Thursday, July 1, 2021

Babylon Red Chapter 2


With 11 days to go, BABYLON RED stands at 75% funded!

To celebrate, here's chapter 2 of the titular novel! In this chapter, Yuri Yamamoto must deal with the authorities in the aftermath of a monster attack—and the New Gods.

2. No Victims Here

The Special Tasks Section was founded for a singular purpose: hunting monsters. While primarily focused on kinetic operations, STS operators also conducted investigations, surveillance, and other missions in support of its mission. Over the few short years of its existence, Yuri had established strong ties with his counterparts in conventional law enforcement, amongst which was Detective John Gilbert.

Weathered by the street and the weight of the badge, he was a bullet of a man, broad and sleek, his face carved through with stress striations. The years had stripped him of his hair and saddled him with heavy eyebags. His off-the-rack suit, faded from hard detergents and harder service, struggled to hold in his bulging belly. The golden shield clipped to his belt shone dully in the amber light.

They’d caught a dozen-odd cases together, Yuri and Gil. When the cop identified signs of Husks or cultists or both at a crime scene, he backed up and called in the STS. The operator hunted down the suspects and brought them to justice. A division of labor both men were equally comfortable with, in large part because both men thought the other had the harder job. His presence at this scene cheered Yuri. Except for one, minor, matter.

Gil was a homicide detective.

“You alone? What happened? BPD ran out of shields?” Yuri asked.

Gil rubbed his bald pate.

“Too any fires burning all over the city. My team is attending to other scenes as we speak. Shit, the whole homicide squad has been called out.”

“That bad?”

“There’s a shooting every hour, a slaying every day. The New Gods, the street animals, new players on the block, they all have it out for each other. It’s a jungle out there.”

“I heard SWAT runs two or three call-outs a day.”

“Babylon’s burning, brother. With the STS gone, everyone’s tearing at everyone else’s throats. It’s not war. It’s sheer chaos.”

“Gee, I wonder why no one saw it coming.”

“Brass does funny things to people. The more brass you wear, the more your brain shrinks.”

“Ain’t that the truth.”

By the canal, a quartet of crime scene technicians muscled the severed limb into an extra-large body bag, one specially designed for Husks. A photographer snapped away with a bulky camera, capturing the blood sprays from multiple angles. Another tech collected samples of the alien blood. Everyone wore white coveralls, protective goggles and gloves, and respirators.

Yuri gestured at the scene.

“What the hell are you doing here, anyway? No one died, right?”

“You haven’t heard?”

“I’ve been out of the game for years. Would have stayed out too, if the monster hadn’t attacked me.”

Gil exhaled sharply.

“There’s been a spate of disappearances and adductions. Twenty-two people in two weeks. Street cameras caught sight of some tentacled horror grabbing them and dragging them away. As far as we know, you’re the first one to have survived it.”

“What the hell? I haven’t heard about that on the news.”

“Me neither. Chief wants to ‘avoid a panic’.”

“There’s a monster stalking the streets and no one cares? Doesn’t make sense, Gil.”

“Shit, the day after you left Babylon, nothing made sense anymore.”

“Why’d you catch this case?”

“I’m not. We—all of us BPD here—we’re just playing bagman for the real players. In fact... here he is now.”

A tall man strolled out onto the footpath. His dark suit and tie shimmered softly in the light, suggestive of expensive silk. His clothes fitted him perfectly, accentuating his lean form. A white pocket square poked out of his breast pocket. Dark eyeshields concealed his gaze. His other accessory was a gold badge worn on a lanyard around his neck.

“You the victim?” the newcomer asked.

“No victims here,” Yuri said evenly.

The tall man’s thin lips twitched. He turned his head sightly, training the cameras mounted on the frame of his eyeshields on Yuri’s face. His eyebrows narrowed.

“You know what I mean, Yuri Yamamoto.”

“I don’t know who you are.”

“Special Agent in Charge John Smith. Public Security Bureau.”

Yuri smiled.

“Which of the New Gods do you represent?”

“I do not—”

“Suit like that? It’s gotta hand-tailored. No way a Peeb can afford to wear a suit like that, not when responding to a street crime. There’s the tie and pocket square, too. Real classy. Most Peebs have no idea how to match them.”

Smith’s face flushed.

“Yamamoto, this is not—”

“Real creative alias you’ve got for yourself, Smith. The kind of name you can insert in any database anywhere in Babylon and delete once you’re done. Badge like that, anyone can claim he’s PSB.”

“Smith checks out,” Gil said. “Ran his badge number myself.”

“Oh? Then you serve two masters. No man can do that. Not unless one of them is the New Gods.”

“I am an accredited PSB Special Agent! I can have you arrested for failing to cooperate with a critical investigation,” Smith sputtered.

“Did he request anything from me?” Yuri asked.

“Nope,” Gil said.

“How can I fail to cooperate when he hasn’t asked for anything?”

“You can’t.”

Smith clenched his fists.

“Detective, take Yamamoto into custody. I will interview him personally at the station.”

“Is disrespecting a Peeb a crime?” Yuri wondered.

“Not since the last time I checked,” Gil replied.

“Well, fortunately for our companion, I have every intention of cooperating with a PSB investigation. Not that I see one here.”

“What the hell do you mean by that?” Smith said.

“Babylon PD shut down its Supernatural Crimes Division. PSB will now handle all supernatural cases. An attack by a man-eating monster counts. So why is the BPD Crime Scene Unit here, not a PSB Forensics Response Team?”

“BPD was the first to arrive. Their CSU will gather evidence and pass it along to us.”

“‘Us’ meaning the New Gods.”

“No, ‘us’ meaning the PSB.”

Yuri laughed.

“If the PSB were involved, this would be a full court press. The whole scene would be swarming with PSB Special Agents. They’d canvas the area, interview witnesses, do the traditional policing work. Or else they’d enlist patrol officers to do it for them. Instead, it’s just you.”

“I’m just running point. The others will be here shortly.”

“In my 911 call, I told the dispatcher that I’d confronted a monster. I described it in detail. That’s an automatic trigger to deploy PSB ESWAT. ESWAT would have swooped down on the area, locked down the neighborhood, and started combing the canal and streets for the monster. Instead...”

Yuri swept his arms out, encompassing the entire scene.

“No ESWAT. No cordon. No sweep. It’s just us here. It’s almost as if you don’t want to look for the monster. Or you don’t want people to know you’re looking for it.”

Yuri turned back to Smith, hands folded over his waist, a deceptively pleasant smile on his face.

“You’re not PSB. You may have the badge, but you’re really working for the New Gods.”

Smith glared at Yuri. Inhaling sharply, he flared his nostrils and lifted his shoulders.

“That’s not true. I am the Special Agent in Charge of a multi-agency task force. We are aware of the monster in Babylon, and we are taking every step to ensure the safety of the public—”

“Every step except sending ESWAT to hunt the monster. Not that you’re not hunting it, mind you. Just that you’re using covert assets instead of overt ones. Which has unpleasant implications, doesn’t it?”

“We don’t wish to alarm the public. We are keeping the hunt low-key. But to protect the people, we need your cooperation. You’re familiar with the concept, aren’t you?”

“Who is ‘we’?”

“The Public Security Bureau, of course.”

“You can come clean now, you know.”

“Come clean about what? You’re not—”

“You don’t have a third eye or a weird machine name, so you’re not from the Singularity Network. You don’t have the flat affect of the Void Collective either. You’re not threatening me with violence, not yet, so you’re probably not Court of Shadows.”

“I’m not—”

“You’re too ugly to be Liberated. In all fairness, though, everybody is ugly compared to the Liberated. Pantheon? Perhaps, but unlikely. They don’t do low-key stuff much. We’d be seeing Godmen running around the place and you don’t have that vibe. Guild of the Maker would be rolling hot with high tech and heavy firepower. That leaves us with...”

“Seekers of the Way,” Gil replied. “He’s declared to us.”

Smith clicked his tongue. Yuri raised an eyebrow.

“Ya know, Gil, you could have just told me from the start.”

“Where’s the fun in that? Besides, we both know you need the practice.”

The men shared a chuckle.

“You wanna tell me why the Seekers are involved here?” Yuri asked.

“Not a clue. They detailed Homicide to support a PSB ‘special investigations task force’. A task force conveniently composed entirely of Seekers. When I asked around, I got stonewalled,” Gil replied.

Yuri turned to Smith.

“You wanna tell me why you are involved here?”

Smith sniffed.

“We’re hunting for the monster. I’m sure even you can believe that much.”

“So why are you standing here instead of sweeping the area?”

“We are. You just haven’t seen our assets. My job is to collect intelligence on the threat so that the trigger pullers know where to find it.”

“They could start by sweeping and clearing the area.”

“Pointless. We know the monster travels along waterways and sewer lines. An aboveground cordon wouldn’t contain it. A subterranean one is too dangerous.”

“Why the hell isn’t this in the news yet?”

“In case you haven’t noticed, Babylon is on the brink of chaos. Gang murders, conflicts between various Powers, even rumors that there’s a team of rogue operators striking at the New Gods. Do you know anything about the last?”

“First time I’ve heard of it.”

Smith snorted.

“Society is perched on a knife’s edge. News about a tentacle monster with countless eyes and mouths will push Babylon into chaos. People will demand action. Lockdowns, patrols, a nonstop hunt until the thing is dead. Worse, kooks and freaks will come crawling out to find it and worship it. We already had dozens of new cults pop up over the past couple of years. Last thing we need is another Dark Power.

“And, speaking of cults... before you were attacked, did someone approach you? A homeless guy?”

Yuri’s eyes narrowed. Smith’s own remained hidden behind the dark lenses.

“Yes,” Yuri said.

“What did he do?”

“Nothing much. He shuffled towards me. I told him to stop. He continued his approach. I held up my cross. He ran away.”

“Interesting... Did you experience a psychic attack as well?”


“Since you’re in a cooperative mood, let’s take it from the top. What happened in the moments leading up to the attack?”

“I didn’t say I’d cooperate with the Seekers.”

Smith pointed at his badge.

“I’m a PSB Special Agent now. Talk.”

Yuri talked. But he made Smith work for every nugget of information. He gave up nothing Smith didn’t ask for. Smith compensated by asking an exhaustive list of questions, attempting to reconstruct every single action and every single sensation between first contact with the monster and the final clash.

“Why were you walking the streets?” Smith asked.

“A man can’t take a walk on a Sunday night?”

“There’s nothing to see or do here. Why walk here?”

“I like walking. Is that a crime?”

“Most people know better than to walk the streets of Babylon at night. Especially you.”

“I tried walking in the day, but I had too much company.”

“What kind of company?”

“Surveillance crews. Seven of them. You know who I am, you know who they are.”

“Why are they watching you?”

“I ought to ask you that.”

“Watching you isn’t my bailiwick.”

“But you know who to ask to find out.”

“Maybe I do.”

“And maybe you could share those answers with me.”

“And why should I?”

“I could lodge a complaint for harassment with the BPD. And, hey, there’s a BPD detective right here.”

With a smile, Gil waggled his fingers.

“I’ll tell you not to waste your time, but you’d do it anyway,” Smith said.

“Which is why you’re going to save us both the hassle and tell me why.”

“I don’t have answers for your questions.”

“Then I’ll have to do what I have to do.”

“So do I.”

And with that, Smith launched a second round of questioning. He circled back, revisiting earlier points, then jumped back and forth along the timeline, looking for errors and discrepancies. Yuri held fast to his strategy, telling the truth and nothing but the truth to answer only the questions Smith asked.

At last, the questions ended.

“Thank you for your cooperation,” Smith said.

“We’re done here?” Yuri asked.

“Pretty much.”

The crime scene techs had carted off the tendril. The photographer had left too. Now there were just the three of them at the scene, the detective, the former operator, the Seeker.

“This is a confidential investigation. Refrain from discussing this topic with outsiders. Take special care not to spark a panic. Should we learn that you spread protected information, there will be consequences,” Smith said.

“Twenty-two people have disappeared. More will disappear. You can’t keep a lid on this forever,” Yuri replied.

“We’ll just have to find the monster first.”

Yuri snorted. Gil smirked.

“Good luck,” Yuri said.

“As for you, mind your own business,” Smith said.

“I was minding my own business when the monster came.”

“You know what I mean. Over the past two years, an unknown force has struck at small-time Powers and the New Gods all over the country. They hit every one of the New Gods except the Seekers. For your sake, keep it that way.”

“I’ve got nothing to do with that.”

“Good. You’re a civilian now. Keep it that way. No more vendettas. No more violence. Or else.”

Smith sauntered off into the darkness.

“Real piece of work, isn’t he?” Yuri said.

“That’s the New Gods for you,” Gil replied.

“Not going to ask me for my knife?”

“No point. Nobody died. And Smith didn’t ask for it either.”

“Which means Smith isn’t going to handle this hunt by the book.”

“And since he’s not, you oughta hold on to it.”

“I think I will.”

Only the foolish and the suicidal went unarmed in Babylon.

“I heard that when you returned to Babylon, you helped the New Gods and SWAT take down a Dark Power,” Gil said.

“What about that?”

“I also heard that the New Gods tried to frame you, but you outmaneuvered them.”

“Nothing good comes from working with the New Gods.”

“No kidding. Which is why I, in my official capacity as a BPD Homicide detective, am requesting you to not get involved in this investigation.”

“I’ve got surveillance teams watching me in the day and a monster hunting me at night. I’m already involved.”

“Just stay out of trouble.”

“And if trouble finds me?”

“Then you gotta do what you gotta do.”


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