The BITE was a great place to die.
The Babylon Institute of Technology and Engineering was the premier research university in the nation. Its pedagogy was world-class, and its laboratories were at the forefront of technological innovation. The Bear Campus concentrated on biological sciences, and on the fifth floor, the newest addition to the campus, was dedicated to the dynamic science of nanobiotechnology.
Visually the campus was utterly unimpressive, resembling a huge block of glass standing atop a flat but wide slice of concrete, itself resting upon a somewhat smaller glass block. Tall vertical blinds running from the second to the fifth floor presented a light blue facade to the world, concealing everything behind them. Sited at the northwestern corner of a city block, it stood separate from the other BITE campuses around it. The main entrance faced the east, overlooking a rolling field that bordered a dense, forested park. Two minutes to the south was a small parking lot, strictly for campus staff and visitors only.
As killing grounds went, Fox had seen worse.
As dawn broke on a cold Sunday, the team congregated at the BITE, making sure to park their vehicles in full view of the street cameras. Alex’s friend, a scrawny-looking technician, greeted the team at the entrance gates and talked the security guard into letting them through. Everyone surrendered their IDs, exchanging them for visitor passes.
The fifth floor was empty. The nanobiotech lab was closed on Sunday, but the tech’s pass granted him an exception. The second Tan cloned his pass on his borrowed laptop, the technician cleared out. Armed with the DNA sequences Tan had lifted from the VC, Cindy operated the DNA printer.
Preparing the printer was a straightforward process. But the machine estimated it would take twelve hours to synthesize the entire batch of DNA. There was nothing that could be done to accelerate the process either; printing DNA was supposed to be an overnight process.
As the machine hummed away, Cindy set up a laptop, hooking it up to the lab’s DNA sequencer. With the computer, Alex could remotely control the sequencer and process raw data retrieved from the DNA strands. Once her task was complete, Cindy slung her M83 and stood watch over the labs.
Meanwhile, the Black Watch prepared their kill zones.
A classroom on the fifth floor offered a panoramic view of the field and the forest. From here, Fox had a clean, unobstructed view of anybody and anything that approached the campus from the east. And from street level, few people could see her.
She and Tan had rearranged the room for war.
They dragged over two classroom tables to the windows, one for each of them. On the left, Tan had set up Fox’s trusty M83, loaded with twenty rounds of 6.8mm SLAP. Next to the rifle were eight more magazines, all loaded with SLAP. He was falling into his familiar role as her spotter—but for now, using a laptop borrowed from Alex, he was busy compromising the campus’ security system.
Fox commandeered the right-hand table for her big gun. Her M180 rifle.
Weighing in at twelve and a half kilograms, it was a beast of a rifle. A minimalist frame mated to a massive barrel, chambered for the massive .50 round, wearing an elongated suppressor on its twenty-inch barrel and a sleek 20x scope with clip-on thermal imager. It held ten rounds in the magazine, plus one in the chamber, all of them match-grade high explosive incendiary armor piercing bullets. Each HEIAP round offered the destructive power of a 20mm autocannon in a half-inch package. Ten more magazines lay flat in a row next to the rifle, ready for instant action.
With Hellions in play, she hoped it was enough.
Tan and Fox kept the blinds closed, but they cut small loopholes in the windows. Almost invisible to the outside world, the holes were just about large enough to clear the muzzles of their rifles, plus a little wiggle room for traversal.
When ready, they sat themselves behind their weapons, and waited.
The rest of the Black Watch had scattered themselves across the fifth floor and set up their own strongpoints. Connor, armed with his machine gun, watched the parking lot. Wood and Yamamoto stationed themselves at the north and west. The team had sprayed down the lobby, lifts, hallways and emergency stairs with smartdust, feeding the take to their augmented reality glasses. Anyone who tried to come upstairs would be spotted instantly. Even chameleon camouflage or the VC’s powers offered scant protection from the blend of tiny IR, light, acoustic and magnetic sensors.
Mustafa walked the length and breadth of the entire floor, erecting a psychic ward. At least, that was what he said he did. To her untrained eyes, all Fox saw was him walking along the walls, hands clasped and eyes lowered, mumbling to himself, occasionally spraying down corners and windows with an aerosol bottle.
If it were magic, there were no indications of anything supernatural. No flickering lights, no shimmering sparks, nothing to signal that something had happened. But Mustafa seemed pleased with his efforts, and she trusted his judgment.
For all their power, the New Gods wouldn’t dare do anything overt in broad daylight. A naked exercise of military might would raise far too many inconvenient questions. The showdown at Fortune City was still front-page news, and the independent media was still asking too many hard questions to easily dismiss. A high-profile show of force now would trigger an overwhelming response from the authorities, especially the Special Tasks Section. They would only act when they were sure they had their targets this time.
Shortly after the team had set up, a pair of joggers ran a lap around the building. Two gorgeous young women in tiny sports bras and hot pants. They ran at a slow, easy pace, barely faster than a brisk walk, ending their run at the parking lot. They lingered around the lot, walking and chatting and stretching, walking right up to the team’s vehicles and studying their license plates.
Fifteen minutes after the joggers left, vans appeared at all four corners of the block. Anonymous four-panel vans, all of them bearing the logos of delivery and plumbing companies, large enough to house a surveillance team. Once they went static, no one left the vehicles.
Swarms of delivery drones buzzed over the building at regular intervals. There were no designated drone landing pads on the roof, only on the ground floor by the entrance. None of the drones landed.
At eleven in the morning, a pair of young men entered the building. Their first stop was the elevator. But Alex had summoned all the cars to the top floor and set them to maintenance mode, effectively jamming them in place. Undeterred, the men climbed up the stairs.
The smartdust in the stairwell caught their arrival on the fifth floor landing. Signs pasted on the doors announced, ‘KEEP OUT! EMERGENCY MAINTENANCE IN PROGRESS!’. Ignoring the signs, the men tried the knobs. Which were locked. They broke out a set of lockpicks and got to work. They defeated the lock in a minute and tried again.
The door remained stuck.
It took them a few more minutes before they noticed the tactical door wedge. The device jammed the door shut and held it in place. The only way to open the door was to release the wedge from the other side or cut it loose.
Or blow the door down.
The men opted for none of these options. Instead, they explored the other stairwells, and discovered more wedged doors.
Defeated, they headed back down and walked away.
The vehicles told the world where they were. The security measures indicated that they were settling in for the long term and had likely strongpointed the entire floor. The ward would prevent remote viewers from looking inside, while simultaneously telling them there was something worth protecting here. A quick perusal of the directory would tell the New Gods what was on the fifth floor, and why the Black Watch was there.
Just enough information to lure the New Gods into an ambush, without giving up any critical information about their defenses.
When night fell, Alex brought the team into a conference call on their encrypted communications app.
“We have finished synthesizing the DNA. But there’s a complication.”
“There always is,” Connor grumbled.
“What’s the complication?” Tan asked.
“Most of the data is secured using DNA steganography.”
“And what is that?” Mustafa asked.
“Many of the text files code for the creation of DNA solutions containing between two to three hundred nanograms of DNA. That is far too much DNA for the amount of data to be stored. The actual information must be contained in a tiny microdot hidden among the DNA strands.”
“How can you decrypt it?” Wood asked.
“We need the primer keys to identify the data. It would make the microdot fluorescence, or otherwise differentiate itself from the rest of the strands. And the data you lifted doesn’t contain the keys.”
“Can the data be decrypted without the keys?”
“Impossible. There are so many variables and primer pairs involved, DNA steganography is functionally identical to one-time pads.”
“We can’t possibly give up now,” Connor said.
“We’re not,” Alex confirmed. “I am sequencing the DNA solutions with the smallest amount of DNA, ranging from one to five nanograms. I think these are the least likely to be encrypted.”
“I have decoded about a hundred gigabytes of information so far. I’ve found documents, photographs, videos, audio transcripts, with tags and annotations. They show politicians, government officials, military and law enforcement officials accepting bribes and kickbacks from the Void Collective.”
“Blackmail material,” Tan spat.
“Yes. More than that, they also show meetings with the government and representatives of the other New Gods. All of them. I haven’t had time to scan them, but the document tags suggest they are policy briefings, backdoor deals, secret discussions. Altogether they show that the government and military and police collude with the New Gods. All of them.”
“Information that sensitive, you’d think it’d be encrypted,” Connor said.
“But it’s not.”
“It’s the last resort of the Void Collective,” Yamamoto said. “If they are in danger of being destroyed, if the government or its rivals crack down on it, they will publish the data and disseminate it freely across the world.”
“My God…” Fox muttered. “It’s their equivalent of a nuke.”
“Yes,” Alex confirmed. “Publish it and you will destroy the government. And with it, Nova Babylonia. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Do we have any other choice?” Wood asked.
“Negotiate with the New Gods and the authorities. Now that you have this information, you can bargain from a position of strength. Offer to stay silent about the data in exchange for your lives, and set up a dead man’s switch to release the information if they renege on the agreement. I know a trustworthy broker who can conduct negotiations on our behalf.”
“Well, guys, what’s your take?” Yamamoto asked. “Negotiate or resist?”
Tan pressed his hand to his bandaged crown, massaging it gently with his fingers.
“My head still hurts and I’m not entirely thinking straight, but my gut says that any bargain we make with the New Gods won’t last.”
“They’ll find a way to screw us over,” Mustafa said. “Count on it.”
“Even if they agree to keep us alive, once they find a way to neutralize the dead man’s switch, our lives are forfeit,” Wood said. “All negotiation will do is buy them time to act.”
“We’re well past the point of negotiation. All we can do now is to let the guns do the talking,” Connor said.
“They’re right,” Fox said. “Samurai, what about you? What’s your take?”
Yamamoto took a moment to compose his response.
“The New Gods are not gods. They never have been, never will be. They are archdevils who have disguised themselves as the gods of Old Earth, who aim to conquer and corrupt of all Creation, who prowl the world seeking the ruin of souls.
“We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. I have sworn an oath before God to oppose them with every breath and every ounce of strength in my body. My word is my bond, and I aim to keep it to the bitter end.
“Resistance is the only road open to me. And I’m grateful you’re walking it with me.”
“I’m… We’re with you,” Fox said. “Always.”
“Thank you. Now lock and load, and say a prayer if you’re the praying kind. The New Gods are coming, and we’ll give them a welcome they will never forget.”
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