Nine officers in total, followed by the black-clad shooter with the assault rifle. The fanned into the building behind the light post where the programmer had been executed only a moment ago, moving to their next target. Me.
These can’t be Captain Slate’s cops. Something else is going on here.
I ducked behind a stairwell in the back corner of the building. My odds would be better just to escape, but I had to find out what was going on before these police impersonators went too far. I needed answers, and the black-armored rifleman was my place to get them.
They broke through the front door, rushing into the antechamber at the front of the building, flashlights and pistols pointed.
They found their target in the center of the black room, my hands at my sides as the nine men circled me.
“Police!” They said. “Keep your hands where I can see them.”
They hesitated to turn toward the voice, sights trained on me all the while.
The executioner from the armored personnel carrier stepped into the room, black combat boots bearing down on the floor with steady, confident steps. He wore custom-cut ballistic armor over his shoulders, chest, and forearms, flat black with carbon plating, matching a smooth mask with two angular, scowling eyeholes. A dark, well-worn voice came through the vertical slats over the mouth as he leaned his automatic weapon over his shoulder.
“Not too fast, boys.” He said. “You learn to savor moments like these.
“Azrael.” He said. “Your reputation precedes you. I’ve been looking for you for a long time.”
“You’ll regret that you found me.”
He scoffed. “You’re as bold as I thought you’d be. I’ll really enjoy killing you.”
“And I’ll enjoy watching you try before I personally send you to jail for impersonation and first degree murder.”
He laughed. “Clean shots, boys.” He said. “Make ‘em count.”
“You’d better.” I said. “For your sakes.”
In a flash the room filled with smoke, gunshots sounding off in the wake of my instantaneous disappearance.
They waited, pistols up as the smoke dissipated to reveal an empty room.
Manacle snarled. “Spread out. Find him.”
They fanned into the hallways surrounding the room, checking corners and empty rooms in search of a target.
I couldn’t be sure about whether or not they were real officers, so I couldn’t risk assaulting them directly until I verified the truth.
A pair of them walked down a hallway, coming to a staircase leading to the upper floors. One signaled the other to follow as he carefully began making his way upwards, the aged beams creaking beneath his footsteps. They moved carefully up to the second floor, the leader of the two gesturing for his partner to follow him up to the top.
The boards groaned beneath his weight before cracking, dropping him to the stairs beneath him.
The leading officer gazed down into the hole, searching for his partner in the dark pit beneath him.
I shot past the officer at the lower landing, pushing my hand into his chest and jumping into the shadow of the neighboring hallway as he steadied himself and aimed down the hall.
He peeled off three shots before he paused, breathing hard as he shot the flashlight’s beam around the room.
I knelt in an alley, covering beneath a window on the building’s first floor. I dialed Captain Slate’s number as I examined the confused officer’s police badge, something I’d taken in our passing exchange.
“Badge number 498209. I need to know if he’s one of your guys.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Alright, alright. What’s the number?”
“Officer Richards, 498209.”
I heard the sound of Slate’s keyboard as a flashlight beam hit the wall opposite me through the window.
“Sooner than later.”
“The number’s not in the registry.”
“Then I’m going to one messy pickup at 104th and Marshall.”
“Wait you gotta tell me – ”
I fired up through the window, wrenching the gun from the impersonator’s hand and choking him out beneath my shoulder.
Two men in the hallway came for the door as I shot out of it, punching one in the gut and slamming him into the wall as I doubled back to crack the other one’s jaw. I gripped the gun in his hand as he fired twice reactionarily, controlling the weapon to redirect the shots. The first hit the other officer’s hand, causing him to drop his pistol before the second round went through his leg. I uppercut the remaining officer, slamming his head into the wall before flipping him over my shoulder to strike him against the opposite side.
I shot down the hallway and into the stairwell. They’d be coming in response to the gunshots.
I grappled up the gap through the center of the spiral staircase, firing to the next floor of the building.
An officer ran down a hallway, gun trained on the stairwell before him. His fears screamed at him, tormenting for the answer. What the hell was happening?
A black shade flew out in front of him, barring his neck and slamming him into the floor.
Six false officers and a mercenary remained, four of the former come to find their fallen associates in the first floor hallway.
“Good god.” One said. “What the hell did he do to you?”
A moment passed before the ceiling exploded, chunks of concrete collapsing into the hall as the ceiling fell, bringing down with it my fury. I came down hard on the first of the remainders, smashing the back of his skull into the wall with multiple strikes before moving to the second one, wrenching his arm over his shoulder and slamming him into the floor before finishing with a sharp elbow into the small of his back.
I shot back up into the ceiling as the two remaining impersonators ran up through the building.
The first of them examined a hallway on the second floor first, slowly walking closer to the hole that had been blasted into the floor.
His hands clenched tighter around his weapons as his gaze shot through the darkness, desperately hunting for the target he’d come for, yet doubting his chances.
Three muffled gunshots came from the other side of the floor, three holes coming up through it in rapid succession, yards apart.
Got him. He thought. Had to. Nobody’s that fast.
The drywall beside him tore open like the building was being demolished.
I landed before their captain, stepping out of the darkness to drop an unconscious body in front of him.
“Not bad.” He said. “You might still surprise me yet.”
“Who are you?”
“In my line of work they call me Manacle.”
“Manacle?” I said.
“Might be the worst codename I’ve ever heard.”
“Eh. Looks good on business cards.” He said, leveling a pistol on me. “And everyone looking for a mercenary will remember it after tonight.”
He fired three shots as I ducked to one side, coming up under his arm and striking his jaw, gripping the firearm in attempts to pull it from his hand. He swung high with his right arm, blocked by mine before he countered my knee, pushing back my footing and blowing open the lock. He fired the pistol again as I pushed up from the floor, tagging the side of my leg as I shot up into his torso. I took him to the floor, striking at the mask as hard as I could before he pushed me off. We fought on the floor, a pointed knee tearing across his mask as I spun across the concrete. He swung a hard fist over his side as I rolled away, narrowly dodging a strike that cracked the concrete floor.
We both returned to our feet, sizing each other up to assess the threat our opponent had to offer.
A set of lights came up on his arms as the servos rallied for the next strike. I’d seen this tech before.
He threw forward hard, bearing down into my chestplate with the first one before the second hit the side of my ribs. His knee blasted up into the same spot, striking while the iron was hot before cracking a few hits into my stomach and shooting one into my jaw before knocking me into the floor again.
He stepped around my body, cocking his pistol.
“Generally I have a no-exceptions policy to conceal my employer’s identity, but I think it’s fairly obvious. You’re not as dumb as you look.” He said. “Or as much of a novice, but our mutual friend provided me a contingency for that.”
Probably two, maybe three cracked ribs, lower abdominal hemorrhage, busted blood vessel in my cheek, zygomatic bruising, not to mention the extra love taps.
He cocked the pistol on the back of my head. Time to make a move.
“I guess hers was money well-spent.”
Shift right, up the arm.
The gun discharged by the side of my head. Guess I can add concussive ear damage to the list.
Knee for the gut.
Up into the mask.
Rotate the shoulder, follow around.
I stretched his arm over my knee, cracking the arm augmentation as the bars broke out of joint.
I rotated him into the floor, breaking the augmentation on his opposite with my opposite knee as I turned with his motion, one wave moving through the air. Next were the knees.
I rolled around his side, grabbing the end of his left leg to break the augment. The armor’s composition wouldn’t let me hurt him yet, but I had to level the playing field.
The compressor on his leg fired, shooting me back from him as he turned upward and kicked me away.
Three more pistol rounds glanced off my shoulders and chestplate as I rushed him, coming in from the side and driving into his shoulder. He fell back from the impact as I turned into his abdomen, smashing him into a pillar in the center of the room. I fired a few hard hits forward, pounding him into the steel column.
The sound of police sirens echoed up the distant street as Manacle and I distanced from each other, red and blue lights flashing through the windows and the open doors.
“You’re something.” He said. “The skills, the costume, the style. I bet you think you’re something special.”
“I’m just trying to protect this city.”
“Please.” He said. “Everybody thinks they’re different.
“I served in Tunis a long time ago. Most of the people there were happy to see what we brought them, the new order, but some of them thought theirs was better. They fought.
“But we put them down. We made examples of them.
“That’s what happens to you guys, Azrael. The hero types. You all end up the same. ”
The officers lined up on either side of Manacle, guns trained on me.
“You think I’m just some asshole with a hero complex?”
“That’s exactly what you are.” He said. “I’ve killed a hundred just like you, and even if you have impressed me a bit, you’ll be just as forgettable as the rest.”
“You have a lot left to learn about me.”
Another moment as every light in the area blackened for just a second, a flash of smoke, a hail of gunshots.
Guess that makes three.
I stumbled into the bay window of the master bedroom, collapsing into the room with a thud.
I clamored to my feet as Iris rounded the corner.
“Hey there, pretty lady.” I said, a drop of blood rolling down my chin from the corner of my smile.
“Come on.” She said, heaving a sigh before smiling and opening her arms. “Come here, you gorgeous idiot.
“How bad is it?” She asked, warm white hands shimmering over my fractured ribs.
“How bad can it be?” I asked.
“Well it’s worse than that.” I said. “Vivian’s hired a mercenary who’s infiltrated the police department and murdered the programmer. Guy’s got good tech, looks like the Fibre prototype she stole from CloudTech late last summer.”
“That would explain some of this.” She said.
“It’s gonna be damn near impossible to tell the good cops from the bad ones.” I said. “We’re gonna need some outside help.”
“What do you have in mind?”
I smiled. “I think I have a few favors I can call in.”
Captain Slate opened his office door, throwing his briefcase on his desk and leaning against it before doing a double take at the silhouette through his window.
“Damn, you coulda gave me a heart attack.” He said, opening the pane to let me inside. “Almost shot you.”
“You think so.” I said.
“You here about what happened earlier?”
“Worse.” I said. “Earlier tonight I watched a police officer execute a man.”
“What?” He asked, visibly shocked at the idea.
“Found out he wasn’t one of your guys.” I said. “Which is why by the end of the night, he’ll be out of the department and in the hospital.”
“Impersonators?” He asked.
“Mercenaries.” I said. “One in particular, ex-Marine called Manacle. He’s the man in charge, got the rest of the hired guns working under him. I’ll need his file.”
“Of course.” He said. “What can I do?”
“Get your boys on a new frequency, only word of mouth.” I said. “Police comms have been compromised, keeping Manacle in the dark will be the first step to taking his cops out. Use an encrypted channel if you can.”
“Got it.” He said.
“I’ll be in contact with you every hour to recheck the new frequency and set a new passcode, I want all your men identifying with the code so I know who’s who.”
“Get the hell out of this department, put your family, the DA, and the mayor in police protection.” I said. “I’m not sure what Manacle is planning, but it won’t be good for any of you. Keep your eyes on your phone and your ears on the police band. I’ll be in touch.”
He sighed, running his hand through his hair. “Shit. Been years since it’s been this bad.”
“We’ve both been there, Aaron. And we’re both still here.”
“Maybe with a little less hair.” He smirked.
“Maybe.” I smiled. “I’ll be in touch.”
David Fadi sat in his apartment, working by the light of the computer monitor as he spoke tiredly on the phone. It wasn’t a few minutes before he hung up, standing up from the desk and moving to the kitchen through the hallway across from the dark living room. He poured himself a drink, moving back toward the officer and stopping in the hallway.
He smiled into the dark room. “We’ve gotta stop meeting like this.”
“You said that last time.” I said. “But you’re right, David.”
“Losing the voice action, huh?” He asked. “I suppose I’ll be able to turn on the lights next time?”
“Be my guest.” I said. “I don’t have much to hide from you.”
“Then maybe you could tell me why you’re here.” He said. “Because if it’s more good news about the increasingly approaching election, I’ve probably already heard.”
“Unfortunately not, although I hear your polls are going up.” I said. “I hate to ask, but I need tech.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Comms jammers.” I said. “Military grade. I know Albright’s not the shiny, overly philanthropic organization that sell themselves to be, especially considering their special operations departments.”
“Especially after Mark Davin’s arrest.” He said. “I’ll see what I can do. Anything else?”
“Anything else you might have for military-grade hardware.” I said.
“I’ll see what I can dig up.” He said. “But taking on Uncle Sam doesn’t sound like you. What’s it for?”
“Nothing good.” I said. “Mercenaries have infiltrated the police. Can’t trust anyone.”
“Well you can trust me.” He said. “I’ll do everything I can.”
“Thank you, David.” I said. “Stay off the streets.
I stood on my front porch, waiting for the moment.
Wouldn’t take long.
A blue streak shot down from the sky, colliding into the ground with a powerful landing.
He stood, wings folding behind him as he looked toward the porch.
Silver plating glinted in the moonlight at his shoulders and gauntlets, powerful form shifting as he walked toward the porch.
“I can’t hear the dramatic music swelling.” I said.
He ran his hands through his neatly quaffed blonde hair, smirking beneath his scarred eye. “And I thought last call was half an hour ago, so I guess we’re both missing part of the picture.” He said. “Now talk to me.”
“The police department’s been compromised.” I said. “Vivian’s mercenaries are going to tear everything apart.
“City’s on fire, Michael.”
“Then I’m glad you called.” He said. “Because I’ve got a plan.”
Copyright © Josiah Delnay 2016.