. The elevators were to his right, and to his front he had a clean line of fire down a narrow passage.
“He’s a tall sonofabitch, isn’t he?” Connor said. “I think he could pop above the aisles, look down at us, and use his mouth beam.”
Karim mentally kicked himself. He wasn’t fighting humans any more. He’d covered this in training, sure, but there was no substitute for the real thing.
“What’s the plan, boss?” Fox asked.
“We’ll hit him from two directions,” Yamamoto said. “Alpha Team will go up to level two from the green side elevator and creep up on his position. Bravo will wait by the red side elevator on level one. The bot goes with Bravo. On my mark, we deploy flash-bangs and catch him in a pincer.
“If he runs, he’ll flee up the escalator to level three. We’ll bring up the SWAT guys to seal off the escalators and the stairs, then pursue and destroy him.”
“And if he takes a swan dive out the window?” Wood asked.
“He’ll be giving his back to us,” Fox said. “Easy shot.”
“What if he takes the elevator?” Karim asked.
“He’s too damn big to fit inside, and he’ll have to fight past us,” Connor said.
“I mean on the third floor. He runs to the elevator, forces the doors open, squeezes himself through and jumps down the shaft. Then what?”
“We stop him before he gets there,” Yamamoto said simply. “Bravo will cover the elevator doors, Alpha will close and finish.”
“We done jawing?” Connor asked. “Or we gonna wait for him for build a castle?”
“We’re going,” Yamamoto said. “But be careful.”
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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