This is taking too long.
Stranton pulled his black trench coat closer around himself and tucked his visored cap a bit firmer on his head. The inlaid gold threads and emblem on its front, declaring him an officer of the secret police with the honorary title of Grand Hunter, gleaming slightly in the faint light that fell from the streetlamp six metres away. The lamp was almost muffled by the many specks of white snow that whirled past it in the icy night wind, each flake rushing through the cone of illumination before tumbling onwards through the darkness.
He gazed discontently at the darkened sky, and the lamp cast deep shadows in his hollow cheeks.
The Intel was clear. Well get a green light soon, im sure. Gelbstein answered his partner, while checking his datapad. It was every bit as late as it felt, but he didnt want to call attention to it. Stranton always tensed before a kill, and Gelbstein knew it. Eight years of hunting down illegally enhanced individuals, dissenters and other undesirables had given him a finely tuned sense of how to keep his friends head cool. It was never a problem for Stranton to stay sharp once the final confirmation had been given, but the waiting always made him jumpy. In truth, the order was indeed delayed. The two men had been standing behind a low wall for the past hour, which not only provided a certain amount of protection against the cold, but also shielded them from unwanted eyes in the residential building by which they were waiting. The marks were in there. Two to four illegal cybernetically enhanced individuals. Cyborgs to each other. Danger to everyone else. Precisely the reason why two specially trained squads were on standby within the speeders that were inconspicuously parked down the street. Hopefully the marks would come quietly. But in all probability, they wouldn't.
Two blue blinks of light emanated from Gelbsteins data pad. Its confirmed. He said, tucking the small plastic slate into his coat pocket. Stranton nodded and pressed down on the commlink in his collar, softly speaking the predetermined signal to the waiting troopers. Down the street, doors sprang open. A dozen men in black tactical outfits, exited the speeders, falling into well drilled formations as they moved up towards the tall apartment building. Their faces were hidden beneath balaclavas, dark face paint and the small telescope-like visual aids that gave their left eyes the liberty of night vision, thus making the white text on the back of their vests the only apparent means of telling them apart. Officially, it was an empty building, having been closed down due to unhealthy conditions. This gave the black clad men the liberty of not having to worry about innocent bystanders. Not that this was usually the most major of concerns. No lasting results are free, as Chief Huntsman Torque once put it. If nothing else, this meant less paperwork.
Stranton and Gelbstein fell in with the two six-man squads, each taking the safety off their sidearms. Matte silvery pistols loaded with flat-point bullets. Excellent stopping power at the cost of long range accuracy. Gelbstein lingered in front of the house as his squad spread into a wide line, fanning around the corners of the building, while Stranton and the squad designated to spearhead the operation pushed themselves against the wall on either side of the front door. It was metallic, fully in keeping with the grey façade of the structure.
Planting charge. Eleven earpieces crackled, as one of the figures fixed a small package to the opening mechanism of the entrance. Blasting. He said, his voice distorted by mask and commlink, as he signed a countdown from 3 with his left hand. There was a flash of light and a brief shower of sparks, before a steel-heeled boot kicked the door open and the men moved inside. The six weapon-mounted flashlight beams cast long shadows as they swept from room to room, gradually moving upwards through the central stairwell, methodically searching the six floors of the building from the bottom up.
Outside, Gelbstein waited, and listened to the hushed voices that buzzed in his earpiece. Room after room was proclaimed clear as the squad advanced through the building; opening closed doors with caution and checking every corner.
Stranton held his pistol up as he advanced through the narrow corridor on the fifth floor of the apartment building. Garbage, broken glass and debris from the crumbling ceiling cluttered the floor near the edge of the wall. The dark form of one of the specialized troops was backlit in front of him. The corridor smelled of dust and insulation foam. A muffled thump from above broke the silence. Stranton froze, and looked up towards the ceiling. He reached for his commlink while straining his ears.
His earpiece filled with hushed confirmations.
"Alpha four, all clear."
"Alpha six, all clear."
"Alpha five, all clear."
"Alpha two, all clear."
"Alpha one, all clear."
"Alpha three, report." The silence seemed almost deafening. "Alpha three, what's your status?" The sound of gunfire from the above floor ripped the stillness apart.
"Contact! Alpha four reporting con-" He was shouting so loudly they didn't need the commlinks to hear.
"Move!" Stranton's order sent every trooper scrambling for the stairs to get to the top floor. Stranton rounded a corner and ran up the concrete steps, taking care not to think about the dingy metal railing or the fact that there was a straight drop to the ground floor if one was to stumble over the edge. Alpha five and six burst out of a doorway on the opposing side of the stairwell and immediately proceeded upwards. More shots came from the top floor. Stranton was about to call in backup from the waiting squad when he had to throw himself towards the wall. In what seemed like an explosion of dust and insulation, Alpha Four blew through the thin wall of the top floor. With his back first and his limbs trailing behind him he smashed into the metal railing. Stranton heard something snap - he hoped it had been some of the balustrade fittings - and Alpha Four slumped down on the floor like a discarded rag doll. Alpha Five, having made it to the man-sized breach in the wall - swung around and opened fire into the opening. "Visual contact!" he bellowed. His machinegun pumped round after round through the opening, raining empty shell casings onto the floor where they landed with a soft jingle. The sound seemed almost misplaced in the greyish dust cloud and angry roar of the gun. Alpha Five began stepping through the opening, his shots only pausing momentarily as he nearly stumbled over the rubble. Alpha Six fell in behind him, albeit with more controlled bursts of fire. Stranton made it to the opening and peered in. The room was chaos. Apart from the general mess brought on by a wall being smashed, there was a clutter of old electronic spare parts, discarded food, dangling wires and a smell of ozone. Across the room was an open door through which a corridor with doors on either side could be seen. At the far end of the corridor was a fast moving, human form. Stranton only glimpsed the running man as he turned a corner, retreating from the barrage of bullets that were punching craters into the walls and kicking up explosions of dust everywhere they hit. He saw what appeared to be a man of about 20 years of age. Dressed in loose, ragged clothes and with an almost unnatural agility and speed. Almost Stranton thought. It is entirely unnatural. That is precisely why we are here. "Don't lose him!' he shouted and ran through the breach, catching up with the two men. As they rushed through the corridor, Stranton registered something moving at the far left of his periphery of vision. One of the doors were opening. Instinctively he brought his pistol up and fired two shots. The recoil spread down his arm as the pistol spat out the flat pointed bullets. Wood splintered and something soft gave way. Through the halfway opened door Stranton saw a young, skinny man, grasping at the sizeable hole in his chest. He seemed to turn halfway as he fell behind the holed door, and a spherical object slid out of his hand and rolled along the floor. A grenade. Years of experience and training paid off as Stranton threw himself down the corridor. His eardrums vibrated furiously as the explosion blew out the windows of the adjoining room. More of the infernal grey dust from the walls flowed into the corridor, making him choke. Staggering to his feet he continued the pursuit of the escapee while pressing down on his comm link. "One target eliminated."
Outside, Gelbstein confirmed his partner's message. He had worried for a moment when the explosion above had rained broken glass down on the concrete below. But only for a moment.
Stranton rounded the corner at the end of the corridor and caught up with Alpha Five and Alpha Six. They were slowly creeping along the walls towards a narrow flight of stairs leading upwards. Cold night air swept down from it, a refreshing change from the dust. "He is not here, sir." Alpha Six said. "He must have gone to the roof. We have him cornered." Stranton did not answer, but signalled for Alpha Five and Alpha Six to move up the stairs. They emerged onto the rooftop, checking their surroundings with practiced efficiency. The roof was a maze of old solar panels and antennas, all long outdated and doubtlessly not functioning, their original duties of supplying the building with electricity, heat and communication no longer being needed. Around the edge of the roof was a low wall, standing out against the dark sky with a thin layer of white snow. Alpha Six waved his hand at a pair of footprints leading through the snow. The prints lead about 4 metres away from the stairs before disappearing behind a large, rectangular metal box which seemingly housed ventilation systems, judging from the still fans that sat in its crevices and the rusty pipes that went down into the building from it. Silently, Alpha Six, Alpha Five and Stranton spread out until they were evenly distributed along the width of the rooftop. Then they began moving forwards. Fresh snow creaked under Stranton's boot and the wind tugged at his coat, chilling him to his skin. Something darted out from behind a solar panel and quickly disappeared behind another. "East corner." Stranton whispered into his comm link, as he slowly walked towards the panels. Suddenly, motion erupted from behind them. A form launched itself in a nearly impossible arch, flying several metres and landing in the snow a couple of metres behind Stranton in one fluid motion. The figure immediately broke into a run, rushing towards the edge of the building. "Visual!" Stranton cried, bringing his gun up. Alpha Six erupted from behind two panels like a jack-in-the-box, getting off two shots before being tackled by the fast moving creature and stumbling back. Stranton chased after it, cursing the bad aiming conditions under his breath. The thing reached the low wall and clambered onto it in a hunched position, seemingly looking down the steep drop. Stranton brought the pistol up and took careful aim, right between the wide shoulders. The wind tugged at his hat. "We have you cornered!" Stranton shouted. "We" was always good to throw around when trying to discourage a target. It implied mass and organisation behind the individual speaking. The creature merely kept peering over the edge. "Give yourself up and your life may be spared!" The figure looked over its shoulder at him. Stranton noticed that at least one eye was a replacement and that the positioning of the Plaskin panels suggested deep-surgery, possibly accounting for the extreme agility. At least one of the arms had also received augmentation judging from the pale blue light that was emitted from under the thin fabric of the shirt which was flapping in the icy gusts atop the roof. The man frowned and looked down again. Stranton fired. The first shot blasted itself through the concrete, sending a shower of debris tumbling down into the darkness. The man suddenly sprang into motion, as if awakened from a dream. His legs kicked off and launched him into a high arch, sending him over the edge in a controlled fall. Swearing, Stranton rushed towards the edge.
Beta Four looked up as he heard the noise of a heavy-duty handgun being fired. As he gazed up, into the night sky, he raised his rifle in alarm. Something was falling from the roof. He barely registered that it was moving directly towards him before it hit his shoulders with monumental force, hammering him into the ground.
Gelbstein spied Beta Four being crushed under the feet of the jumping being and immediately called out to the surrounding men. A few opened fire, but the thing was moving almost before Beta Four had come to rest on the ground. Halfway running, halfway jumping it raced silently away into the night, disappearing among the squalid buildings and abandoned vehicles. Two men took up pursuit but Gelbstein knew they wouldn't catch up. Cyborgs were usually unmarked when it came to ID chips and other tracing mechanisms, so if they got away from the strike zone they were nearly impossible to catch. "We lost him." he said. "Sweep the building."
The troopers went in, save for the two who had chased after the escapee. They returned, winded and empty-handed after a few minutes and went to work with covering up the unpleasant sight of Beta Four's unnaturally bent body. Stranton joined Gelbstein outside shortly after and the two partners sat silently in the pale light of the streetlamp. Half an hour passed before Beta One walked up to them and saluted. "We have completed the sweep, sir." Gelbstein looked up. "What did you find?" he asked. "Well..." Beta One hesitated. "There were three friendly casualties. Beta Four and Alpha Four were killed by the one that got away. Alpha Three was also found dead in one of the rooms on the top floor. Blunt force trauma to the head." Gelbstein nodded slowly. "And the good news?" Stranton asked. Beta One straightened up. "There is one confirmed kill. A real mess-" "We know that." Stranton interrupted. "I asked for news." Beta One took care to sound confident, as he addressed the two Grand Hunters. "We apprehended two live ones." Gelbstein and Stranton both looked up. "You may want to have a look yourselves." Beta One suggested. "Sirs." he added quickly.
The dusty room was filled with garbage, and the cold wind howled through a hole in the dirty window. Beta One led the way, closely followed by Stranton and Gelbstein. He entered the room and turned left, walking up to the end wall. Down the height of the wall ran a thin crevice, just wide enough to poke ones fingers into. Beta Two and Beta Three stood on each their side of the room with watchful expressions. Slightly annoyed with the apparent waste of manpower in guarding an empty room, Stranton frowned. But only until Beta One grabbed the crevice and slid half the wall aside, revealing a built-in closet. The space inside was only about half a metre wide, and two metres long. A young woman was sitting inside it with a small girl in her arms. The woman had dark, shoulder long hair which had been dirtied by the grey dust of the old building. The baggy, loose clothes she was wearing had likewise been affected by their surroundings. The little girl in her arms had blonde hair and clothes that seemed several sizes too big for her. She had buried her face in the woman's arms when Beta One had opened the closet. "Here they are, sir." he said. The woman looked up, revealing a blue tinge shining through her skin on her forehead and in a semicircle between her right eye and ear. "Modifications?" Stranton asked Beta One. "Yes sir." Beta One said. "The female has had sub-skin modifications. She has also admitted to deep surgery with very little interrogation needed." "And the girl?" Gelbstein asked. "Only superficially, sir." Beta One said. Gelbstein felt a tingle of relief flow through him. "She had some assisting machinery fitted to her left hand when we found her, but it came off with no trouble." Stranton stepped forward. "What is your name?" he asked. The woman looked him in the eyes without answering, and the girl hid her face deeper in the woman's arms. "It does speak, does it not?" Stranton asked, tilting his head. "Its Stream." the woman said. Stranton gave a crooked smile. "Your real name." "It is my real name." she said. "And the girl?". The child looked up. "Where is daddy?" Stranton noticed that her eyes were blue. Not the pale blue glow of a data wire, but the natural blue of the clear sky. The woman held the child closer. "Her name is Shine." "I see." Stranton straightened up and took a step back, then turned to Beta One. "Continue cleaning up this mess, and have someone take the girl to a re-education centre. She might be saved." Beta One nodded. "And the grown one?" Stranton looked over his shoulder. "Wait till the girl has left the building, then get rid of her." "Yes sir." Beta One waved, and Beta Three went to the closet and pulled the girl from the woman's arms, in spite of her protests. The girl cried and reached for the woman as she was carried from the room. The eyes of the woman were wet and filled with anger as she looked at Stranton. "How can you do this?" she asked. "To a fellow human being." Stranton straightened his cap. "I would have trouble doing that. But you are no such thing." Gelbstein turned and began walking out. Stranton followed him. "What makes you so much more human than us?" the woman asked just as he reached the door. Stranton did not look back as he answered. "Because I chose to be."
The men left, and Beta One took the safety off his machinegun. Is this wrong? He brought it into a firing position. Is it true what they tell us about them? Could the government be telling us half truths? The recoil shook his arm and the smell of gun smoke filled the room. Of course not. Dont be be silly.