9. The Mark of the Maker
“You don’t do anything halfway, do you?” Commander Joshua Gregory said.
Yuri Yamamoto shrugged. “We didn’t have much choice.”
Gregory sighed and shook his head. “This is not good. Not for us, not for STS.”
After the showdown at the Sheriff’s Department, nowhere on Moreno Island was safe for the STS. The mission was over. Back at STS HQ, a group of PSB Special Agents—regular ones, not STS operators—took custody of the cyborg and departed without a word, leaving Yamamoto and Wood to explain themselves to Gregory in his office.
“They were all dirty,” Wood said. “Matthews, his buddies, the Sheriff, they were all working for the Guild.”
“They were armed,” Yamamoto added. “They were killing to kill us. We did what we had to do to get out safe.”
“In your shoes, I’m sure I’d have done the same thing,” Gregory said. “But… STS shooting cops. Not a good look.”
“Maybe if the Sheriff hadn’t let the New Gods infest his Department, we wouldn’t have gotten to this point,” Wood said.
“Easy for you to say. For all their ambitions and doings, the New Gods have done a lot for the people. This incident could jeopardize the STS’ existence.”
Wood’s voice dropped an octave.
“You’re going to throw us to the wolves?”
“I’m going to have to explain this incident to the Director. Sure, you acted in good faith, but there will be consequences.”
“Like what? We’re just going to let the Santiagos go?” Yamamoto said.
“No. But some other team can pick up the slack.”
“Come on!” Wood exclaimed. “We’ve got the most time on the ground here. And we’re close to finishing this. We get the guys who grabbed Antoine Santiago, we get Antoine. We get Antoine, he can lead us to Raul.”
“Karim is an Elect,” Yamamoto said. “He can look into the past and track the ones who abducted Antoine. We can do this.”
Gregory crossed his arms. “The Sheriff called me just now. He said, in no uncertain terms, that the STS is permanently barred from operating in his island. Yes, I know you said he’s dirty, but we have no proof. We still have procedures to follow.”
“What the Sheriff doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” Wood said.
The two men looked at Wood.
Yamamoto laughed dryly. The Director followed a moment later.
“I want to take down Santiago and the Green Bliss as much as you do,” Gregory said, “but I don’t want any more cops getting hurt. Or, at least, any more good cops.”
“We’ll do our best,” Wood said.
“That’s not good enough.”
“We won’t knowingly harm any MISD personnel,” Yamamoto said. “Not unless we can confirm they’re playing for the other team. That’s all I can promise.”
Gregory sighed. “This op is this close to becoming a major scandal. Don’t make things worse for me. If you do, I will not be able to protect you.”
“We’re going deniable?”
“Deniable isn’t enough. Leave no trace behind. And don’t get caught. Clear?”
“Understood,” both operators said.
The rest of the team regrouped over the course of the hour. In the team room, Yamamoto explained what he needed to Mustafa. The Elect nodded, then retreated to a corner and sank into a semiconscious meditative state. As they waited for Mustafa, the rest of the team laid out and cleaned their gear.
That left Wood alone with his thoughts.
Matthews. Goddamnit. He had grown up with him, gone to school together, shared his hopes and dreams together. They’d studied together, played together, went hiking and fishing and hunting in the swamps and the forests together. They found a common interest in guns and gear, and that led to military and law enforcement and special operations.
Wood left for the mainland. Matthews stayed. But both had pursued their boyhood dreams, growing into the men they were together. Over the years they had kept in contact, sometimes making time to train together and catch up over a beer. He thought he knew Matthews.
But not enough.
And when push came to shove, when it came time for Matthews to choose between his god and his friend, Matthews had chosen his god.
And died for it.
Shit, shit, shit, shit!
There were no atheists in the world anymore, never had been since the day the New Gods took dominion of the Earth. But the Woods had never put much stock in matters of faith and religion, focusing single-mindedly on their little patch of farmland on a tiny island. James Wood knew intellectually that many people put their faith in some god or other, but the gods were never a part of his life. And after what he’d seen and done, all he knew of the gods, the New Gods, was that they warp the hearts and minds of everyone they touched, stealing their humanity and twisting them into pawns.
If this was what belief in a god was like, he wanted none of it.
“You okay?” Yamamoto asked.
“Yeah,” Wood said.
Yamamoto looked frankly at Wood. This close, Yamamoto’s genetic mixture was plain to see. He had inherited his black hair and stocky frame from his father; his mother had gifted him his high cheekbones and cold green eyes. A fine golden necklace peeked out from under Yamamoto’s collar.
“What happened back at the isle must have been tough,” Yamamoto continued.
“I heard you and Matthews were tight.”
“I… Fuck.” Wood sighed. “We were. At least, I thought we were. But now… I don’t know. I didn’t think… I mean, I knew he signed up with the Guild, but I didn’t think he would…”
“Betrayal is the only truth that sticks.”
“Yeah.” Wood shook his head. “Fuck.”
“He made his choice. So did you.”
“I shot him,” Wood whispered. “In the head. Just like that. No hesitation either. I… what the hell does that make me?”
“Why did you shoot him?”
“He was reaching for a gun.”
“It was self-defense. He made the choice to draw down on you. You had to protect yourself.”
“Yeah, but the gravcar is bulletproof. If I’d just closed the door…”
“The gravity mirror isn’t. If he’d shot us down, this would be a very different conversation,” Yamamoto said gently. “Look, the important part is that you acted in a manner consistent with training, policy and the law. That’s what matters. Everyone will back you up on this.”
“The Sheriff won’t.”
“The Sheriff gave Antoine to the Guild. Why does his opinion matter?”
Wood chuckled. “Guess not.”
“Remember: you did nothing wrong,” Yamamoto said. “Legally, morally, you did the right thing. We all know this. We will go to bat for you. But right now, we need your head in the game. You ready to go?”
“Yeah. Just give the word.”
Mustafa cleared his throat. “You guys… you done with your moment?”
Yamamoto raised an eyebrow. Wood nodded.
“Yeah,” Yamamoto replied. “You found our guy?”
Mustafa grinned and gave a thumbs-up. “Yeah.”
“Alright. Let’s go get him.”
“There’s one small problem.”
“I read the energy trails of the snatch team. They bear the mark of the Maker.”
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