Sheriff of the Swamps Chapter 10

Already Dead

James knew it’d come to this.

He’d felt it in his bones ever since he returned to Moreno Island. A final showdown between the New Gods and him. They rarely forgave and never forgot. After what the STS, what Team Black Watch, had done to them, it was only a matter of time before they caught up with him. Only their inter-factional rivalries had kept them from teaming up to take him down.

It’d bought him just enough time to prepare.

The civilians were safe. The cellar had been hardened against typhoons and violent storms, not that any had hit the island since the coming of the gods. The low-profile security doors, virtually indistinguishable from ordinary wooden doors, would stand up to anything short of thermal lances and breaching charges.

But the cellar wasn’t impervious. People had to breathe. There was only so much the HVAC filter could do. He wasn’t sure it would defend against tear gas. He knew it wouldn’t protect against chemical weapons. And with the supertech the Singularity Network and the Guild of the Maker had at their disposal, breaching was only a matter of time.

Someone had to stay up top to fight off the assault.

He’d spent the last eight months preparing for this. He’d studied the farm, prepared arcs of fire, purchased gear for his defense plan, built the things that couldn’t be bought on the open market.

It was futile.

He was only one man, and the soldiers of the New Gods were numberless. The only way to stay safe was to go underground, to disappear in a country where the New Gods had no influence, and start a new life. But his parents, stubborn as they were, would not give up the farm. And he could not, would not, leave them to the depredations of the New Gods. Not without a fight.

Ever since he came here, he was already dead.

The only thing he could do was to sell his life as dearly as he could. Dad was aware of that and had taken time out of his schedule to sharpen his shooting and combat skills. Mom would never understand. His brothers… the less he spoke of them, the better.

The Woods were all going to die. Even if he defeated the first wave, there would always be another, another, yet another, each larger and more formidable than the last, until they finally overwhelmed him. It was a numbers game, one the Woods could not win. But they were going to take so many militants with them that the New Gods would remember them forever.

Or so he’d thought, until Janet Clark arrived.

She was an idealist. A dreamer. But the biggest changes came from the biggest dreamers. She had a slim chance of carrying out her promises to drive out the New Gods, but it was a damn sight better than no chance at all. If there was any way out of his self-imposed exile, it was through her.

But first, they had to survive what was coming.

Racing around the house, they fortified it the best they could, drawing upon the arsenal of guns and gear he had prepared for this occasion.

The kitchen was the furthest room from the front door. The back door opened out into the patio, and beyond that was the farm proper. James paced a short distance from the door, just enough to accommodate the arc of its swing, then strung a metal tripwire across the room at neck height. Fishing hooks dangled down its length. He secured both ends of the wire to the wall with duct tape, then took a half step backwards and strung out a second tripwire at ankle height.

The living room was too huge for tripwires. Instead, Kayla backed up to the hallway between the living room and the dining room. She tied one end of a fishhook wire to a baluster and taped the other end to the wall. Then stepped back and laid down another tripwire bare inches above the floor.

At the second floor, in every room they opened every window, drew every curtain, shifted tables to every window, opened every closet to find a rifle and a bandoleer of ammo.

In the attic, he helped Kayla set up a sniper nest. One part guest room, one part storeroom, boxes and shelves lined the walls. Six windows offered a near-total field of view of the area around him. They dragged out large boxes and stacked them one atop the other by the front and rear windows, creating makeshift rests. They pulled sandbags from the shelves and placed them atop the boxes.

They left the other four windows alone. There was no space here to stack more boxes.

“I’ll watch the main gate and the road. You cover the farms,” James said.

“Alright. You should go downstairs to the master bedroom. You’ve got a clean line of fire over there,” Kayla said.

“You don’t want to share the attic with me?”

“We don’t know what the New Gods are bringing to this party. If they’ve got something that could blow out an entire floor at once, they can’t get two of us with one shot.”

“Point.”

Of course, the new Gods could simply drop a bomb or fire a thermobaric rocket and call it good. It’d destroy the house completely and there’d be nothing they could do about it. He had a hunch they wouldn’t do that, though. They wouldn’t bring in so many men otherwise.

They’d want proof of death.

James headed downstairs. In the master bedroom, he set the MR-77 and ammo bandoleer next to him, then set up at the table. This was his first time using a railgun, and he never fully trusted something he’d never tested extensively before. He knew the MR-77, he didn’t know the railgun. It was as simple as that.

On the other hand, the railgun could blow clean through armor, and armor piercing ammo was one of the few things he couldn’t source beforehand.

He settled into the chair and squeezed the grip pod’s trigger. The grip split in two, each half firing a sturdy plastic foot. He rested the bipod on the table, brought his weapon to his shoulder, and pressed the stock into his body with his free hand.

A totality of darkness shrouded the world. Insects sang to each other. A distant owl hooted in response. Galaxies of stars shone from the nighted heavens. There was barely enough light to see, and the house was entirely blacked out.

He closed his left eye. With his right eye, his cyber eye, he activated night vision mode.

The world turned to strange shades of purple. Purple and shadows, the color of infrared, a color mere mortals could not see. A patch of red and orange and yellows revealed a small rodent scampering across the road.

He opened his left eye.

Now he saw two images at once, one natural, the other artificial, superimposed over each other. Digitized purple bled into true black, starlight melted into false-color hotspots. He needed a moment to adjust, to process them both at once.

Perhaps he should have replaced his left eye too. It would make things easier. On the other hand, he didn’t like the idea of an eye that he needed to recharge every night. It could prove fatal in his business.

He breathed out the stray thoughts. Brought his mind back to the present. Adjusted his posture, easing out the tension within him.

Watched.

And waited.

#

This was a job for a full team. Hell, the entire STS. Instead, there were just two of them. Kayla and James. She had no doubt Janet Clark would fight, but she wasn’t trained for a fight like this. Taking down Sullivan was incredible, but that was the first time she’d fought someone touched by a god, and compared to the things Kayla had seen, the hatchet man was small fry. Janet was better off in the cellar, protecting the civilians.

But Kayla and James were only mortal, with mortal limitations.

In the STS, a sniper-spotter pair swapped duties every 45 minutes. On guard duty, a soldier rotated every two hours. Any longer than that and he would lose focus, get tired, nod off. She sorely wished she had backup. At the very least, someone who could take over from her when she reached her limit.

And someone who could bring another gun to the fight.

She didn’t think the New Gods would wait too long. Clark’s stunt told them that she knew that they were there, and they knew that the protectors knew that they knew that Clark knew. The smart play would be to swap in fresh operators, but that would risk the PSB intercepting them when they returned to the mainland—or reinforcing the Wood homestead.

They’d have to act fast.

It was a provocation. She knew it, she knew that James knew it, and though Clark hadn’t mentioned it, the revelation was her idea. She had to know that it would force the New Gods’ hand.

It was offense by defense. Draw in the opposition, then blow them away the second they gave a justification for lethal force. It was the only way to survive the fight, and what would come after.

Hence the trip wires. There were plenty of far more lethal options available in the Wood estate. She knew how to cook up bombs with fertilizer and household chemicals. On the other hand, trip wires left no evidence and could be quickly disposed of.

So long as the victims were all dead.

And when everyone was dead, only the victor’s voice would be heard.

Through the window frame, she beheld her empire. Rolling fields stretching to the fences and the wood line beyond. Rows of cabbages, carrots, tubers. Utility sheds. A greenhouse. Barns and coops. She could look out in the world, but no one on the ground could see her.

She swept the world outside, going left to right, right to left, far to near, near to far. She moved slowly, deliberately, her eyes wide open, her breath low and regular. Set to 1X, the LVPO offered a wide field of view. Mounted ahead of the optic, the clip-on thermal scope sucked down light and transformed it into a tunnel of black and white shapes and textures.

The scope was James’. The only thermal imager he had, the only one he could afford. Costing three grand on the open market, the fist-sized scope was thirty percent of the price of the model the STS used and half the size. It wasn’t military grade, but it was rugged, waterproof and lightweight. It was good enough.

He gave it to her, claiming he would use his cyber eye. She would have turned it down, but she didn’t have any other night vision options. Using a laser boresighting device, also borrowed from James, she had zeroed the clip-on system as best as she could, collimating the day and night scopes. It wasn’t the same as using her own gear.

If she got through this, she told herself, she would ensure she had all-weather day and night shooting capability.

She scanned. Blinked. Scanned. Breathed. Scanned. Waited. There was nothing out here but a monochrome of black. Anything with a thermal signature would show up as white. Three times she saw heat. An owl, a field mouse, a snake. False alarms. But also good practice.

Minutes crawled past. A cool wind brew. Leaves susurrated in the gentle breeze. She remained hunched over the railgun, still watching, still waiting.

If this dragged on much longer, she’d have to enlist the civilians. Janet, of course. Likely Mr. Wood too, or whoever else had military or police experience. Already she felt her thoughts drifting away, just thinking of this.

On the other hand, it wouldn’t be long before the enemy came. She felt it deep within her, a knowing that transcended explanation. Experience, genetics, women’s intuition, an unexplained gift from the strange Universe, she didn’t care to question it. All she knew was that they were coming.

It was only a matter of time.

Something flickered in her field of view. Not an owl or a bird or some other animal, it would have shown up in the thermal scope. There was just a sense of motion, of something slithering across the pasture. Maybe it was nothing. But maybe…

She breathed. Relaxed. Scanned.

Paused.

Zoomed in to 6X.

Went to the fence.

Her reticle crept along the perimeter of the farm. At the absolute limit of the scope’s reach, the images were fuzzy and blurred. She saw only a suggestion of leaves, brighter swoops that hinted at tree trunks, splashes of lighter black implying depressions and slopes, fine crisscrossed lines that promised a fence.

And…

Was that a hole?

Eight hundred meters away to her eleven o’clock, there was a break in the pattern of lines. A deviation, a cluster of strands almost but quite joined to the rest of the formation, as if someone had carefully cut a hole and attempted to push it back together.

She continued her sweep down the perimeter. Finding no other breaks, she turned back to the break.

She turned off the thermal scope. A world of darkness greeted her. Back in black and white, there was only the random slashes of broken lines.

It was enough.

“Farmer, Deadeye. Eyes on possible break in the fence line. Area One, eight hundred,” she whispered into her eyeshields.

“Understood. Any sign of intrusion?”

“Negative.”

“Keep an eye out. The second you see something, holler.”

“Roger. Anything on your end?”

“Nothing.”

“Copy.”

She continued her sweep, working her way forward of the fence line in 1X. If she were an infiltrator, even with top-notch camouflage, she’d feel exposed out in the open. She’d make her way to solid cover. To the barns and the sheds.

She traced a straight line from the breach to the nearest structure. A barn. She carefully swept the dead zone between them, eyes and ears wide open. At night, sound carried far, and the canny operator always used all her senses.

Movement.

Outside the black-and-white circle of her scope, past the barn, a flicker of movement. She swung the scope over and saw—

Nothing.

She swallowed. Blinked. Scanned in a zigzag pattern, going to the nearest structure. Utility shed to her ten o’clock. She shifted her position to maximize her field of view. Swept the two hundred meters of empty space between them, right eye processing the monochrome view through the scope, left eye ready to pick up—

Movement.

Forward of the shed.

She swung around. The next structure was the yam patch. After that was the chicken coop. Past that was the dead zone where her railgun could not cover.

She had to spot them now.

Her heart kicked up a notch. She exhaled, regularizing the adrenaline, letting the chemical cocktail flow smoothly through her, just enough to enhance reactions without compromising motor skill. She continued her sweep, left to right, far to…

White.

A blob of white.

She trained her crosshairs on the blob. It was in fact several blobs, moving as one unit, suggesting a face, hands, boots. A moment later, she made out four wriggling limbs and a thick torso.

The cyborg.

Total body cybernetic conversion was the ultimate gift of the Singularity Network. It freed the Sinner from the frailties of the flesh, elevating him in a perfect body of metal and polymer. With the brain housed in a hardened skull, a TBC cyborg was as close to immortal and invulnerable as any of the New Gods had reached.

But its main drawback was heat.

A TBC spewed a lot of heat, much more than a human. It rejected heat constantly through its pores, producing an immense thermal signature. Even with a camouflage uniform designed to scatter thermal radiation, like the one this cyborg was wearing, there was so much heat it showed up on her scope. The only way to guarantee complete coverage was a chameleon camouflage blanket or suit, and it was too bulky and too fragile for a fast-paced assault.

And where there was one shooter, there were more.

She scanned, slowly, deliberately, seeking anomalies.

And now she saw.

Five men, with the cyborg in the middle, arranged in a skirmish line. The still-human Sinners were gray blurs against a gray world, but their movements betrayed them. They were picking up the pace, eager to cross the killing field, to get to the killing work. The closer they approached, the faster they moved, the more visible they became.

They held long objects in their hands, thin and black, unnaturally straight, colder than the night around them. Weapons. That made them hostile.

But only five of them?

She swept the scope through a wide arc. There was only a stillness of black and white and gray. There were no more threats.

Or, rather, none she could see.

She went back to the targets. They were on the verge of entering the dead zone. It was now or never.

“Farmer, Deadeye. Visual on five thermal targets. One TBC, four fleshies. They’re crawling towards us. Area One, fifty meters in front of the shed. They’ve got camou and long guns.”

“Deadeye, roger. Engage when ready.”

“Acknowledged. It’s going to get loud.”

The TBC was the most heavily armored among them. He had to die first. She rested the red reticle on his head. Clicked off the safety. Touched the velocity dial, confirming it was set to full power. Took in a breath. Released half. Watched the crosshair wobble. Felt her heart thumping in her chest, a steady fifty beats a minute.

And, in the spaces between heartbeats, pressed the trigger.

Deep within the railgun, contacts closed. The ultracapacitor banks dumped the entirety of their stored energy into the rails in a fraction of a millisecond. The intense electric current generated a stupendous electromagnetic field, drawing a five millimeter flechette down the barrel.

The flechette raced down the twin tracks, heat and friction flashing its armature to plasma. It broke the sound barrier and kept on going, tearing the air apart, forming a second, smaller, wave of plasma. Faster and faster it flew, its stupendous and unstoppable acceleration driving it forward, forward, always forward.

The package leapt from the muzzle and into the smuzzle, a payload of blinding plasma, screaming shockwaves, last of all the hypervelocity flechette. The baffles and structures within the device captured the sun-bright light, diffused the swirling plasma clouds, guided the flechette forward.

With a tremendous shout, a shout that came from everywhere and nowhere at once, the flechette roared into the night.

The cyborg’s head exploded.

A bright white cloud billowed from the point of impact. Shrapnel sprayed outwards in every direction. Half his head disappeared. What was left of him slumped to the ground and went completely still.

The firing indicator flashed red. Kayla switched to the next target, a shooter on the cyborg’s right. Someone yelled an order. Someone else responded. Her reticle rested on a twitching, moving blob of gray. She made out a head sticking above a torso, but that was all. She counted down one, two—

The light turned green.

She touched the trigger.

The shooter vanished.

She blinked.

Four screeches split the air. Four separate tracks carved through the field at stupendous speeds. The Sinners were charging, rushing for the house, so fast she could barely track them, too fast for her to aim, and now they entered the dead zone and kept on going.

“Four Sinners charging in! Level one, side black!” Kayla shouted.

“Roger! Going to deal with them!”

She turned her eye to the scope—

And gunfire tore into the house.

#

James lurched up and away from the table. Railgun cradled to his chest, he rushed out the room and rushed down the stairs.

He’d dealt with charging Sinners once before. That one had moved so fast he flew over a river. The eggheads still weren’t sure how they did it, only that once in motion they were too fast to engage at range. Only way to deal with that was to take cover until they went still.

And engage them at close range.

James flew down the stairs. As he approached the landing, he slowed down, switched his railgun to his left shoulder, and—

Wood crunched. Metal shouted. The back door flew open.

And men shouted.

Bodies thumped heavily on the floor. James burst into the kitchen and clicked on his railgun-mounted light. The cone of light picked up two shooters, one entangled with a length of hook wire, the other sprawled out on the floor.

James fired.

A superheated cloud of powder burst from the muzzle. Thunder shook the windows and walls. The flechette ripped through the standing man’s head and kept out going, blasting out his helmet, out the open door, and out into forever. Right behind it, the plasma cloud engulfed him, burning through his camouflage veil. Blood and bone chips sprayed from the gaping wound, painting the walls and floor.

James swiveled to the downed shooter, pressed the trigger—

Nothing.

Shit! The railgun was still recharging!

The Sinner pressed his palms against the floor. James stepped up and kicked him in the head. His steel-toed boot rang against his ballistic helmet, spinning him over on his back. James stomped on his face, crunching his nose. The shooter screamed, reaching for his leg. James stepped back and lit him up and pressed the trigger.

The railgun shrieked. The flechette cored through his head, destroying everything it touched. Hydrostatic shockwaves rippled through his body, tearing apart everything they touched, obliterating the contents of his skull.

The odor of burnt blood and blasted bone, fresh soap and scorched metal filled James’ nostrils. Past the open door, more shooters fired at the house. Suppressed M83s, their muzzle reports like loud metallic swats, their muzzle flashes nonexistent. He guessed they were at the barn, the only building that offered a semblance of hard cover.

Where were the other two Sinners?

As he processed the thought, Janet screamed.

#

They were coming.

Clark had heard Fox and Wood converse with each on her eyeshields. When she heard Fox say that she’d spotted targets, she gathered the civilians in the far corner of the cellar and switched on the lights.

Her parents, Ed, Naomi, the kids, they were all huddled together in a fearful lump. The children squirmed and cried, protesting the treatment. Ed and Naomi soothed them, stroked them, did what they could to quiet them. The Woods flanked them protectively, crouching behind huge barrels, aiming their shotguns at the doors.

There were two doors. One led to a set of stairs up into the living room. The other opened into a narrow stairwell feeding outside the house.

Where would they come from?

She wasn’t SRT, but she’d kicked down a few doors in her life. She’d attended a couple of training courses. She let her experience and intuition speak to her now, and swiveled—

Boots pounded in the outer stairwell.

She sucked down a breath.

“SHERIFF! FREEZE!”

Silence.

Gunfire.

Bullets tore through the wooden door. She hit the deck, rounds whistling past her ear. The children screamed, the civilians screamed, the suppressed guns screamed. Lines of rounds walked across the door at height, at chest height, seeking flesh and blood. Clouds of dust and shrapnel blew across the room. The knob rattled, what was left of the door thumped in its frame.

Clark brought up the shotgun and fired.

The heavy boom reverberated in the tiny cellar, drowning out all sound. She racked the pump and fired again. Now emboldened, Mr. Wood joined in, slamfiring his shotgun. He touched off a shot, held down the trigger, pumped the gun and kept on pumping. The shotgun boomed again and again, throwing out a dense cloud of buckshot as fast as he could work the pump.

Hundreds of pellets tore through wood, flesh, bone. They struck the concrete walls and steps of the stairwell and bounced off, striking the shooters again at unexpected angles. The Woods fired, Clark fired, they kept firing until their guns ran dry all at once.

There was a sound in the room. It took Clark a moment to realize it was screaming. Screaming from her.

She stopped. Gasped for air. Her shaking hands fished out a shell from the bandoleer slung around her neck.

“Is everyone okay?!”

The adults looked at her, dumbstruck. The children shrieked, hands covering their ears. All the gunfire in such a small space must have deafened them. She was the only one with ear protection, her eyeshields’ integrated earbuds.

“Check on each other!” she shouted. “I’m moving up!”

She reloaded her gun with trembling fingers. She slipped in three shells, fumbled a fourth, slid it in, then a fifth. She worked the pump, topped off the gun with one last shell, and headed to the door.

Scored through with hundreds of holes, what was left of it stood firmly in its frame. Blood spilled over the door sill, pooling over the floor.

A dark body lay against the shattered remains of the door. Every part of him that wasn’t covered in body armor, every part of him she could see, had been shredded. Strangely, incredibly, he was still breathing.

“Help… me…” he muttered.

She stepped back.

Aimed.

Paused.

She was a cop. The next Sheriff of the swamps. She couldn’t do this.

But she couldn’t bring him inside either. There was still at least one, possibly more, gunmen up top.

“Farmer, Clark. They tried to breach the exterior cellar door. We’ve put one down, but he’s still breathing. Think there’s another one out there.”

“Roger. Hold what you’ve got. I’ll move to flank.”

She fell back to her previous position. Her protectees stared at her.

“Is everyone all right?” she asked.

“We’re fine,” her mother said.

Her gaze fell on Mr. Wood. Red streamed down his face.

“You’re hit,” she said.

“It’s nothing. Just a scratch.”

“We need to get that treated.”

“There’s still a fight on.”

Fresh volleys of gunfire broke out. She turned to the door and—

Thunder.

High pitched thunder split the night, flowing into every nook and cranny, heralding the arrival of something great and terrible.

It sounded like nothing she’d heard before.

She gulped.

Took cover behind her barrel.

Listened to a man die.

#

Gunfire ripped into the attic. Glass shattered. Wood crumbled. Everything around Kayla fell apart.

Keeping low, she scooted away from the table. Supersonic cracks resounded in the tiny space. She crawled to the stairs, rounds snapping at her heels. The shelves shuddered. Boxes splintered. Shrapnel rained on her. She kept moving, pulling herself forward—

Made it.

She slung her railgun over her back. Twisted herself around. Placed her palms on the steps and pulled—

Lightning.

Thunder.

Bright white light washed out the room. Shockwaves pounded her from every direction. Her insides roiled and quaked, her organs resonating with the tremendous pressure waves passing through her. Pain forced her lips open and stole her breath.

She blinked.

Moaned.

Looked up.

“What the fuck?!”

There was a hole. A huge, perfectly cylindrical hole in the wall where there was once a window. Fire crept along its edges, feeding off charred and smoking wood, spreading across the floor. A second hole in the ceiling opened out into the sky.

She gaped at the sight. She knew the Guild had invested heavily in directed energy weapons, but this… this was something beyond her knowledge. Whatever the fuck this was, she did not want to get caught in it.

She had to take it out before it brought the house down.

She scrambled down the stairs on all fours. Her chest hurt, her head hurt, but she kept going. She had to keep going. Bullets slammed into the house, now far above her. On the second floor, she paused for a moment, sucking down air and releasing pain, scanning the world. There were two doors before, feeding into separate bedrooms. She took the one on the right.

The table at the window was waiting for her. She propped the railgun on the hard surface and peered out, aiming at the barn.

Gray blurs squirmed at the sides and the roof of the building. She saw motion, she did not see shapes of men. But she did see white sparks. Diminished muzzle reports. With her naked eye she saw nothing, in thermal they were bright as day.

“Multiple targets by the barn,” she reported. “Engaging.”

One man knelt by the corner of the barn, aiming up at the attic. He fired a last shot, paused, scanned. She placed the reticle on his chest and squeezed the trigger.

The railgun roared. The shooter bowled over. Kayla swung over to the next threat, a second man crouched by the other corner of the born. He was up and scanning, looking for the shooter, hunting for her. A shout drifted across the air. Her crosshairs found his chest, her finger found the trigger.

She fired.

The shot knocked him down into a kicking, twitching, sprawling heap. She stepped away from the table, threw herself to the ground, crawled out the room and—

The shooters returned fire. The window dissolved in glass fragments. Rounds whined and cracked overhead. Kayla crawled out into the landing, opened her mouth, twisted around—

Whiteout.

A spear of pure white light lanced into the bedroom. Everything in its path vanished in white. The wall, the table, the ceiling, it obliterated all before it, carving another hole through the roof. Tremendous shock waves crashed over Kayla, shaking her up from the inside out. Raw heat engulfed her, plunging her being into a fiery star for a fraction of a second.

And suddenly it was over.

She lay there for a moment longer, forcing smoky air down her lungs. A fresh blaze crackled in the devastated room. For the first time in a long time, she sensed she was going to die. Against something as powerful as that there was no defense, only a destruction so total it would consume her completely and leave nothing—

A railgun cracked.

Softer, more muffled, but definitely a railgun. James, firing at a rapid pace, suppressing the barn.

She breathed in a lungful of sooty air and forced herself forward.

In the other bedroom, she set up again. A pyre burned bright in her scope. The roof was burning.

No. It wasn’t a fire. It was a weapon.

Its body was an enormous rectangular box, resting on a bipod. Fins ran down the length of its sides. The muzzle and fins glowed with incandescent light, illuminating a dark shape behind the stock, right hand curled around its pistol grip, peering into a bulky optic. In front of his hand, where a magazine well should go, there was a large canister.

Next to the gunner, his assistant lay prone across the roof tiles. Two canisters lay next to him. Both men hid behind the arch of the roof, exposing only their weapons.

The gunner ejected the canister from his weapon. The assistant passed him a fresh one. As the gunner shoved it into place, she scanned along the roof.

There. A third man, to their right. He peeked up above the arch and cracked off a trio of shots at James.

She breathed in. Exhaled halfway. Aimed.

Fired.

The flechette struck the gunner in the face and drilled through him lengthwise. Shockwaves and shrapnel tore through him, destroying him from the inside. The assistant stared at the body for a moment, then rolled him away and took up the weapon, and aimed for—

She fired.

The shooter’s head exploded.

She swung around to the last man. Taking fire from two directions, he was crawling down the roof, trying to find safer ground. He was a gray blur, a fleeting target—

She fired.

He fell from the roof.

Struck the ground head-first.

Splayed out across the earth, head at an unnatural angle.

“All targets at the barn neutralized,” she reported.

#

James turned away from the kitchen door, his railgun smoking. He hoped he hadn’t made a mistake just now. He’d told Clark he was going to flank the shooters, but when he heard the shooting from the barn, saw that humongous flash of whatever the fuck that was, he reacted without thinking. He lit up the barn, spotted a downed shooter get back up, put him down, continued shooting up the roof until his mag ran dry and Kayla reported the roof was clear.

He ejected the empty mag. As he slotted in a fresh one, a crazy thought entered his head.

I hope the livestock are all right.

He barked a laugh. Then sucked it down. Of all the stupid things to think of, it had to be this.

There was one more threat left. He had to focus.

He spun on his heel and headed to the dining room. Scanning the windows, he oriented himself to the exterior cellar door and—

Flash.

He swept up his weapon.

Nothing.

Too late. The Sinner was back on his feet, using superspeed.

Boots pounded the earth. Wind tore. He was going around the front.

James knelt by the head of the table and sighted down the narrow hallway. The front door appeared in his optic. It was dark, he was night-blinded, but there was no one else out there. The second the door—

The door opened.

James hit the light.

And something streaked through the door, heading at—

James jumped away.

The Sinner crossed the living room in a flash and charged down the hallway and—

The tripwires snapped free of their moorings. The ankle wire wrapped itself around the shooter’s boot. The hook wire dug into his neck and clawed his chin. The Sinner faltered, slowed down, clawed at his face, lost his balance—

Tripped.

He landed facefirst with a tremendous boom.

James shot him in the head.

Kicked him over.

Shot him again.

Not out of sadism. He didn’t trust a 5mm flechette flying at a mere one klick per second to possess much killing power. Just for insurance, he booted the shooter in the head.

“Sinner down,” James called. “Living room clear.”

“Barn clear,” Kayla reported.

“There’s, uh, one more threat over here,” Clark reported. “He’s lying against the green side door. He’s shot up bad. We don’t know how bad.”

“You didn’t check?” James asked.

“It was too dangerous.”

He sighed.

“We’ll take care of it. Break. Deadeye, meet me at the stairs.”

James reloaded his railgun. Thought about it for a second and clicked it back up to full power. When looked back up, Kayla was next to him.

His eyes widened. He hadn’t heard her move.

“Let’s go,” she said.

He led the way to the door. She fell in behind him. He kept his guard up, scanning for more threats. It wasn’t over until it was over.

He rounded the corner. The twin cellar doors lay wide open. Kayla circled around, moving to the other side of the doors. As one, they aimed down the narrow shaft, flooding it with their weapon lights.

The last Sinner lay in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the stairs. Everything below his right knee had been sawed off. His left arm was shattered. Blood spurted from a hundred holes. Wooden splinters buried deep in his cheeks and throat. He squinted against the light, his breath coming and going in quick gulps and quicker pants.

In his right hand, he gripped his carbine.

They stared at the broken man in silence. He stared back.

There was nothing they could do for him. The damage was too severe. They could try—they would try, if given a chance—but there wasn’t a point. He needed to be in an operating room right now, and the nearest hospital was miles away.

“Do it,” he said.

It was tempting. But was it right?

“What… are you… waiting for? Do it!”

Would Yuri Yamamoto have wanted him to do it?

For the first time in a long time, indecision gripped him. In the STS he would demand his surrender, but he had no badge and no authority. He would have shot him, but he was no longer a threat. What was he supposed to do now, having survived an impossible fight?

“DO IT!”

The shooter swung his carbine up—

She fired.

He fired.

The final gunshots hung in the air. The night fell quiet. The stench of powder and blood, blood and waste, life and death, filled his nose. The smoking railgun weighed heavily in his hands. He looked up at Kayla.

“Clear,” she said.

“Clear,” he acknowledged.

Want more adventures of Kayla Fox and James Wood? Check out BABYLON BLUES on Amazon!

Sheriff of the Swamps Chapter 10

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