The One-Eyed Man
Modern medicine was a wonderful thing.
The doctors patched James Wood up as best as they could. They replaced the blood he’d lost, reconstructed and reknitted the broken bone around his eye socket, extracted a bone sliver from his brain and repaired the wound. But his right eye was too far gone for medicine to heal.
So they gave him a new one.
A cybernetic eye. Not mere replacement; it was an enhancement. 20/5 vision, built-in camera, 10x digital zoom, augmented reality display with wireless Internet connection, it was the finest cybereye on the market, paid for with taxpayer dollars.
He awoke the day after he arrived at the hospital. It took him another twenty-four hours for his brain to adjust to his new eye. With the aid of a cybernetic specialist, he learned the ins and outs of his alien eye, and specific exercises to acclimatise himself to his new abilities.
The brass put him on medical leave for a week. In that week, he learned how to use his eyes all over again. He religiously performed eye calibration exercises, training his brain to integrate the new optical feed. He studied the user manual until he knew every page by heart. He observed birds with his cyber eye, recorded videos while walking the streets of Babylon, linked his AR display with his smart devices and played around with it. Finally he disabled his AR and wireless capabilities: with his eye controlled by a brain implant, and with hackers everywhere, he couldn’t bear the thought of someone disabling his eye or inserting false images at a critical moment.
When he wasn’t playing with his eye, he was training. Weight lifting, cardio, defensive tactics, shooting. It only took him a day to get used to his new depth perception. Another three days before he perfected his eye-hand coordination.
After returning to HQ, the first thing he did was run through qualifications. Close quarters battle, defensive tactics, combat shooting. He blazed through them all. Hell, if anything, he was even better on the range. Nothing but head and heart shots in nice tight cloverleafs, no misses, all bad guys down, no good guys scratched.
He was ready.
The following Monday, the brass obliged.
The operators of the Black Watch gathered in the briefing room at precisely eight in the morning. They were all dressed in civilian clothing, almost indistinguishable from the support staff who kept the Special Tasks Section going.
Neither slim nor muscle-bound, they were lean and mean, with taut, ropey muscles and single-percentage body fat. Unlike the female civilians on base, Kayla Fox kept her short red hair tied up in a neat, compact bun. The operators’ palms and knuckles bore the scars and calluses that came from hundreds of hours of shooting and gripping and twisting. Most importantly, all of them had the Look. A ceaseless vigilance paired with a relaxed gaze, eyes dancing back and forth, focusing on exits and windows, always tracking everyone and everything around them.
They were the Black Watch, and he was glad to be back.
There was a seventh man in the room. Dressed in a sharp blue shirt and black pants, he was tall and lean, his hair the shade of iron. His face lined with the weight of countless operations, his eyes beheld everything and revealed nothing. Despite his many decades, he sported the same heavy calluses in the same places and the same eternal wariness.
He was Commander Joshua Gregory, founder and commander of the STS.
“Good morning everyone,” Gregory said. “Jim, how are you doing?”
“A hundred percent, sir,” Wood replied. “Hell, better than before.”
Gregory’s eyes twinkled. “The wonders of cybertech, eh? Are you ready to go back into the field?”
“Yes sir. I blew through the re-quals last week, no sweat.”
“Well done. Now, to business.”
“Your last op was a qualified success. You shut down a major drug transaction, put a number of bad guys in the dirt, and put a dent in the Santiago Syndicate’s operations. All well and good, except that there were no survivors.
“No, it’s not your fault. We reviewed camera footage from your suits and it’s plainly obvious that the bad guys got what was coming. Especially that Class S monster that popped up from the waters. But now, the Director has ordered us—meaning the whole STS—to dismantle the Santiago Syndicate, and we have little useful information to go on.”
“The Santiagos are small time,” Connor said. “There are other larger and more dangerous threats out there. Why are we tasked with this?”
“Because of this.”
A hologram materialized before the operators. It showed a strange fruit, like a cross between a plump tomato and a ridged starfruit. A fruit whose bright green coat glowed.
“We saw that before,” Mustafa remarked. “When we were hunting those Husks last month.”
“Yup,” Gregory said. “It’s a new species, never cataloged before. The street name is Green Bliss. The Santiagos have dropped their old business of pushing pills and powders, and are now the exclusive supplier of Green Bliss in Babylon. The crates in their warehouse were stuffed with fruits just like this one.”
After the Cataclysm, when the world rearranged itself and the New Gods descended from the Aether, new species of plants and animals and… other things began to flourish across the face of the earth. Even now, over two hundred years on, new species were still turning up.
“Fruits aren’t supposed to glow like that,” Kayla said.
“Indeed,” Gregory said. “It’s Aether-touched, no questions about it. Highly addictive, too, and extremely dangerous.”
“How so?” Yamamoto asked.
“If a regular person eats it, he experiences a state of pure euphoria. Depending on the dose, it lasts for any time between an hour to half a day. No known side effects, no known overdose threshold.
“But if a psi eats it… he becomes a Husk. We’re not sure about the actual mechanism, but STS and Babylon PD has taken down a number of Husks with Green Bliss in their bellies or among their personal effects. You’ve seen it yourself last month.”
That job was crazy. It was Mustafa’s first day in the field. When started as a simple takedown of a psychotic Husk became a mad dash around Babylon to neutralize four Husks and prevent the Singularity Network from snatching the souls of the deceased. Wood hadn’t personally seen the Green Bliss himself, but he knew Karim and Yamamoto had discovered a specimen inside the Husks’ safe house.
“That makes the Green Bliss a national security threat,” Yamamoto mused.
“That’s why we’re on point for this one,” Gregory confirmed.
“What’s the mission, precisely?”
“Babylon PD and PSB Narcotics have determined that the Santiagos don’t cultivate Green Bliss in Babylon, or anywhere in the mainland. Multiple sources claim they ship it in from Moreno Island. Your mission is to conduct a low-profile investigation in the island, identify the source of Green Bliss, and shut it down.”
Moreno Island. A small island some three and a half hours out from Nova Babylonia. He’d heard the name crop up in operational briefings and intel reports now and then, but there was little on the island to attract the attention of the Public Security Bureau. Hell, there was little on the island to attract the attention of anyone, period.
But it was home.
“Are you deploying just the six of us against the syndicate?” Yamamoto asked.
“We’re keeping the investigation low-pro; we don’t want to spook the targets,” Gregory said. “The six of you are the best operators I’ve got. If anyone can find the source of the Green Bliss, it’s you. But once you have enough evidence for a warrant, let me know and I’ll send in the cavalry.”
Yamamoto turned to Wood. “You grew up in Moreno Island, didn’t you?”
Wood nodded. “Yeah. I lived in a small farming town deep in the interior before moving to the mainland.”
“Do you have contacts over there?” Gregory asked.
“I’m still tight with many of the locals, including the Sheriff’s Department.”
“It sounds to me you should be the lead investigator for this job,” Gregory said. “You up for it?”
Phrased like that, Gregory made it sound like Wood had a choice. But with the Santiagos running around and a Dark Power on the loose in his hometown, there was only one choice.
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