Friday, January 1, 2021

River of Blood Chapter 9

 

Execution

Intelligence was the lifeblood of war. Learn everything you could about the enemy, while denying him from doing the same. The essential formula for victory. Connor, Kayla and Zen swung into action, following the formula.

Taylor locked himself down. The second he got home, he chucked it in a corner, plugged it into a charger, and left it alone. There was no more intelligence forthcoming from the device.

His home had a wireless Internet router. The radio waves permeated the property, carrying data on the electric ether. Zen focused his attentions on the router, seeking to compromise every device in the area.

The RPD investigation kicked into high gear. With three bodies, little surviving surveillance footage and no recoverable forensics evidence, the heat was on. Detective Robert Nelson placed a BOLO on Connor and Fox. When he wasn’t looking, Zen sneaked into the system and subtly altered the search parameters, flooding the system with useless noise.

In the daylight hours, Fox and Connor studied maps and camera footage, developed plans and backups and backups to the backups, and assembled their gear, buying what they needed from nearby shops.

When he was ready, he returned his rented SUV. At another agency, he secured another SUV, this one the color of gunmetal. He drove it to an underground parking lot, applied fresh license plates on it, and disabled the GPS unit. Back at the motel, he loaded it up with his kit.

By the time he was done, Kayla was gone.

At dusk, he fueled up with real food. Slow-cooked pork ribs drenched in barbecue sauce, farm-fresh salad, a serving of scrambled eggs. Protein and fats to keep him on the go, few carbs to slow him down. It might be his last good meal for a long time—maybe even his last supper—and he savored every bite.

For the next two hours, he drove around the shopping district and the surrounding area, feeding the city net false data on his movements and behaviors.

Shops shuttered early. Those that remained open deployed bouncers and security guards. The sidewalks quickly thinned out. Gravcars took to the skies in close-knit flocks, departing for residential areas. Ground cars crawled impatiently through the boulevards, evacuating the region. Soon, there was only a barren desolation of concrete monoliths and blazing lights.

And the street animals came out to play.

The New Gods were marching to war. Everyone on the street could sense it. The triple killings, the chopped-up Husk, the ultratech guns. The calling cards of the rulers of the world. Blood was spilled, blood would be spilled in return.

There wasn’t anything most mortals could do about it. All they could do was hurry home and hunker down, and hope that the wrath of the gods would pass over them. The soldiers of the New Gods guarded critical business and locations, scoured the streets, stared down their counterparts from rival factions. The police prowled the streets in large teams, seculars steadfastly staying true to their duty to protect and serve, believers acting as extra eyes and ears and guns.

And caught in between them, Connor drove.

Hatfield Park was empty. Everyone in Riveria knew to stay home after dark when the New Gods were on the warpath. Connor got out the car, a messenger bag slung over his shoulders, and walked the perimeter of the parking lot.

No one had found last night’s work. If they had, it would have made front page news. Now was the time for the finishing touch.

It didn’t take long. Kneel in the dark, uncover what he’d prepared last night, attached a palm-sized device, camouflage the assembly, and move on.

He did this a half-dozen times, working slowly, taking care to check his work and watch for witnesses. When he was done, he brushed off the dirt from his hands and returned to his vehicle.

And called Steele.

“You’ve got what I asked for?” Connor asked.

“Yes. All of it,” Steele replied.

“Wonderful. Head to the parking lot of Hatfield Park.”

“Be there in twenty minutes.”

Connor kitted up in the dark. Eyeshields, the identity module and number freshly scrambled. Plate carrier, laden down with kit. Tomahawk on his left hip. Gloves. Railguns.

Whatever was coming, he was ready.

A high-pitched humming filled his ears. The distinctive sound of gravity mirrors. Turning to the sound, he made out a pair of dark fast-moving blots against the cityscape. They grew closer, larger, louder, swooping down on the park.

The two gravcars landed across him. Two men climbed out the one on the right. A third stepped out of the other. The trio were kitted out similarly to Connor, clothing dark as night, long guns slung over their necks and handguns holstered by their belts.

“You Connor?” the tallest among them rumbled.

“Yeah. Steele sent you?”

“Of course.”

“What do I call you?”

“Jones. This is Brown and Smith.”

As he spoke, Jones nodded at the guy next to him, then the lone guy on the other car.

“Just three of you?”

“Yup.”

Connor looked them over. Jones was huge, an ambulatory mountain, his shirt stretched tight across his enormous chest. Brown was tiny, barely coming up to Connor’s neck, so emaciated it seemed a stiff breeze could blow him away. Smith had the build of a decathlete, lean and wiry, all muscle and no fat.

Jones glared at Connor, his arms crossed. Brown and Smith pivoted outwards, scanning the world around them, hiding their hands in shadows. That showed training, and no small amount of experience.

“I expected more,” Connor said.

“We’re enough.”

“For five threats, any and all of whom could be Elect?”

Jones grinned.

“Let’s say we have tricks up our sleeves.”

“Steele told you I was in charge, right?”

“You’re an outsider,” Brown said.

High and nasally, his voice irritated Connor’s ears.

“Yes,” Jones rumbled.

“Then I need to know what you can do.”

“Why?”

“So I can be prepared for the moment you use them.”

Brown scowled. Jones smiled. Smith said nothing.

“I’m a regenerator,” Jones said.

“Clicker,” Brown said.

“Clicker?” Connor asked.

A soft click, barely audible, emanated from deep in Brown’s throat.

“Cute trick,” Connor said. “What’s it do?”

Brown scowled.

“Echolocation. And that was at a frequency you can hear. I can map an entire house with a click and locate everyone inside using ultrasonic waves.”

“Sounds useful. And you, Smith?”

“Transfusion.”

The word hung in the air, reluctantly melting into silence.

“Okay, and?” Connor prodded.

“Medic.”

“You mean something like blood transfusion?”

“No. More. Healing. Wounds, illnesses, all kinds.”

“Do I have to drag out words from you?”

“Smith isn’t a talker,” Jones said.

Smith grunted.

“You got the kit I asked for?” Connor asked.

Smith reached into the gravcar and hauled out a large duffel bag.

“Sweet. Let’s see it.”

Smith frowned. Then set the bag on the hood of his car and stepped aside.

“Here.”

Connor approached the vehicle, all three Elect tracking him every step of the way. He unzipped the bag and turned on his flashlight.

A spool of detonation cord. Flex linear charges. Sheet explosives. Shock tube. Detonators. Saline bags. Adhesive tape. Tools. Even a rolled-up breacher blanket. Everything he needed to blow through anything short of a high-security bank vault.

“Did you borrow this from the SWAT team?” Connor asked.

“We are the Liberated. We get everything we need,” Jones said.

In another time, another life, Connor would have had a dedicated breaching bag. Pouches, pockets, attachment panels and compartments to hold everything in its place. Last thing he needed on an op was to fumble around in a large sack, trying to find stuff while under fire.

But back then, he didn’t want those around him to die.

“Stand watch for a few minutes. I need to assemble the breaching charge,” Connor said.

“Here?” Smith enquired.

“I need light, I need space, we got them here. ‘Sides, no one comes here at night.”

Smith grumbled wordlessly.

The Elect gathered in a circle around him, shielding him from casual view. Connor measured out a length of detonation cord, thinking about the fortifications he might face. A safe room door would be heavily reinforced, but not so much that it was impossible to move.

He used the time-honored formula of P for Plenty. Twelve feet of detcord, enough to breach even metal doors. The blast pressure would be a bitch, but hey, it wasn’t like he liked working with Elect.

The saline bags were already filled. One liter of pure fluid each. He rolled the detcord into an S and sandwiched it between the saline bags, then taped the two loose ends together. A slightly difficult task with his tactical gloves on, but he didn’t want to leave fingerprints behind. It was amazing what could survive an explosion. Finally, he wrapped everything up in duct tape into a secure package.

A textbook water impulse charge.

He preferred a purpose-built breaching charge. Consistent, minimal variation, known explosive power. No need to improvise one on the fly. On the other hand, there were advantages to building an improvised charge too, not the least of which he could control how much blast pressure would be directed to the rear.

He had two spare saline bags, so he assembled another water impulse charge. Just in case. After that, he prepared a pair of door knockers. A length of detcord tied into a loop, large enough to fit around a doorknob, with a generous trailing end for safety.

He organized the duffel bag as best as he could. Door knockers in an outside pouch, detonators in another, water impulse charges and everything else in the main compartment. He hefted the bag like an enormous backpack. Its contents rattled around. He bounced about on his soles, tightening down what straps he could.

“Surprised you had to ask us for explosives,” Brown said.

“I don’t keep a stock of demo on hand. Sane people don’t,” Connor said.

Jones gestured at Connor’s gear.

“Yeah? How’d you get your hands on a railgun, then?”

“Spoils of war.”

“From whom?”

“The Guild.”

“Where’d you get it from?”

“We can swap war stories later. Time’s wasting.”

“I’m just wondering how you got your hands on Godtech but not explosives. You’d have thought to stash away gear before the STS folded.”

Connor shrugged.

“Never thought I’d needed the boom.”

“It’s the stuff you don’t think about that bites you in the ass, doesn’t it?”

Connor grunted.

“We gonna get started on this job, or what?”

“You’ve got a plan?” Jones asked.

“It’s pretty simple. We all travel to the site in one gravcar. Park a block away and approach the objective area on foot. We take out the guards, breach the house and kill everyone inside. We fly back here, switch to the other vehicles, and go home. Let the cleaners take care of the rest.”

“Just like that?” Brown asked.

“No need to make it more complicated than it has to be. I’ve got it all planned out. We just need to focus on the execution.”

Jones chuckled.

“Yeah. Taylor’s execution.”

“Y’all ready?” Connor asked.

“Just give the word,” Jones said.

“Let’s do it,” Brown said.

Smith grunted.

“Let’s get this show on the road,” Connor said.

#

The Liberated, the Pantheon and the Court of Shadows had divided Riveria among themselves, carving up the city into enclaves and no-go zones. Within the city core, outside of jointly-administered areas, their borders were clearly delineated into contiguous zones.

The suburbs were a different story.

Some districts belonged to one god or other. Some were secular. Others were joint developments. It was a chaotic patchwork of competing turfs, most of them inimical to each other. The introduction of gravcars had turned most gated communities into mere suggestions—those that didn’t have radar and ground-to-air weapons and an in-house security team.

East Loop was once an enclave for the rich of Riveria. Its high walls and security gate kept out the riffraff and the hoi polloi. Today, though still a gated community, it remained exposed to the air. The Pantheon had claimed it for their own, for those rich enough to live outside the city, not so rich to need—or afford—a home in a high-security community.

Taylor lived at the easternmost edge of East Loop. From here it was a ten-minute hop to his club, fifteen minutes to anywhere in the city.

Eight minutes from Hatfield Park.

Smith flew. Connor sat shotgun. Jones and Brown had the back seats. The men had all fallen into a grim silence, the silence of blooded warriors psyching themselves up for a firefight. They rode with their long guns close to hand, slung around their necks and pointed up at the roof. The second they landed, they were going to roll hard.

Connor wished for more men, more guns. An assault element, a security element, a support element, at the minimum. The STS got away with operating in small teams because they could—usually—count on backup from local enforcement, or at least the PSB ESWAT team. Here, with just four shooters, they’d have to commit everyone to the assault. All it took was one armed security guard or civilian with more guts than sense to turn this into a disaster.

On the other hand, he only had three Elect to manage.

Connor had studied imagery of the neighborhood on his laptop. But there was no substitute for seeing it with his own eyes. Streetlights snaked through the streets, illuminating a large roundabout enclosed in thick walls. Three cul-de-sacs branched off from the roundabout, each circle surrounded by ten cookie-cutter houses. A secondary road ran along the wall, feeding scores of identical residences. The developer had crammed as many houses as could fit inside the walls, orienting them all at seemingly random directions.

It was like gazing upon an architected hell of indistinguishable dwellings, each the cage of a damned soul, bland at the micro level, hypnotically chaotic when seen from above, arranged to disrupt any attempt to navigate the urban labyrinth by eye.

Smith oriented himself using the bright augmented reality icons on the smart windshield, wordlessly obeying the soothing instructions of the car’s onboard AI.

“Going in hot,” he said.

The car swooped down from the night, smoothly spinning through one hundred and eighty degrees. It slowed rapidly as it descended and landed with a gentle bump. Taylor’s house was to Connor’s left, aligned with his door, every window shrouded in darkness.

“GO!” Smith called.

Connor unbuckled his seat belt. The extra second slowed him down. Unhindered by a belt, Jones instantly burst out the car, bringing his suppressed carbine up to bear. Connor opened the door, braced his weapon against the frame, scanned for threats—

The carbine popped.

Once, twice, thrice.

Paused.

Once, twice, thrice again.

Every shot sounded like a metal brush swiping against wood, accompanied by a wet thump. Connor thumbed his flashlight. The light revealed two men lying on the grass, guns in their hands, bleeding from massive head wounds. A dog was slumped over by the door, its skull shattered.

“Tango down!” Jones crowed.

“To the door!” Connor called.

Lights snapped on. Someone shouted. Connor reached the door ahead of the Elect, and quickly examined it.

A security door. Heavy steel with a thin wooden overlay, it would resist boots, breaching rounds, battering rams, while resembling a conventional door. The hinges, recessed into the sturdy frame, were shielded from shotguns and thermal cutters. The handle and cylinder were painted to look like brass, but he knew they were made of far stronger allows.

“Breacher up!” Connor called. “Someone go around the back and check for a rear door!”

“Moving,” Smith said.

Crouching low, Smith headed around the back. Jones and Brown covered the door. Connor set his breaching bag down and got to work.

He secured a door knocker on the knob, then grabbed a water impulse charge and pasted it on the door. He daisy-chained the detcord together, then double-checked the knots.

“Hurry up,” Brown said. “I hear the guards waking up.”

“Want me to blow you up too?” Connor growled.

Connor rifled around the bag until he found the spool of shock tube. He looped the working end around the detcord knots, then grabbed the breach bag with one hand and held the spool in the other

“Back up around the corner,” Connor said. “It’s gonna be loud.”

The men retreated. Connor let the shock tube play out. Jones took point. Brown knelt behind him, under a window. Connor took up the rear. Connor cut the shock tube, stowed the spool, and retrieved a detonator. He swiftly attached the detonator to the shock tube, shouldered his bag, and hooked his finger into the detonator’s ring pull.

“I have control,” Connor called. “Three. Two. One!”

He opened his mouth and yanked the pin.

The blast rocked the world. Connor’s eyeshields muted his earpieces. Smoke spewed out the impact point. Car alarms screamed. Glass splintered and shattered. The heavy window rattled in its frame but held.

A security window. Blast resistant, likely ballistic resistant too. A shame.

“Go!” Brown yelled.

Jones sprang to his feet and rounded the corner. Connor glanced beside and behind him, checking for witnesses, then followed Brown around the corner.

What was left of the door lay in shattered pieces on the floor. The wooden overlay had burned off to reveal the steel core. Jones charged into the darkness, weapon raised, and—

A shotgun bellowed.

Jones stumbled. A second blast, and he dropped to the floor.

Brown rushed in, carbine cracking off a long string of shots. Connor waited for a heartbeat, long enough for Brown to draw fire, then entered.

Darkness. Total darkness. He could barely see. The Liberated must have had night vision augmentations.

He had a flashlight.

He clicked it on. The soft light flooded the interior of the room beyond, revealing Jones lying at Connor’s feet. At the far side of the room, a limp body flopped down the stairs, still hanging on to a shotgun.

Brown shot the body in the head.

Jones grunted, picked himself up, and swept himself off.

Connor stepped around Jones, sweeping his area of responsibility.

“Clear!” Connor yelled.

“Clear!” Brown agreed.

“Jones, you alright?” Connor asked.

“Didn’t even hurt,” Jones said.

“Friendly!” Smith shouted.

Connor turned to the voice. Smith stepped out the kitchen door.

“How the hell did you get in that way?” Connor wondered.

Smith smirked.

“Secret. Kitchen clear. Tango down.”

“Clicker,” Jones said.

Brown lifted his head and opened his mouth. An unpleasant sensation crawled over Connor’s skin.

“Tango upstairs, on the right of the stairs. He’s barricaded himself inside a room with thick walls and a reinforced door,” Brown said.

“Let’s go,” Jones said.

The Elect formed on him, rushing for the stairs. Connor hung back, hesitating. In the STS they would have cleared the ground floor before moving up, regardless of what sensors or magic said. Against his instincts and training, he trailed behind them, taking the rear position.

Connor flowed up the stairs, keeping to the outer edge of the steps, watching the uncleared space behind him. The others just barreled up the middle. The boards creaked under their weight.

Who trained them? Were they even trained? Or did they just rely solely on their powers?

That wasn’t a bad thing. The less competent the Elect, the easier it was for him in the end.

The stairs fed into a wide landing. To Connor’s left was an open door. The door on the right was shut. The team fanned out, covering the right-hand door.

Connor ducked into the other room and glanced around. Empty.

Jones tried the doorknob. It refused to budge. He backed up, roared a challenge, and charged at the door. When he reached top speed, he launched a powerful kick.

And bounced right off.

“Son of a bitch…”

Connor struggled to keep himself from laughing.

“My turn. Cover me,” Connor said.

This door was the cousin of the main door. Reinforced frame, recessed hinges, heavy-duty bolts. Jones’ boot had left an ugly black mark against the white paint, but otherwise left it untouched.

Connor pulled out the other water impulse charge from his bag. Peeled off the adhesive backing. Stuck it against the door. Fastened the door knocker. And passed the breaching blanket to Jones.

“You know how to use this?” Connor asked.

“It’s a shield, right?”

“Something like that. Hold it up and get everyone behind you.”

Jones unfurled the blanket to its full length and gripped it by its rear handles. Brown and Smith lined up behind him. Swiftly but carefully, Connor daisy-chained the explosives together, tied on another loop of shock tube, and fell back.

Jones and his crew had no experience with explosive breaches. They were uncomfortably close to the charge, counting on the blanket to save them. They made the rookie mistake of sticking their butts and elbows out from the blanket, exposing them to the blast.

Connor didn’t correct them.

He squeezed around the stack and backed up into the empty bedroom.

“Where are you going?” Brown asked.

“I need room to work. Stay there and cover me.”

Connor set down the breaching bag and took out his breaching shears. Cut the shock tube. Attached the detonator. Stowed his things. Inserted his finger into the ring pull.

“I have control! Three! Two! One!”

He yanked.

The boom rocked the house. Blast waves bounced off the walls and ceiling, assaulting Connor from every direction. His insides quivered for a heart-stopping moment. Teeth gritted, Connor raised his railgun and stepped out into the landing.

Brown and Smith had lost their balance, propping themselves up against the balusters. Jones heaved the blanket aside and shouldered his long gun. Connor seized Smith and pulled him back on his feet.

“Come on! Let’s go!” Connor called.

His iron grip held Smith in place for a moment. Long enough for Jones to step through the doorway, Brown to recover and stumble in after Jones. Connor released Smith, and the Elect followed his comrades. Connor stayed behind him, railgun at high ready, muzzle aiming at the ceiling.

A bestial roar reverberated in the safe room.

A huge serpentine form surged out the room. It rammed into Jones and Smith, flinging them aside. Screeching, it raised its arms high.

Connor shone his light at its face.

It had the black hair and blacker eyes and a man, and the body of a monster. Its elongated jaws opened to reveal a drooling, fleshy tunnel lined with razor teeth. Bony blades curved in wicked inward-facing hooks from the underside of its lanky arms. Its fleshy body wriggled bonelessly, cocking its natural weapons.

Connor fired.

The ultra-high-velocity flechette blasted half its human forehead away. Unperturbed, it lurched forward and whirled its blades around. Brown raised his arms, guarding his face.

The blades sheared clean through his forearms.

Screaming, Brown backed away, blood pulsing through his stumps. Connor pressed the trigger again, but a recessed red LED glared into his eyes. Low charge, too low to fire.

Jones picked himself off the floor. Smith went rock-and-roll, stitching rounds up the creature’s body. The monstrous worm propelled itself forward and spun around again, plunging its left arm-blade into Jones’ throat.

Jones went down, gurgling through a geyser of hot blood, his spinal cord visible through the massive wound.

Sidestepping, Connor clicked the railgun down to half-power and fired. The flechette punched through its neck and out the other side. The thing didn’t even slow down. Raising its bone scythes, it advanced.

Smith stepped up, palm extended, and shouted a word.

Black sludge jetted out from his open hand, pouring over the monster. Bone and flesh dissolved under the hot, stinking liquid. A bone blade dropped to the ground.

The creature screamed, this time in pain, twisting away from Smith. Smith continued spraying it down, covering its body. Connor clicked his railgun up to full power, bringing the sights on its head. The monster howled—

—The light turned green—

Connor fired.

The rest of its head exploded.

It went down.

Connor backed away from the thing, breathing hard. That was close. Too close. Smith had hidden his acid spray from him. It must have been how he got through the back door.

He looked at Smith again, assessing him in the light of his newly revealed ability. The Elect squirted out another dose of acid over the monster’s head. Then, keeping an eye on the body, he turned to Brown.

Brown lay slumped against the balusters, holding his arms close. His face had gone pale, his breathing shallow. Arterial blood, crimson in the light, pulsed out his wounds.

“Need… help,” Brown muttered.

Smith held out his other hand. Green fluid gushed out, covering the stumps. Brown heaved a sigh of relief.

Jones picked himself off the floor.

“Damn… That actually hurt,” he muttered.

“You alright?” Connor asked.

Jones turned around. All trace of the huge slash was gone.

“He didn’t touch my spine. I’m good.” He glanced at the melting mass of meat and smirked. “You got the fucker?”

“We did. I’m going to check out the safe room. Go downstairs and back clear the lower floor.”

“House… clear…” Brown muttered.

“Then pull security. I’m going to exploit the site.”

“Roger that.”

Jones noisily lumbered down the stairs. Smith continued spraying green fluid on Brown. Brown stayed where he was, eyes closed. Connor slipped around the corpse and entered the safe room.

The door stood ajar, buckled and blackened from the force of the blast. Lamps filled the room with warm yellow light. A crumpled blanket covered the queen-sized bed. At a corner, a closed laptop sat on a worktable.

He strode to the table. The laptop was still intact, still wired to a charger. A second charger fed to the smartglasses, lying on the floor. He scooped both devices up and rushed out the safe room.

He brushed past Smith and Brown and dumped the machines into the breacher bag. Released his hold on the railgun. And peeked out into the landing.

Brown was still seated on the floor, breathing heavily. Smith sprayed more green fluid over Brown’s severed arms, his back to Connor.

Connor drew his handgun. Thumbed the fire selector to subsonic. Breathed.

Exhaled.

Shot Smith in the back of the head.

Smith toppled to the floor. Brown recoiled, eyes popping, jaw dropping, frozen by the sight.

Connor shot him in the temple.

He shouldered the breaching bag. Strode to the bodies. Shot them in the head once more.

The pistol was spooky quiet. The sounds of impact covered up the gunshots. Connor didn’t care for such a tiny round, but he understood its utility. He holstered the handgun and patted down the bodies.

He found the gravcar’s keys in Smith’s pocket. Stuffed the dead men’s wallets and eyeshields into his dump pouch. Then he brought up his railgun to the compressed ready, dialed it up to full power, and headed back down.

Jones stormed through the front door, carbine held low, teeth bared in fury.

Connor’s brain ran on autopilot. It put together a thousand little details—body language, weapon, intent, the energy rolling off Jones—and issued a single command.

Connor fired.

The hypervelocity flechette struck Jones in the chest. The flechette cracked his armor and kept on going, fragmenting into hundreds of high-speed fragments, ripping through his lungs, his heart, his spine, and spattered against his rear plate.

Jones dropped

Descending the stairs, Connor clicked the weapon down to half power. Jones gasped loudly, forcing air into his blasted lungs. With his left hand, he tried to push himself up. With the other, he swung up the carbine.

Connor fired.

The flechette shattered Jones’ left elbow. Jones slumped back down. His other arm swung around and triggered a burst into the ceiling. Connor ducked. Clouds of plaster fell on him.

“You… motherfucker—”

Connor fired.

The round punched through Jones’ nose and erupted into his brain.

It would have killed a normal man. Jones was a regenerator, and God only knew how much punishment he could take.

Advancing on the body, Connor fired again, and again, and again, riddling his head with flechettes. Jones moaned and shuddered after every shot.

One last shot, and Jones went still.

Connor breathed.

And shot Jones in the knees, the hips, the shoulders.

With every round, a small part of him died. He reminded himself that he wasn’t being gratuitous. He just couldn’t afford Jones getting up again. A five-millimeter flechette did not inspire confidence in its stopping ability.

When this was over, he’d have to tell Kayla to tell Lamb to find a way to accelerate the railgun’s recharge time. In close quarters against a regenerator, counting on the railgun was dicey. Shit, in close quarters, counting on the railgun at full power was dicey, period.

In the distance, sirens howled. Connor rushed outside. The gravcar was still where he’d left it. Light blazed from surrounding windows. Silhouettes appeared in the light. Connor climbed in and punched his destination into the car’s navigational computer. The autopilot took over, lifting the car straight into the air.

Connor threw the bag into the seat next to him. Then he whipped out his burner phone, powered it on, and called Steele.

The Elect picked up on the first ring.

“We have a problem,” Connor said.

“What happened?”

“We killed the target. But your boys are dead. All of them.”

Steele’s voice hardened.

“What happened?”

“Taylor transformed into a worm monster. He was fast. Strong. And he could rapidly heal his wounds. He blew right through the team. Took a lot of killing.”

“Damn it. Are you okay?”

“Yes. Listen, can we meet?”

“Meet? Why? The Pantheon will—”

“I recovered a couple of computers. I give it to you, you give it your guys, maybe we could find out if someone higher up ordered Taylor to whack me. And if Taylor has his hand in other schemes.”

Steele exhaled.

“Where do you want to meet?”

“Hatfield Park. I hand the stuff over to you, then I disappear.”

“Got it. Be there in twenty minutes.”

Connor hung up. Powered off his phone.

Reloaded his guns.

And made another call on his eyeshields.

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