The Nightmare Scenario
This was the nightmare scenario. Multiple active shooters and hostage takers, possibly Elect and/or Husks. Multiple hostages. No way of confirming details, no means of reaching the subjects. No backup. No margin for error. Madness.
Will Connor lived for this shit.
The SkyBear gravtruck soared silently through the clear autumn morning. Standing in the cupola, all Connor heard was the whispering wind. Innumerable blued glass windows and steel gray struts rushed past like a waterfall. The SkyBear was flying in complete contradiction of accepted doctrine, its rear end exposed to the skyscraper, and Connor couldn’t help but think of the windows as an army of hungry eyes, eager to betray the ascending vehicle to the building’s inhabitants.
He wrapped his right hand around the grip of his M262 General Purpose Machine Gun, planted his left hand on the stock, and leaned into the weapon.
Nobody knew what the hell was happening on the 38th floor of Ringo Plaza. A mixed-use office and residential tower, it proved irresistible to the three religions that dominated the city of Riveria. The floor plan suggested that the New Gods had carved up the floor space among themselves in an equitable fashion. The truce ended an hour ago, when Riveria PD received multiple calls of gunfire, bloodshed, and magic.
Witnesses reported men who transformed into beasts, flung fire from their hands, shot beams from their eyes. The hallmark of the Elect of the New Gods. RPD’s SWAT team was outclassed and outgunned, and none of the New Gods seemed interested in ending the affray.
That left the STS.
As far as the STS could tell, what began as a multi-way melee had regressed into an uncomfortable stalemate. A party of Elect had burst into an office and taken everyone inside hostage. Outside the office, an unknown number of Elect were still duking it out. Or besieging the hostage takers. Or both. All communications from inside were confused and sporadic, RPD had no idea what was going on, the field office of the Public Security Bureau had their heads up their asses, and everyone was eager to hand off the situation to the pros.
Pros. Shit. There were just six STS operators available. Seven if you counted the Mastiff bot with them. They weren’t even properly kitted to go full rock-and-roll; they were here for another mission altogether. But the RPD wanted to stop the killing, the nervous Nelly who ran the Riveria PSB field office eagerly agreed, and they demanded the STS go in right the hell now. No time to wait for reinforcements, people were dying out there.
Connor didn’t mind the need for rapid response. The job was to respond to supernatural threats, 24/7, with whatever you had on hand when the balloon went up. But was it too much to ask for support from PSB ESWAT, RPD SWAT, even switched-on beat cops with more than a half a clue?
All those fuckers, they were all too eager to lay it all on the STS once the shit got real. The only thing they could do—were willing to do—was to evacuate everyone on the lower floors and block off the stairwells and elevators.
Motherfuckers. And people wondered why Riveria was in such a shit state.
“Ten seconds!” Karim Mustafa warned over the radio.
Connor gathered up his rage and his frustration and expelled it with his breath. It was game time. Time to get his kill face on.
Under more ordinary circumstances, they would have rappelled from the roof. But that was twelve floors of unknown, uncleared space, and there was unconfirmed reports of fighting above the 38th floor. All it took was one shooter with a machine gun, or just a pair of bolt cutters, and that would be the end of the team.
The alternate approach would be deploy from the 37th floor, head up the stairs, breach the office from the outside. But there were confirmed reports of armed Elect roaming the entire floor, some of whom may or may not be hostile to the human authorities. With only six operators available, that approach was too high risk.
That left this option.
Utter madness. But it was the least worst option.
And it all hinged on him.
“Five seconds!” Mustafa said.
He flicked off the safety with his thumb, rested his finger on the frame of the GPMG, and waited.
The SkyBear abruptly halted. Right in front of the massive wall-length windows of the West Wing of the 38th floor.
Connor couldn’t see through the blue-tinted windows. He didn’t have to. Sensors mounted on the SkyBear lashed the building with millimeter waves, feeding the return to his augmented reality glasses.
Up ahead, a dozen white figures huddled together in a tight knot. Civilians, unarmed. Standing beside them were two men colored in red, one with a pistol, the other an assault rifle. Scattered throughout the room beyond were four more red silhouettes, also armed.
All of them were looking the wrong way.
“Initiate!” Yuri Yamamoto ordered.
Connor’s hands moved of their own accord, swiveling his machine gun to the closest target. The red crosshair of his holographic sight filled his field of view. His thumb flicked the selector to full auto.
His finger pressed the trigger.
The GPMG chattered and jumped against his shoulder, spitting out six rounds. The burst shattered the window and stitched up the left-hand hostage taker, throwing him down in a spray of blood. His silhouette turned white.
Men shouted. Women shrieked. The SkyBear vibrated slightly as the doors swung open. Connor pivoted to the other hostage taker and gave him a burst of six. The bullets dissolved glass, flesh, bone, ripping a huge hole in the window.
A black object sailed out from the open doors and through a hole. Connor spun his weapon away, saw another red figure fill his sights, held down the trigger. His machine gun roared, a thunderous BANG filled the world, his argees darkened to defend him from a blinding flash, the windows disintegrated under the blast overpressure, revealing a gunman disintegrating under a hail of high-velocity rounds.
“Lift fire! Lift fire! We’re going in!” Yuri Yamamoto yelled.
The Skybear backed up, bumping gently against the building. Connor released the trigger, scanned, saw three more red-silhouetted gunmen scrambling for cover.
A sharp CRACK. The closest threat’s head exploded in red. A second crack, a third, and the other two gunmen went down in blood sprays.
A moment later, the Mastiff rolled out. A blue-painted box mounted on four wheeled legs, it jumped the gap and landed on the floor, its sensor/gun head sweeping in every direction. It must have fired the kill shots; the human operators would have fired multiple times.
Next came Yuri Yamamoto, team leader, the only man in Nova Babylonia crazy enough to think of something like this, so crazy that he wore three blades. A folder in his pocket, a fixed blade on his plate carrier, and an honest-to-God short sword on his left hip. But Connor didn’t mind crazy, crazy got the job done.
Yamamoto hit the carpeted floor running, his M83A1 carbine held at the low ready, rushing to the nearest innocent. A second later, Zen Tan leapt out, joining his beloved bot. The bot and the operators made room, and the rest of the team spilled out the SkyBear. Karim Mustafa, the rookie and resident Elect; James Wood, the second-in-command and the oldest operator on the team; Kayla Fox, the sniper and deadliest shot in the squad.
As the team cleared the office and chased down the civilians, Connor stayed put, his gun up and trained on the front door of the office. As much as he wanted in on the action, this was his place, here on the big gun, ready to dominate the world.
The front door swung open.
An elephant stepped in.
A gigantic elephant balanced on two huge legs, an enormous sledgehammer held in massive human-like fists, blood dripping from sharp ivory tusks. A violet eye blazed in the center of its forehead. Every step it took shook the world, BOOM-BOOM-BOOM, so loud Connor could hear it.
Right beside its massive frame, practically a dwarf in comparison, was a man in a black cloak. A man with six arms, three on either side, all of them holding blades and machine pistols.
“ELECT!” Connor warned, slewing his gun. “CONTACT BLACK!”
Connor held down the trigger. The six-armed man disintegrated in a shower of gore. He walked his fire high and to the right, going for the elephantman. Blood geysered up its belly, its chest, but it stood tall, trumpeting in defiance and anger, its violet eye glowing.
Six carbines opened up on the elephantman from six different angles. Connor rode the recoil, bringing the blazing machine gun up its throat, its trunk, its head.
Violet light seared from its third eye, blasting a hole in the ceiling. Then the elephantman topped in a shower of dust and gore. Connor pumped three more rounds into its huge skull. No fucking way he was going to take any chances with that thing.
And a civilian ran into his field of fire.
His finger launched off the trigger. His hand pointed the gun straight up. The gun remained silent.
“STS! GET DOWN! GET DOWN!” Connor shouted.
The rest of the team took up the cry, herding the civilians into a corner. ZT sent his bot up by the front door and fired the sensors.
Revealing more reds stacking on the front door.
“We’ve got five Tangos stacking up outside!” ZT warned.
The team flowed into action. Yamamoto and Fox stood protectively over the civilians, carbines trained on the door. Wood took cover behind a desk. Mustafa threw his head back and howled.
Mustafa changed. His uniform, his gear, his body melted into a black fluid mass. He grew larger, taller, drawing an extra fifty pounds of mass from the Aether. His head elongated and expanded, his back hunched over, his arms reached down to his knees. Then all color returned to the form, and Connor saw a werewolf, shaped in the likeness of Galen the White. The god Mustafa was pledged to.
“THIS IS THE STS!” Yamamoto shouted. “WE KNOW YOU’RE OUT THERE! LAY DOWN YOUR WEAPONS NOW!”
As he spoke, the SkyBear turned once again, bringing its miniguns to bear. Anyone stupid enough to enter the office would leave in a bucket.
A muffled voice floated in. “Did you say STS? The Special Tactics Section?”
“Yes!” Yamamoto shouted.
The red figures stepped back and clustered together. A few moments later, one of them crept to the door.
“We’re not your enemy! We were just defending ourselves!” he shouted.
“We have the situation under control!” Yamamoto called. “Are there any more bad guys outside?”
Yamamoto approached the door, taking care to avoid the other operators’ lines of fire.
“Let’s slow things down,” he said. “We’ll sort this out, okay?”
“I’m going to give you a series of instructions. You will comply fully. If you fail to do so, there may be deadly consequences. And we can see you clearly through the wall. Do you understand?”
“I want you to put your weapons down. All of you.”
“This is self-defense!”
“Of course,” Yamamoto said agreeably. “But right now, we don’t want any misunderstandings. Enough people have died already. Put your guns down and we can clear things up.”
The red figures bent over. Metallic clacking sounds filtered into Connor’s ears. The red figures turned white.
“Kick your weapons away.”
“I want you to come in here, one by one, with your hands on your head. I will call for you. If you have any powers, deactivate them now. Understood?”
“First man, come in!”
A man entered the office, standing proud, hands on his head. Yamamoto pointed at the middle of the room.
“Go there and get on your knees.”
As the subject crossed the floor, the operators trained their weapons on him. He got down on his knees slowly, hands still raised. Mustafa and Wood rushed up to him, patted him down, and cuffed his hands behind his back.
Yamamoto called in the others. Altogether, there were four men and one woman. The STS gathered the subjects by Wood and Mustafa, covering them with multiple weapons until they were searched and secured.
Yamamoto stood over the first man who entered, keeping a healthy distance away.
“Is that all of you?” Yamamoto asked.
“Are any of you carrying weapons or gear we should know about?”
“No. You took everything.”
Yamamoto turned to Fox and Tan. “Go outside and recover the things they dropped.”
The operators hustled to the door. Yamamoto turned back to the subject.
“What’s your name, and which New God do you follow?”
“John Arthur. I’m with the Pantheon.” Arthur cocked his head at the others. “Two of us are with the Pantheon too, but the rest are Liberated.”
“You know who the attackers are?” Yamamoto asked, gesturing at the nearest corpse.
“They’re Shadow Court. All of them.”
The Pantheon, the Liberated, and the Court of Shadows. The three factions that ruled Riveria.
“What happened earlier? How did this mess begin?”
“I don’t know. A couple of hours ago, I got a call that the Shadows were starting a fight up here. I grabbed my buddies and came up from the thirtieth floor. Then we shot it out with them until you got here.”
Yamamoto looked over the other prisoners. “Some of you are Liberated, right? Do any of you have anything to add?”
“Not really,” the woman said. “I was just in my shop, minding my own business, when I heard gunfire. Next thing I know, the vamps are blasting away at us. I grabbed my guns, called my friends, and fired back. Then I saw these Pantheon guys come in, and we fought the vamps together.”
“Fuckin’ Shadows,” a third captive muttered. “You STS guys, you oughta sanction them.”
“So you all say that the Court kicked this off, and you were only defending yourselves,” Yamamoto summarized. “Is that right?”
“Absolutely,” Arthur agreed.
“Those two guys by the door, were they yours?”
Arthur shrugged. “Hey, I don’t even know their names.”
“What are you going to do now?” the woman asked.
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