Connor had company.
Two black gravtrucks sat at the far end of the parking lot. Dark figures gathered around them forming security positions. No sirens, no antennae, no warning, not police vehicles. The Pantheon would have opened fire the second they saw him. The Shadow Court had no business with him here. That left only one possibility.
Connor took manual control at the last moment, swinging the car over to the left side of the parking lot, landing beside the getaway vehicle. He killed the engine and flicked his eyes to the upper edge of the screen. The green phone icon winked back.
The men by the trucks rearranged themselves. Taking cover around the bulk of the vehicles, they formed a skirmish line, oriented towards him. Amber light reflected off black-coated steel. Connor grabbed the breaching bag and climbed out the gravcar, keeping the mass of the engine block and the other car between him and the Liberated shooters.
“Connor?” Steele called.
“Yes!” Connor replied.
“You’ve got the goods?”
Connor held up the bag.
“Let’s see them!”
White light blasted from a dozen powerful torches. His lenses darkened against the glare. Connor flinched away, hands covering his eyes.
“Turn off the lights!” Connor yelled.
“Can’t do that. My men need to see.”
“I need to see too.”
“Take out the machines you recovered. Slowly.”
Connor placed the duffel bag on the hood and fumbled around the interior, as though he were still blinded. A half-minute later, he took a device in either hand and lifted them high.
“Here you go!”
One of the Liberated separated himself from the pack. Silhouetted against the harsh light, all Connor made out was a tall shadow the shape of a man.
“That you, Steele?”
“What’d you got for me?”
The silhouetted shadow had spoken. It was Steele.
“Smartglasses and a laptop. I don’t have the means to crack them, but maybe you—”
“Step out into the open. I want to see them.”
Connor took three steps away from cover and spread his arms wide.
“There you go.”
“What happened to my men?” Steele demanded.
“I told you already. Taylor turned into a giant worm with blades attached to his arms. When I breached the safe room, I thought he’d be stunned. Instead, he charged out the door and ripped through everyone. He cut down the others before I could put him down.”
As Connor spoke, Steele strode across the empty lot. He stopped in the middle and planted his hands on his hips.
“Did you kill Taylor?”
“I wouldn’t be talking to you if I didn’t.”
Steele sighed. His voice carried across the parking lot.
“Connor, Connor, Connor… I trusted you. I thought we had a deal. Why did you lie to me?”
“What do you mean?”
“I get that you don’t trust us. You meant your life fighting the New Gods, it’s only natural to be suspicious of us. But we had an agreement. And you broke it.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You killed my men.”
“My men were livestreaming the op to me. I saw what happened through their cameras. I saw you shoot them all. Why did you do that?”
Connor’s heart pounded in his chest. His blood ran cold. Behind the blinding lights, a dozen guns swiveled towards him.
“I was willing to bring you into the fold. Protect you. Give you everything you ever wanted. But you turned around and stabbed us in the back. What have we ever done to you?”
Connor lowered his hands.
“Keep your hands high or my men will shoot. Understand?”
“Drop your things.”
Connor tossed the machines aside. They clattered noisily against the floor.
“Take your gun in your left hand and toss it.”
“Come on, that’s not—”
“Do it now, or we shoot.”
With great deliberation, Connor reached around his waist, awkwardly drew his railgun pistol, and flung it in the direction of the laptop.
“Step back now.”
Connor took two steps back.
“Tell me, why did you betray us? Are you working for someone else? The Shadow Court? Public Security?” Steele demanded.
“What’s it mean to you?”
“This is your last chance, Connor. Answer me, and you’ll get to live. Don’t, and you’re not walking out of here. And before you ask, no, we aren’t going to kill you. We’ll just make you wish we did. We have many ways to—”
Across the waters of the Minato River, a railgun screamed.
A wet THUD echoed across the parking lot.
“SNIPER!” a shooter called.
Connor leapt for cover.
Guns thundered. Spotlights washed over the gravcar. A fusillade of hot steel shattered the windows, shredded the doors, spattered off the asphalt, battered the engine block. Connor curled up into a ball, rounds whistling overhead. He looked at the phone icon and blinked.
Concealed among the bushes at the far edge of the parking lot, a burner phone received an incoming call. Volts jumped down wires running from the phone into a detonator, which in turn ignited a large shaped charge.
The buried bomb erupted in fire and fury. Thousands of ball bearings sprayed outwards in a withering cone of destruction. Men and vegetation vaporized in the hellstorm. The gravtrucks shuddered under the tremendous blast, the windows shattering, the tires bursting, the engines and gravity mirrors disintegrating. The lights of the Liberated scattered, throwing crazed and darkened spotlights in every direction.
The shooting stopped.
Connor peeked around the engine block. By the blasted vehicles, men gurgled, moaned, cried. Someone moved. Someone else called out for his mother.
The railgun roared.
And then, silence.
“All threats neutralized,” Kayla reported.
Connor rose to his feet. Reaching beneath his magazine pouches with his right hand, he drew his backup gun. His revolver. With his other hand, he grabbed his flashlight.
Connor lifted his light high and clicked it on. The spotlight caught Steele on his knees, picking himself up. A blackened, bloody hole had been blown out the breast of his gray suit, but the exposed skin and flesh was intact.
Steele gritted his teeth.
“Connor, what the fuck—”
Connor shot him in the head.
Steele slumped back down.
And pushed himself back up.
“It’ll take more than that to kill me,” Steele said.
“Okay,” he said.
And activated his phone.
The second buried bomb blew.
High-velocity shrapnel scythed through the kill zone. Glass shattered. Metal crumpled. Car alarms screamed. A fire caught around the blast site, quickly spreading to consume the grass.
Connor looked up.
Caught in the open, Steele had taken the brunt of the blast. There was a red, pulpy smear where he once stood. What was left of his upper body lay at the edges of the car park, more mincemeat than man.
“Is… that… all?”
And fired, and fired, and kept firing, until the hammer fell on an empty chamber.
The pulverized mass of gore went still.
A lesser man might have been sickened by the sight. Connor… Connor didn’t feel anything. He only saw an inanimate blob that couldn’t threaten him anymore. He wondered if it were a bad thing. Or if he had waded so deep into a river of blood that his mind had finally snapped.
“All threats neutralized,” Connor said.
“Copy that,” Kayla said.
“You should’ve shot Steele in the head.”
“You try making a headshot from eight hundred meters out with a railgun not set up for long-range precision shots.”
“What’s so funny?”
He picked up his rail handgun from where it lay. Recovered the smartglasses and the laptop. Returned to his borrowed car, dumped the loot into his breacher bag, then hauled everything to his own car.
Strangely, miraculously, it had survived the blasts completely intact. The paint wasn’t even scratched. He reloaded his backup revolver, then retrieved his folding shovel and headed back out.
The last charge was buried in the bushes a distance away from the Elects’ gravcars. It was a deceptively simple device. A burner phone, a large block of explosives, a rubber liner to direct the blast, and plastic packets holding thousands of ball bearings squished against the explosives. He returned to the car he had used to fly to Taylor’s home, sprayed down the interior with privacy spray, and dumped the charge in the driver’s seat, orienting the ball bearings towards the gravity mirror.
“I hear sirens. Time to go,” Kayla said.
“Roger. We are RTB.”
Connor climbed into his car and started the engine. As he drove off, he opened his phone app again.
A fireball consumed the gravcar. Secondary explosions thundered, obliterating the other vehicle. Connor sped off, fleeing the rain of shrapnel.
The job was over. At last. Now there was just one last thing left to do.
Leave Riveria forever.