Time for War
The New Gods took their time setting up.
Fox suspected several reasons. Their mutual animosities getting the better of them, forcing them to delay and confirm and double-confirm every move and every step. Local commanders calling in muscle and firepower from every corner of Nova Babylonia. Tacticians formulating plans within plans, plans to destroy the Black Watch while snatching up the data for their own faction without letting the others know. Speakers of the New Gods pulling levers, calling on favors, preparing the inevitable cover story. Foot soldiers slowly tightening the noose.
But the New Gods had time.
DNA computing wasn’t like regular computing. Printing the DNA sequences in a single batch had taken twelve hours. It would take between twenty minutes to three hours to sequence each DNA solution, if not longer. Processing the raw data would take longer still. The New Gods could afford to wait.
More precisely, they could afford to wait for the team to finish preparing and sequencing the solutions, saving them the time and trouble of doing it themselves.
As the hours passed, the city block slowly vacated. Students and staff filed out of the campus. Nearby shops closed. Cars pulled out, leaving the surveillance teams behind. The Black Watch noted every movement, adjusting their positions and plans in tandem with the opposition. Yamamoto made a series of phone calls.
At midnight, they came.
A convoy of armored vehicles approached from the south. Sleek, discreet SUVs; black-painted trucks with aggressive angles and stylings; a slapdash collection of pick-ups and civilian vehicles with hastily-welded armor plates. They spilled into the parking lot, a ragged, disorganized mess composed of multiple tightly-knit cells, and disgorged their Elect.
The Court of Shadows led the pack, an eight-man squad of black-furred winged wolves adorned with tactical gear. Their kit was cheap and commonplace and crude, completely disposable, but their weapons would kill a man as easily as their fangs and teeth. Behind them were the Superusers of the Singularity Network, proclaiming their exalted status with the cybernetic third eyes implanted in their foreheads. They had gone high-speed low-drag, eschewing external armor for tactical harnesses laden with magazine and grenade pouches. Their rivals in tech, the Guild of the Maker, stood right beside them. They were ordinary humans kitted up as soldiers, but their armored exoskeletons and their weapons had come from the foundries and fevered minds of their Godtouched, the designs seen nowhere else on the planet, doubtlessly offering performance exceeding even the equipment from the Singularity Network.
From the north, more heavy trucks screeched in, halting by the sidewalks, blocking off the roads, discharging streams of foot soldiers.
The Liberated were the most easily identifiable among them, having discarded their masks of unearthly beauty to reveal the monsters within. Eight-foot-tall giants lumbered towards the campus building, walking mountains of muscle and munitions, hefting crew-served weapons as though they were toys; regenerators with carbines and chest rigs, so confident in their healing abilities they wore no armor; unarmed men in civilian clothing, doubtless capable of shapeshifting their bodies into weapons. Mingling among them were the Godmen of the Pantheon, humans morphed into the aspects of their gods. From their heads to their hips they were enormous elephants, hard-shelled turtles, sharp-tusked rhinos; they walked on two legs and thick as tree trunks and had huge scaly hands with delicate digits. As tall and massive as the Liberated giants, they carried an eclectic mix of rifles and swords and shotguns and hammers and pistols and clubs. Clustered in the rear, keeping to themselves, were four men dressed all in black, carrying identical equipment and weapons. These were the shooters of the Void Collective, so similar to each other they could have been dolls cast from the same mold.
But the main assault came from the east.
In the light of a full moon, bulbous blurs darkened the horizon, swooping low over the trees. Two of them. The one in the lead dipped sharply below the treetops. The one in the rear maintained a steady course. A flock of flying drones surrounded them, the whine of their engines piercing the darkness.
“Looks like everyone’s here for the party,” Connor remarked.
In a corner of the classroom, well away from the windows, Tan stared furiously at his laptop, mumbling under his breath, occasionally typing a stream of commands. Fox was on her battle rifle, slowly pivoting through a wide arc, seeing the world through her thermal imager in black and white.
The huge flying objects were Goshawks. Their camouflage wasn’t perfect; now that she knew what to look for, their retractable belly guns radiated just enough heat for Fox to ID them. The drones weren’t camouflaged at all: their tiny gravity mirrors were spots of bright white light, and on their fuselages they mounted sensor pods and gun mounts.
And, at the tree line, she saw the monsters.
Tall armored bulks, shaped like men but ballooned out of proportion, massive arms and trunk-like legs married to gigantic torsos, topped with tiny heads like domes. Eight of them. Four were armed with general purpose machine guns, the other four carried 35mm autocannons.
“Contact. Tree line, three hundred meters. Two Goshawk dropships. Two dozen armed quadcopters. Eight Hellions with ACs and GPMGs. One dropship is hanging back, the other is closing in. Looks like an air assault.”
“Acknowledged,” Yamamoto said. “ZT, how’s it going?”
“Still need a bit of time,” Tan replied.
“Understood. We’ll kick off. Addy, Betty, initiate.”
To the north, down the street from the campus, the trunk of a car opened from inside. A statuesque woman clambered out. The streetlights painted her pale hair amber, reflected the glossy liquid curves of her form-fitting bodysuit, revealed her H-harness and the M585 PDW slung around her neck. She spun on the heels of her combat boots, quick and tight and precise, and sprinted down the sidewalk.
To the south, parked kitty-corner across the block, the rear doors of a white four-panel van opened. A cat-eared woman in a knee-length black dress with a white apron daintily stepped out. A blank smile on her face, whistling a soft tune, she sauntered down the street, walking right up to the surveillance van.
The driver and the passenger twisted in their seats, staring at her through the windows, their hands by their belts.
“Good evening!” she chimed cheerily.
“Eh?” the driver mumbled.
The passenger cleared his throat. “Miss, there’s a police operation going on. For your safety—”
Her left hand flashed, lifting her skirt.
Revealing a holstered M585 strapped to her shapely right leg.
Her right hand blurred.
She brought the PDW up in a single graceful movement, her left hand flying to grab the weapon’s foregrip. The small barrel aligned itself with the passenger’s face. Her thumb clicked the safety to full auto.
A bright cone of fire blossomed from the muzzle. The window dissolved under the impact of five AP rounds, tracking to the right, ripping through heads and blasting their contents out the window.
Swiveling, she held down the trigger, stitching the van lengthwise with a long, long burst. Fifteen rounds punctured a laser-straight line through the body of the vehicle. Metal shrieked. Men screamed. The weapon’s recoil was light, and she was deceptively strong; the PDW barely vibrated in her hands.
She popped the side door open with her left hand. Blood gushed out. Poking her head inside, she saw two men in the rear, lying on the floor. She popped a pair of quick double-taps, one for each head.
“CONTACT REAR!” a man yelled.
She planted herself by the engine block. Stuck her weapon around the bumper, pointing it at the Elect gathered in the parking lot.
And mashed down the trigger.
Men shouted and cursed and sprinted. Empty casings geysered from the ejection port, hot and smoking, bouncing off the windshield and the trunk. A few of them struck her face and neck, another rolled down to her chest.
She didn’t react.
The PDW went dry. Throwing her head back, she opened her mouth. The roar of a tiger issued forth, filling the world with the full-throated cry of a predator on the hunt.
The weapon had a spare magazine, mounted on an L-clamp. She ejected the empty magazine, rotated it forward, slotted the fresh one in place, worked the charging handle.
Which bought the enemy enough time to rally.
A fusillade of fire poured down on her position, tearing through metal and rubber and asphalt and concrete.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the block, unnoticed in the darkness and the confusion, the woman in the bodysuit reached her position. Stepping around the corner, the stock of the PDW braced against her left shoulder, she aimed down at the northernmost surveillance van.
A long, long burst, dumping twenty-five rounds into the vehicle, left to right, right to left, shredding the cargo compartment and the cab and the engine. She pivoted smartly, then dumped the rest of her magazine into the other surveillance van.
The Pantheon and the Liberated took just slightly longer to react. Long enough for the woman to sprint to the shot-up van to the north, reloading her weapon, poke her PDW above the hood, and work the crowd.
No spray and pray, just precise single shots, fired so rapidly they almost sounded like full-auto. Bullets slammed into heads, necks, hearts. The troopers of the Void Collective were the first to go, dropping like marionettes with their strings cut in the opening moments.
But the tiny rounds didn’t do much damage to the others. Not against Liberated with redundant hearts and healing abilities so powerful they could bring themselves back from the brink of death, not against Pantheon Godmen who could turn their skin and flesh as hard as steel.
Which was why she altered her aim, hammering each exposed head twice, thrice, four times, driving the AP rounds into their brains, extinguishing the spark of consciousness before the powers could fire.
A few Elect dropped.
And the rest returned fire.
“Addy, Betty, fall back now,” Yamamoto ordered.
The cat-eared woman leapt back, soaring through a graceful parabola, letting the streetlights catch her ears and tail. In mid-air, her knees and ankles and feet rotated through a full one-eighty degrees. When she landed, she took off again, her legs running and jumping and leaping, her upper body laying down full-auto fire to the rear.
The bodysuited woman pulled off the same trick, rotating her legs and knees, firing parting shots as she retreated. But her shots were aimed semiauto fire, every bullet striking a throat, a head, an eye.
“Addy, at my vehicle,” the cat-eared maid said.
“Betty, at my vehicle,” the tacsuited woman reported.
“Take cover and prepare to move out,” Yamamoto said. “Stand by to intercept enemy reinforcements.”
“Roger,” the killbots said in sync.
Fox had heard the shooting and the radio calls. A small, detached part of her brain logged them, building her mental picture of the battle. The rest of her conscious mind was focused on the Seeker detachment dead ahead.
The grounded Goshawk lifted off from the park. The Hellions emplaced themselves among the trees, setting up a base of fire. The second Goshawk was screaming towards the campus, a hundred meters out, escorted by a half-dozen killer drones. The remaining drones fanned out.
The shooting hadn’t derailed their approach. The incoming Goshawk swiveled its gun left to right, the drones oriented their guns and sensors outwards, but otherwise, they were still coming.
“ZT, any time now,” Yamamoto said mildly.
“Five seconds,” Tan said. “Let the drones spread out a bit more.”
“They are eighty meters out and closing,” she said. “Any closer and they can use millimeter wave scanners to find us.”
Even chameleon suits couldn’t defend against millimeter wave scanners. The ultra-high-frequency waves would penetrate solid walls and barriers and reflect off hidden objects and humans. The only defense against those were distance and a huge intervening medium.
Neither of which the Black Watch had in abundance.
She fought the urge to hurry him up. Instead she tracked the Goshawk in her thermal imager, calculating the ballistics of a belly gun shot. She had done it before, no big deal, but if she missed… if she didn’t disable the weapon in the first few shots…
“Initiating!” ZT said.
The drones wobbled. Spun about in mid-air.
Rifles crackled out single shots in the dark. Every shot was aimed at a head, a chest, a vehicle the drone didn’t recognize. With so many drones in play, the only way for an operator to manage them all was to set them on semi-autonomous mode. To give them a set of instructions, an IFF code, and let them do their thing. Standard operating procedure.
Right up to the moment an enterprising hacker uploaded fresh IFF codes and shut out the controller.
The Goshawk’s escorts turned on their former protectee. Buzzing about the dropship, they fired at the cockpit, the gravity pod, the belly gun. Their rounds sparked off uselessly in the dark, but the Goshawk pilot aborted his run, pulling a tight turn. The belly gun fired a quick burst, taking out a drone, and suddenly went silent. Another shot, and the exposed ammo can exploded like fireworks.
From ground level, an assorted chorus of full-auto fire rang out, accompanied by the booming of shotguns and the cracking of pistols. Animalistic roars reverberated in the air, a litany of curses and blasphemies piled upon each other in languages no human could pronounce.
In his corner, Tan pounded at the keys, face split in a wide smile.
The rest of the Black Watch waited and watched.
Abby’s cat ears and tail and her high-agility maneuvers replicated the powers of the Liberated or the blessings of the Pantheon. Betty’s precision fires pointed to aiming software developed by the Singularity Network or the Guild of the Maker. The drones could have belonged to any faction, but they most likely came from the Seekers.
All it took was one paranoid Elect to jump to the wrong conclusion, for someone to make one wrong move, and—
“Samurai, Boomer. The Court of Shadows have gone berserk. They are shooting up everybody. The drones, the Sinners, the Guild. It’s becoming a free-for-all down here.”
“Farmer here. The Liberated and the Pantheon are exchanging shots with the drones and the other force down the street as well.”
Yuri, you magnificent son of a bitch!
A beam of blinding white light seared through the air, dispelling the darkness, lancing through the closer of the two Goshawks. The beam was tiny, barely the width of a fingertip, lasting only for an eyeblink, but it punched clean through a gravity mirror pod.
The dropship dropped sharply, flipping through an arc, its surviving pod straining to keep it aloft.
A second beam blasted through the night.
And the dropship fell from the sky like a rock.
Gritting her teeth, Fox blinked away the line seared across her eyes. What the hell was that? More to the point, where the hell had it come from?
The remaining airborne Goshawk pulled an incredible maneuver. Rising rapidly through the air, it rotated on its axis to face the south, backing up and away into the sky. Its belly gun blazed—
A third beam speared right through it, penetrating lengthwise and flashing out into the heavens.
And the Goshawk dropped.
It was the surviving surveillance van. She was sure of it. They had brought heavy firepower into the game, maybe a particle beam weapon. But PBWs weren’t supposed to be man-portable. Hell, they weren’t even supposed to exist outside a laboratory.
Whoever they were, they weren’t Seekers.
The Hellions bellowed a challenge. GPMGs and autocannons thundered in the night. Explosions ripped through the world, quickly followed by secondaries.
Survivors scrambled out of the crashed Goshawks. The drones swarmed them, picking them off as they climbed out. The Hellions opened fire, peppering the skies with airburst shells, shattering windows with shrapnel.
Gasping, Fox ducked for cover. More bursts erupted outside.
And, just as abruptly, the guns went silent.
She poked her head above the table. Stars danced before her eyes. Little dots scrambled in the darkness. She couldn’t make out what was going on, only that the gravity mirrors had been silenced.
“All call signs, Farmer. It looks like the Liberated and the Pantheon are getting their act together. Two giants, four regenerators, four Godmen. They are advancing on my position. I’m going to need help.”
This was bad. The plan counted on the soldiers of the New Gods slaughtering each other. If they rallied…
“Do you need me here?” Tan asked.
Fox stepped away from her rifle. “No. Go.”
Tan snatched up the M83 and sprinted for the door.
“Farmer, ZT. On the way.”
“Boomer here. There’s just four guys left over here, taking potshots at each other. I can mow them down in a couple of bursts and reinforce Farmer.”
“Boomer, Samurai. Go ahead. Once you leave, I’ll take over. Farmer, once ZT and Boomer are with you, fire at will. Cindy, on my position.”
Boomer’s machine gun chattered, the first shots fired by the Black Watch proper. A burst of six. Pause. A second burst.
“Samurai, Boomer. Done. All threats eliminated.”
“Roger that. Go!”
More shots rang out to the north.
“Samurai, Farmer. Bad guys have crossed the red line. Engaging.”
“Understood. Addy, Betty, head to Waypoint Charlie and engage all hostiles.”
“Roger,” the killbots chimed.
The men would pin the assault force in place. The killbots would flank them, the hammer to their anvil. If they couldn’t get off the X, they were as good as dead.
Now there was only the issue of the Seekers.
The Hellions bounded forward, fire and maneuver straight from the textbook. The base of fire element laid down fire, GPMGs and autocannons blasting, hosing down the streets, the corners, anywhere and everywhere within their line of sight that might conceal an enemy. The maneuver team rushed forward, sprinting for a count of five, right in the open.
Glass shattered. Munitions exploded. Windows disintegrated under the violence of the blasts and vibrations. Fox felt the blasts through her boots, her belly, her weapon. She ignored them all, slowly scanning with the thermal imager on her humongous M180.
“Samurai, Deadeye. The Seekers are making their assault on Side 1. Hellions, eight of them.”
“Acknowledged. Green light.”
“Roger that,” she whispered.
The maneuver team hunkered down, throwing themselves down on the grass in a staggered line, seeking depressions and knolls and microterrain for cover. Their weapons blared, working windows and doors and cars. They were firing blindly, focusing their attentions on the last known positions of their rival Elect, now and then throwing a shell at the campus. As hellfire erupted all around, the first team of Hellions emerged from the forest, charging dead ahead.
She pivoted to the closest exposed Hellion. This rifle didn’t have a SmartShot, not that it or she needed one. Peering through the 20X scope, she saw the illuminated red crosshairs bisect its head. She tracked it as it ran, lowering her point of aim to its neck, adjusting a little to the right, running ballistics calculations and approximations in her head. When the numbers lined up with her sights, her thumb flicked off the safety, her finger found the trigger.
The rifle boomed.
The heavy HEIAP round flew true, clearing the aperture she had cut in the window, striking the Hellion in the head. On impact, a pyrotechnic charge ignited, firing the incendiary mix. Right behind it, the high explosive charge detonated, punching through armor. Last of all came the tungsten penetrator, drilling deep into the Hellion’s skull.
It went down.
She pivoted, found another Hellion in the open, fired again. The suppressor eliminated the muzzle flash and diffused the boom, making it sound like it came from everywhere and nowhere at once. Dust clouds swirled about in the room. The stock slammed into her shoulder with bruising force.
And the second Hellion went down.
The surviving Hellions retaliated. GPMGs hosed down the campus with long bursts of high-velocity 6.8mm rounds. Autocannons pounded the windows and doors, blasting the rooms beyond with fire and shrapnel, systematically working their way up. She displaced to her right, repositioning her rifle, taking care to aim through the loophole she had cut in the glass.
The thermal imager revealed a third Hellion. She shifted a little to the left, bringing her crosshairs on target. She fired, it went down with a round in the brain, and the machine gunners adjusted fire, lashing the upper floors with long bursts. Rounds smacked into the ceiling, sending debris showering on her head. She ducked away from the rifle, coughing through a mouthful of dust.
And four portals, blacker than night, opened in front of her.
“SAMURAI! VC ON MY POSITION!”
And in the darkness, human figures formed.
Her right hand swept up her pistol, bringing it up to her chest. Her feet exploded into motion, lunging away from the table. Her left hand found her grip. Punching out her pistol, she turned on her weapon-mounted light. Soft white light flooded the room, revealing four VC troopers stepping out of the portals.
Her red dot sight rested on the nose of the closest trooper. She pressed the trigger, once, twice, saw him go down. She swiveled to the next threat, sensing him raise his weapon in her peripheral vision. Automatically she stepped in quartata, transitioning to a one-hand grip, her left hip swiveling back, blading her towards the threat.
A muzzle flashed, a weapon roared, a hot bullet kissed the air past her cheek.
She fired, and her rounds took down the second threat.
She went low, knees flying to her chest. A burst whizzed above her. She oriented on the third threat, raised the weapon to his face, fired and fired.
In the glass window of her optic sight, she saw an outstretched palm covered in black leather.
It was the other power of VC soldiers: the ability to dissolve bullets in mid-air.
She launched off the floor, cutting diagonally to her left, pistol tracking—
The word surged through the room, a tsunami of sound that reset reality and overrode attempts to pervert it. The troopers froze, suddenly powerless—
A carbine barked.
The left-hand trooper’s head vanished in a red cloud.
The other operative turned. But not fast enough. A second shot, and his head exploded.
Yamamoto stood by the doorway, his weapon smoking.
“Deadeye,” Yamamoto whispered. “Are you okay?”
She swallowed, wetting her mouth. Her left hand rubbed at the spot where she’d been shot.
“Yeah,” she gasped. “Thanks.”
“Plate shot. I think.”
She coughed, sitting back up. Pain shot through her lungs. Blood hammered her temples.
And suddenly she realized her pistol light could be seen from the outside.
She turned it off.
Machine gun fire shattered the glass, ripping up the ceiling and walls. Yamamoto cursed, ducking low.
“We have to move!” he yelled.
Fox holstered her pistol. Grabbed her rifle. Kept low.
Ran to him.
Together, they charged out into the hallway beyond, sprinting for—
Explosions rocked the abandoned classroom. Fire spilled out the door. Metal sang through the air. The shockwaves pummeled them, stealing their balance, knocking them down.
Fox crashed into Yamamoto. He grunted, falling forward.
Rotating his right arm, carbine pointed safely away, he landed on the outer side of his forearm. He flowed with the momentum, rolling over his shoulder across the floor, coming back up on his knees.
Fox just fell flat on her face.
Just before impact, she arched her spine and spread her limbs back and away, taking the impact on her belly.
“Ouch,” she said.
“Are you okay?”
She tested her fingers and feet, arms and legs. All good. She picked herself up.
“Yeah,” she said.
“Come on,” he urged.
They scrambled back up to their feet. Fox checked her rifle, hoping against hope that the fall hadn’t jarred her sights.
“What the hell was that?” she mumbled.
“Airburst shells. Everything in the room has gotta be wiped.”
She believed it. Clouds of smoke billowed from the open door.
“Fallback shooting position,” she said. “Let’s go.”
Two doors down, they burst into another classroom. The windows didn’t offer such a grand view of the field, but it had the singular advantage of being mostly intact. She set up her rifle on a table by the window, carefully aligning the barrel with a loophole, and aimed out.
The Hellions were still at it, bounding their way forward. But now a second force emerged from the woods. She saw them as little squiggles of white dots, barely cooler than the background. But bright lights sparkled and flashed from their positions. And there were lots of them.
“Samurai, enemy reinforcements have arrived. Looks like a platoon of infantry with thermal camo uniforms. They’re coming in from the woods. The first Goshawk must have dropped them with the Hellions.”
“Boss, Boomer here. A second wave of enemies are incoming. I’m looking at ten, twelve, trucks, barreling down the road to the north. There might be more coming in from elsewhere.”
Fox licked her lips. “I don’t think we have enough ammo for all of them.”
Yamamoto’s teeth gleamed in the darkness.
“We don’t need to.”
“What do you mean?”
He hit his radio’s push-to-talk switch.
“Addy, Betty, fall back now. Return to your vehicles and get under hard cover. Break. ZT, head to side 4 and observe the perimeter. All call signs, weapons hold. Do not fire except in self-defense, or to keep the enemy from penetrating our position.”
As the team acknowledged his orders, he dug out a phone from his chest pocket, hit the speed dial, and activated the loudspeaker.
“Nightwing, this is Samurai. Are you in position?”
“That’s an affirmative,” a deep voice drawled. “Looks like you’re in a bit of a pinch down there. You need help?”
“Yes. The enemy has committed their reserves. A team of Hellions, a platoon of light infantry by the park, vehicles to the north, possibly more we haven’t seen yet. We are inside Bear Campus. The entire area outside the building is a free-fire zone. If you see a weapon, an Elect, a vehicle, slag it. Be advised, there may be enemy PBWs in the area.”
“Acknowledged, Samurai. Hang tight. We’re gonna erase the grid square.”
“Is that…?” Fox asked.
Yamamoto nodded. “Yeah.”
His lips pressed into a tight line.
A sharp, steady drumming filled the air. A gigantic liquid tearing sound, like an enormous canvas sail ripping apart, shredded the night in quick bursts. Streaks of red light fell from the sky, destroying all they touched.
Fireballs marched across the grass. Fountains of dirt blasted high into the air. In crisp black-and-white, Fox saw men disintegrate in the barrage. Explosions wiped out Hellions, heavy guns, infantry concentrations.
And more and more and more munitions erupted, every blast striking like the hammer of Heaven. Monsters roared. Men screamed. Hellions fired futilely up into the sky before vanishing in a stream of fire. Figures scrambled for cover, but there was none to be found. Humans, Hellions, Elect, before the guns of the AC-252 Wraith, all died equally.
The huge gunship, lumbering through the heavens, invisible and untouchable by mere mortals on the ground, shifted fire. Autocannon and howitzer shells tore up the streets surrounding the campus. Precision guided munitions homed in on targeting lasers and reflected radar waves, destroying trucks, cars, anything that counted as a hard target. Walls of flame surrounded the campus, cutting it off from the world. Fox could barely see the gunship, tracking it only by the faraway flames wheeling slowly around the building.
Through her thermal scope, she surveyed the field. Fires blazed brightly, disrupting her sight picture. She switched between thermal vision and her naked eye, sweeping the shadows and the lighted areas, looking for signs of life.
She saw a shattered Hellion blasted into multiple fragments. The upper torso of a man, a boot near his face. The lower half of a Hellion, bleeding copiously on the grass. Ammunition and weapons exploding and cooking off in the ferocious heat. Ground-up pulpy things that barely resembled humans.
“I called in a favor.”
High above the park, brighter but smaller than the full moon, distant lights winked.
They were all dead.
“Lord have mercy,” Yamamoto whispered. “Christ have mercy.”
And still the killing continued.
And still the Wraith continued its gun run, circling once again, working over the old targets with its autocannon. A fresh bombardment pounded the grass to mud. Explosive autocannon shells stirred what was left. The gunship turned its attention to the other points of the compass, its autocannon firing in ever-shorter bursts.
And, at last, it went silent.
“Samurai, this is Nightwing. Gun run complete. No active targets on my scope.”
“Nightwing, Samurai,” Yamamoto said. “Thank you. Please remain on station and keep watch for reinforcements. I need to switch lines. I’ll call you if I need you again.”
He hung up. Closed his eyes. Clasped his hands and lowered his head.
“What’s wrong?” Fox asked.
“Just… getting ready.”
“I said I called in a favor. But all favors come with a price.”
“What do you mean?”
His phone vibrated.
He ignored it.
The phone vibrated again.
He stayed where he was.
A third round of vibrations.
And he answered.
“Yuri Yamamoto, this is Commander Joshua Gregory. We are here to take you in. Do you understand?”
Gregory was the founder and commander of the STS. Being the equivalent of a Director, he never took to the field. Unless absolutely necessary.
The autocannon spat short, sharp bursts. The howitzer boomed once, twice, thrice. Bombs and missiles exploded in the darkness. In the intervals between explosions, men shrieked, cried, begged, prayed, their voices reaching the heavens.
“Yes sir,” he said, fatigue dripping from his voice.
“I am here with the rest of the STS. Every operational team. It’s been a crazy few weeks, and now we’re going to put a stop to that. We’re here to clean house. We need you to come in. Stand your team down and put down your weapons.”
Through her thermal imager, she saw white blobs cut through the skies above the park. Sentinel armored gravtrucks, the flying vehicles of the Special Tasks Section.
Cold sweat rolled down her neck. Was Gregory among those compromised by the New Gods? Alex hadn’t said so. And they never had a chance to confirm.
“Yuri…” she began.
He patted her shoulder.
“Yuri, did you get my last?” Gregory asked.
“Affirmative, sir. We are standing down.”
“Good man. Enough people have died today. Let’s make things right.”
Yamamoto hung up.
And hit his push-to-talk switch.
“Black Watch, this is Samurai. The STS are coming in on our position. Stand down now. Say again, stand down. Safe your weapons and set them down. It’s over.”
“That’s it?” Connor exclaimed. “Just like that?”
“Just like that,” Yamamoto said. “This is the endgame. And… ZT. Do your thing. Your laptop’s destroyed; you need the computer in the lab. And give Alex the heads-up on our situation.”
“Acknowledged,” Tan said.
“Girls, disperse. E&E your way home. Do not get caught, but do not use lethal force to resist lawful authorities.”
“Roger,” the bots said as one.
Boots pounded outside, Tan and Cindy sprinting at full speed. The humming of gravity mirrors grew louder, the Sentinels closing in. Metal clicks and sighs echoed softly in the room.
Fox safed her M180. Ejected the magazine. Worked the bolt and caught the last round. Unholstered her weapon, unloaded it, set it on the table. Stripped off her knives, placed them next to her guns.
Next to her, Yamamoto disarmed in silence. He laid out his gear neatly, slowly, mindfully. His carbine first, then his pistol, and last of all, his three blades, in order of increasing length.
In silence, they turned to face each other.
“Well,” Fox said. “It… it was a good run.”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
“I never expected to take on all the New Gods at once, much less survive, but… here we are.”
Yamamoto nodded. “We made it.”
“We made it,” she repeated. “But…”
“I just… what’s going to happen next?”
“Everything is in God’s hands. No matter what, we did what was right. That’s what happens most. And…”
He took her gloved hands in hers. They were warm. Large. Firm.
She blinked. Blinked again. In the moonlight, she saw his steely gray eyes trained on hers, his gaze so intense she felt she was drowning in them.
“Everything will be all right.”
BABYLON BLUES is just one chapter away from completion. If you want to read the entire five-story saga in a single collection, plus an exclusive story, back the BABYLON BLUES Kickstarter here!
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