6. A Lot More Complicated
“Samurai, Farmer,” Wood said. “Copy that. What kind of intruders?”
“The crawler spotted a large boat with thirteen individuals mooring at the berth. Both the boat and the subjects have chameleon camo. We’re tracking them with EM vision and Lycan’s blessings.”
The crawler had an electromagnetic imager, allowing it to see EM fields. Mustafa, an Elect of Galen the Wolf, could draw on the god’s power to enhance his vision and see the unseen. For everyone else, it would be nearly impossible to track the intruders.
At least, without being detected.
“Understood,” Wood said. “Be advised, Deadeye and myself are observing the Green Bliss regrowing on the trees, and we suspect this is how the subjects resupply themselves. This might be a counter-narcotics operation. I could contact the local PD and check what’s up.”
“Go ahead,” Yamamoto said.
Wood dug out his satellite phone from his pants pocket, turned it on and dialed a number.
“Who is this?” Sheriff Kane said gruffly.
“James Wood, PSB. We spoke earlier today.”
Kane’s voice brightened immediately.
“Ah, Special Agent Wood. What’s the purpose of your call?”
“Is there anyone conducting a counter-narcotics operation in the vicinity of Grass River?”
“As I told you this afternoon, we don’t have any special ops planned in Grass River.”
A blunt THUMP-THUMP echoed in the night.
“Was that a shot?” Fox wondered.
“What about the New Gods?” Wood asked. “Are they doing anything there too?”
“Nope, not that I know of,” Kane replied. “Why? What’s going on?”
“Just checking,” Wood said. “Thanks.”
“Black Watch, Samurai,” Yamamoto radioed. “The newcomers just took out a pair of guards. No warning, no attempt to arrest. They’re not acting like cops.”
Wood dialed a second number. Deputy Frank Matthews picked up after two rings.
“Frank, it’s Jim,” Wood said. “Is SRT or anyone else pulling an op in Grass River?”
“No, not that I know of,” Matthews said. “Why?”
“I don’t just mean the SD. I mean the Network and the Guild. Do you have any knowledge of their operations.”
“No. The New Gods don’t tell us everything they do. What’s going on?”
Suppressed gunfire chattered through the night.
“I’ll tell you later. I’ve got work to do now.”
Wood put the phone away and hit the push-to-talk switch.
“Black Watch, Farmer. Local contacts tell me there are no law enforcement operations in the area, and they have no knowledge of any activities of the New Gods. Break. Samurai, what’s the call?”
“We stop them,” Yamamoto replied.
“Boss, they’re moving too fast. We’re not going to be able to intercept them in time,” Fox said.
As she spoke, red icons flashed across Wood’s smartglasses. The intruders. There were nine of them, dashing through the trees as fast as greased lightning, yet completely and utterly silent. In his regular sight, all Wood saw were blurry streaks.
“They must be cybered up,” Yamamoto said. “We’ll take them at the berth.”
“What about the objective?” Wood asked.
“We sweep the site after we take the subjects.”
“But there are people in there!”
Yamamoto sighed softly over the radio.
“None of them are innocents. None that we know.”
Wood cursed. Part of him wanted to rush in and stop the bad guys. But by the time the team waded across the water, the intruders would have finished the job—and the Black Watch would be caught in the open. And the subjects were so damn fast, there was no way they would take them in a fair fight.
Scanning for threats, Wood picked himself up and packed up his scope. Fox raised herself to a knee and covered him. Muffled automatic fire emerged from the house.
“Samurai, ZT,” Tan said. “We’re outnumbered, and those guys are cybered. Do we have to pick this fight?”
“We need information. They have some in their heads. We must do this.”
“What’s the plan?”
Yamamoto rattled off a series of movement orders, addressing each operator in turn. Wood tracked them all, modeling the plan inside his head, mapping consequences and if-then scenarios.
It was going to be a long shot. But they were the Black Watch. If anyone could do this, it was them.
The operators gathered their gear and regrouped at the base of the hill. The sound of gunfire at their backs, they donned their fusion vision goggles and rushed through the forest. Leaping over exposed roots, ducking under branches, they moved as swiftly as they dared. The sounds of battle erupted from the direction of the house, automatic fire mixed with screams and explosions and blood-maddened howls.
But it wasn’t a mad charge. There were three more icons on the lenses of Wood’s smartglasses, gathered near the berth. Three more living, presumably breathing, likely cybered, threats. Too much noise would give the game away.
Wood had grown up in the swamps and the forests. Moving quickly and silently through the woods was second nature to him. The other operators were only slightly less skilled, but he still winced at every errant crackle or rustling brush.
The drone appeared in Wood’s augmented reality as a bright blue shape. His eyes saw only a distorted blur through his night vision goggles. The operators formed up around the bot, three to a side, and crept to the woodline.
Lying prone on the moist forest floor, Wood shouldered his carbine and splayed out his legs, supporting his weapon with solid bone. He peeked over his optics and studied the three threats.
One Tango sat in the boat, within easy reach of the engine. The other two positioned themselves past the berth, attentively sweeping the forest before them. The bot detected the metal in their weapons, their limbs, their bodies and their heads, producing a trio of roughly humanoid figures.
Full-body cyborgs. All of them.
White numbers appeared over the targets’ heads. Yamamoto had assigned them to the team, setting up a synchronized takedown. Fox had the boatman, bobbing up and down in the water. Tan had the left-hand threat by the berth.
Wood had the last.
Wood turned on his combat optic. A bright red crosshair appeared in his field of view. He swiveled slowly but smoothly, aligning his crosshair on target. Ghostly green crosshairs appeared in his peripheral vision, showing where the other two operators were aiming.
They were all on target.
Wood breathed, rested his finger on the carbine’s frame, and waited.
The gunfire ceased. The targets stayed in place, staying true to their duty. The Black Watch lay in wait.
The targets weren’t run-of-the-mill hired guns. They had top-tier gear, with the discipline to make the most of them. Where most cybertech were simple limb replacements or conferred modest capabilities at most, they had tech that made them superhuman. Such tech was cost-prohibitive, even for the government—and exclusively the hallmark of the New Gods.
In the distance, something exploded. Wood twitched, slightly, but his finger remained still. More explosions followed, dozens of them. Ashes drifted into Wood’s nose. Still he maintained focus on his mark.
“I see fire and smoke to our ten o’clock,” Yamamoto whispered. “The bad guys are erasing evidence. We need prisoners. If possible.”
Against cybered threats with unknown capabilities, the only way to win was to hit hard, hit fast, and keep hitting. Going out of your way to take prisoners was a dicey proposition at best, and usually a fatal one.
They were the Black Watch. They’d find a way.
More threats abruptly emerged from the woods, appearing as if by magic. Once more, Wood’s eyes saw only blurry motion. Not even his cybertech could see through the cloak. The crawler detected nine more cyborgs, organized in a loose echelon. And a tenth subject, stumbling across the grass, a cyborg firmly controlling him with one hand.
A perfectly ordinary human, no camouflage, showing up in bright green and orange in fusion vision, with no significant metal in him.
The cyborgs gathered near the berth. A cyborg broke off from the main group, conferring with the security element. More crosshairs appeared, highlighting the cyborg with the prisoner, and three other cyborgs with heavy weapons. Wood made out the distinct shapes of machine guns and grenade launchers in their hands.
We’re going to rescue the prisoner,” Yamamoto whispered. “I have control. Stand by, stand by.”
A cyborg tensed, pivoting to face the team. A crosshair appeared over his face.
The crawler’s loudspeaker kicked up.
“THIS IS THE STS!” Yamamoto’s voice boomed. “DROP YOUR WEAPONS AND PUT YOUR HANDS ABOVE YOUR HEAD!”
The cyborg squad alerted. The hostage froze.
Then the cyborg facing the team fired.
“Initiate!” Yamamoto ordered.
Wood pressed the trigger.
A storm of suppressed gunshots rang out. Wood’s target dropped, jerking like a puppet with its strings cut. Immediately he pivoted left, trained his crosshairs on the leader’s center of mass, got off a quick double-tap. The cyborg went down. Wood went hunting for more threats.
Switching to full-auto, the Black Watch hosed down the area with controlled bursts. Maximum firepower, maximum surprise, maximum aggression. The crawler joined in, shooting for exposed heads where it could.
The hail of steel cut down the cyborgs in the open, forcing the rest into cover. The hostage screamed and curled up into a ball. Automatic fire hammered through the trees. Wood saw a threat flee behind a thin tree and lit him up. The bullets ripped through the bark and into the threat, and as the cyborg fell he blasted it again in the face.
Wood looked up.
A hazy form cut across the tributary, spraying water in a sharp V-shaped bow. Rising to a knee, Wood aimed and—
The cyborg was on him.
He ripped off a burst at point-blank. The cyborg stumbled away, weapon falling from his hands. Wood aimed higher—
The cyborg pounced, his left arm whipping up and down—
Swerving aside, Wood smashed his weapon into the cyborg’s arm and deflected the blow, then stepped in and rammed his forearm into his throat.
The cyborg fell flat on his back. Wood trained his weapon on the cyborg’s face.
“STS!” he shouted. “Show me your hands!”
The cyborg spread out his arms.
“I surrender!” he shouted.
The firefight was petering out. Wood kicked the Tango over on his belly, knelt on his back and looked up.
The hostage was still curled up, still yelling incoherently. A couple of shots rang out, a cyborg dropped to the ground, and suddenly there was no more movement. Wood counted thirteen cyborgs down, including the one he had below him.
“Taking suspect into custody,” Wood reported. “Cover me.”
“Understood,” Yamamoto said. Raising his voice, he yelled, “We’re the STS! We’re here to rescue you!”
“SHIIIIIIIT!” the hostage yelled.
He flopped about on the ground, trying to pick himself up.
“Alpha, secure the hostage. Bravo plus crawler, secure the prisoner,” Yamamoto ordered.
Yamamoto, Connor and Karim forded the waters while Fox, Tan and the drone closed in on Wood’s position. Wood aimed his weapon at the prisoner’s back until he sensed footsteps to his left.
“Covering you,” Fox said.
Wood slung his carbine around his neck, then patted the cyborg down. The subject offered no resistance. Wood worked thoroughly and methodically, emptying out the cyborg’s pockets and pouches, checking places where he could conceal a tool or a weapon.
Wood piled the cyborg’s gear next to him. Carbine, pistol, spare magazines, multitool, grenades, camera, map, on and on and on. What he didn’t find was water. Or food. Or an escape kit.
Two of Wood’s bullets had struck the cyborg in his ballistic plate. The last had shattered his right hand, reducing it to a ruined wreck of polymer and metal. No blood. The cyborg didn’t even seem to care.
Wood grabbed the cyborg’s wrists and snapped on a pair of handcuffs. A full-body cyborg with superhuman strength could snap them—he’d seen it more times than he cared to count—but with so many guns on him any escape attempt would be quickly and decisively defeated.
“Who are you?” Wood asked.
“Superuser Iota Omicron Seven-Two-Eight of the Singularity Network,” the cyborg replied. “We wish to fully cooperate with the Special Tasks Section.”
“We could be anybody, for all you know.”
“Your voice print matches that of Special Agent James Wood, Special Tasks Section, with a confidence of ninety-two point eight percent.”
Wood’s breath caught in his lungs.
“How did you know?” Wood demanded.
“We are the Network,” the cyborg said. “We are everywhere.”
“Why are you here? What do you want?”
“Our mission is to destroy the Green Bliss plantation. During the mission, we discovered and detained Antoine Santiago. The younger brother of Raul Santiago.”
“Who put you up to this mission?” Wood demanded.
“I will answer your questions,” the cyborg said, “but you must take me to a secure holding facility.”
“Are you operating under orders of the Net?”
The cyborg paused for a fraction of a second.
Wood exhaled sharply. Looking up, he saw the other three operators wade up on the opposite shore. The hostage was worming around, flailing about, still completely helpless.
“Samurai, this is Farmer,” Wood radioed. “This mission just got a lot more complicated.”
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