While writing Puddles and Whiskers I have been writing another story around John, Talia, and Eth. Unlike Puddles and Whiskers the pieces have been separate, mostly for editing purposes. Here I put together the first draft of them together before refining and moving the story forward. I am not convinced this is the best order, but its a start.
Near the Bottom…
Heat and humidity of Lower Stroud smack John in the face hard. Closing his office door John scans the area, old habit and key to longevity in Stroud. Smirking, John nods towards three members of the Mechanics, a local gang, attempting to look tough, not bored, outside of the Stop-n-Rob across the street. A few neon and holo signs plastering the front of the store remind him of things he needs…or wants. Turning away from his office, nothing new or unusual.
City services non-existent, garbage everywhere. Stepping over a “new” pile, John notes the taggers had a field day decorating all of the old model ground vehicles parked on both sides of the street. A sixteen-wheeled hauler rumbles past splashing water and garbage everywhere. Overhead, flight lanes packed with people heading to work.
Rounding the corner, John looks up, above nothing but concrete, glass, conduits, walkways, and elevated highways as far as the eye can see. The higher up, the more ways not to touch the ground. Closer to the ground, a mess. Ever present the “Cloud,” a collection of weather and pollution literally and metaphorically dividing Stroud into Lower and Upper. A few drops of “rain” splattering John’s coat and ground, sizzling where they touch.
Work, not wishing, the key to moving his office and life from Lower Stroud higher up. Pulling his wraparound smart glasses out of an interior pocket, John scanned the street for trouble one last time. Nothing. Nothing at all.
Still Low, an hour later…
Work, not wishing, Larry’s Bail Bonds fell into both. Necessary for those down on their luck, common to Lower Stroud, and work to people like John. Another “big score,” Larry knew how to get John back into the office. Standing outside Larry’s office, warring with his need for a job and Larry’s last “big score;” chasing a herg through a chop shop, into a bakery where in an explosion of flour he managed to knock the herg down only to find out he had taken care of his bail issue an hour earlier. Bracing for the worst, chasing down a bondskip illietheril extreme glider, John opened the door.
Striding through Larry’s front door John admired Larry’s desk. Despite the century, Larry kept paper records, piles of paper everywhere. Decorating the desk around the piles of paper, an ashtray filled with crumpled smokes and bits of paper. Two cups, John assumed coffee, on opposite sides of his desk sat on top of smaller piles of paper. Between the two tallest stacks of paper, an ancient battered monitor sat surrounded by chewed on pens. Behind all of this, Larry.
Corpulent, sweating and balding, wearing the same brown sweater and shirt John always saw him in, Larry looked up from the monitor as John entered, his beady black eyes narrowing with that look he got right before he gave bad news. Sometimes, John wondered if Larry ever moved from the chair. If there was a life support system hidden under the desk keeping Larry alive. John shook his head with amusement at the thought.
“Glad to see you are in a good mood. Have a seat,” gesturing to the only non-paper covered object in his office, “I got a big one for you and it could be the last job you ever have to take.”
“That big?” John said with obvious sarcasm.
“Three days ago Redtwist skipped out on his court hearing.”
“So. The cops can track him down. Why you bothering me with this one?”
Larry reached into a drawer on his right side, pulling out a battered brown box and dropping the box without ceremony in front of John.
“That’s why. Open it up?”
The odor of decay emanating from the box was palpable.
“Let me guess, his hand.”
“That’s why you’re the best,” sneered Larry.
“Like I said, your last job.”
Needing the isstas and wanting out, “I’ll take it,” John said. “Send the files to my car.”
Quiet in the Middle…
A few hours of quiet before Crescendo opened, the four-story club the center of social life for much of Stroud was also cold when the lights were off and empty. Fade enjoyed the quiet and cold. Walking through the kitchen, shining metal everywhere, Fade found his personal stash of coffee in the drawer under the coffee maker. His favorite mug filled with coffee, Fade continued his tour of the club; everything ready for another night.
Fade leaned back into his booth, rubbing his hands over his face, his table holo displaying Crescendo’s financial information on one side and the latest information from his informants. Pinching his fingers together and a wave, the financial information closed. A few sips of coffee and swipes with a finger later Fade found something interesting; splaying his fingers over the entry enlarged the file. Fade finished his coffee shortly before finishing the file, the entire time putting together a list of people who might come asking or would pay for the information.
Top of his list, John. John usually caught cases like this. Time to get ready, Fade pulled his trademark sunglasses, Lennon’s, out a pocket. The tiny round lenses reflecting the world back at the viewer.
Through the glasses…
All four stories thumping, neon and holo-light displays flashing, packed to capacity with lines around the building Crescendo the hottest spot in Stroud. Fade sat in his booth at the back of the first floor, artificially shrouded in darkness, waiting for visitors. On cue, John slid into the booth.
Fade tried to imagine John in fashionable clothing; he could not. Wearing functional clothing, John looked the part of bounty hunter, everything dull colors, pockets to hold whatever things John valued; Fade mused bullets and restraint devices. Suppressing his mirth, Fade waited for John to speak, that was their thing, Fade waited until John got impatient. Hulking over his end of the table, John glowered at Fade while doing his best to keep an eye on the scene.
“You know why I’m here,” visibly irritated John blurted out.
“I do,” Fade whispered. Voice enhancement modifications ensured that Fade never had to try to talk above the noise of the club, an impossibility.
“Do you have anything for me?”
“Why don’t you have a drink?”
“Here for business and I don’t like being here,” John shot back, “Why can’t we ever met at a quieter place?”
“This is my home,” Fade gestured to the booth and club, “You know this.”
The same banter every time, John never failed to…Fade mental searched for the word…deliver. Fade settled on deliver. Deliver fit John perfectly, functional, like his clothing. On the inside of his Lennon’s Fade had the information John sought ready for delivery, eventually.
John shook his head in irritation. He started to push away from the table. Then stopped. Warring with his desire to leave the club and his need for information John leaned back in the chair and took a breath. Inside Fade smiled, always a good sign when John took the longer route. Sitting forward again, John eyeballed Fade’s lens.
“I know you know something,” John stated.
Fade steepled his hands under his chin, leaning forward just enough to convey interest, whispering to John, “You need to hear what I know.”
“You have my attention,” John replied, eyes locked on Fade.
“Word on the street is you are heading for trouble,” Fade began, “And trouble knows you are coming.”
“You need to do something you don’t do.”
“What is that,” John replied with menace.
Fade leaned back into the artificial shadow, only his Lennon’s showing, “Patience. You need patience.”
“What does that mean? Fade! Don’t you…Damnit!” John slammed his hands on the table.
Fade stepped into his office and smiled. His trademark fading out of the booth sent the message; at least he hoped John listened to the message. Sitting down at his desk, Fade watched John exit Crescendo on one of the monitors. Pulling his holo-screen up, Fade entered a few commands sending information to those in need.
At the glasses…
John hated Fade’s Lennon’s; small, round lensed sunglasses; lights from Crescendo’s dance floor reflecting off the lens, and perpetually hanging off the end of his nose. John thought of Fade’s Lennon’s as an extension of Fade’s mood. Fade always managed to impress and irritate John in the same breath; never speaking above a whisper, even when sitting across from John, he could still hear him over the latest the pounding bass quadstomp.
“You need to hear this,” whispered Fade, Lennon’s reflecting blue.
“You have my attention,” said John, his eyes locked on Fade’s hated Lennon’s.
“The word on the street is that you are looking to cause trouble,” Fade whispered, Lennon’s reflecting blue.
“And.” John let the statement, question, and confrontation hang in the air.
“The street don’t like that. The street is saying wait.”
“Or.” Again, John let the word hang in the air.
“The street will get its due,” Lennon’s reflecting reds and yellows.
“What does that mean? Fade don’t you…Damnit!” Slamming his hands onto the table in frustration as, Fade, living to his namesake disappeared into the shadows of the booth. The last thing John saw, those hated Lennon’s reflecting yellow and orange.
Standing up, scanning the packed dance floor, John thought about Fade’s warning. Straightening his jacket, slipping on his wrap around glasses; the glare and flare of the lights on the dance floor reduced to a manageable level, John moved through the crowd, always on the lookout for trouble. Old habits die hard.
That’s a wrap…
On screen, a pale, elderly human wearing a brown shirt staring at the viewers, “I don’t have a problem with criminals getting punished. In fact, I’m all for their punishment.”
“That is tonight’s final word. This is Talia Knox, signing off. See you tomorrow Stroud,” Talia, said to the camera.
“That’s a wrap,” her producer said her ear.
Pushing back from the news desk, Talia mentally disconnected her retina cam and internal microphone from the station’s systems. Dropping her on-air jacket on the chair, Talia grabbed the stack of research data-pads behind the evening news desk. Aria, her aide, handed her a cup of coffee. Taking a sip, Talia sighed with relief and summoned her pet.
Walking into her immaculately organized dressing room Talia greeted her waiting pet, “Have a good rest?”
Pet, dipped a bit; a sign she always took as yes.
“Access and collate the information on these pads,” Talia ordered Pet while she stripped off the evening news make-up. “I want a report ready for the meeting.”
An evening meeting…
Meetings always-bothered Talia, too many people telling her what she thought and what others thought about her. Wearing her sensationalist outfit, pocket lined pants, shirt, and vest, and carrying a cup of hot coffee Talia took her seat, center of the table opposite everyone else.
In a far corner a live holo of the late news played. Assistants handed producers and managers last second data pads or coffee for the meeting. Scrolling through her data-pad ignoring the growing stack in front of her, Talia formulated her plan of action.
“Everyone have the night’s information?” Senior Producer Tua’Li asked.
Before anyone could answer, “I need to get out into the city,” Talia announced.
Dead uncomfortable silence.
“Do you have a story to pitch?” A cymean producer whose name she did not know asked.
Another producer jumped in, “Your numbers are up. People like you.”
“People love you,” someone else interjected.
And another person and another person; each one louder and more insistent that behind the news desk was her future because people loved her now. Maddening. Emanating waves of frustration, Pet dipped, touching her shoulder in sympathy. Snatching her coffee of the table, Talia shoved the pile of data-pads to the ground. The noise cutting through the din.
Sipping her coffee slowly, eyeballing everyone opposite her until the dead silence reigned. “I need to investigate real stories, not read the news. I know people love me,” sarcasm lacing her words, “but anyone can be a talking head.”
“Yes, I do have stories to pitch. Starting with an series of investigative reports on the gangs of the city,” Talia started, holding up her hand stalling everyone from responding, “We have covered a lot of crime and gang news recently. I am positive the people who love me will love me reporting about gangs and criminal organizations.”
“Criminal organizations?” Someone voiced.
“Which gangs?” Another voice.
“Why not focus on something else, more…what’s the word I’m looking for?” an Senior Producer Tua’Li asked.
“The word you are looking for is safe,” Talia replied, edge to her voice, “I do not want safe,” enunciating each word.
“Talia,” her longtime producer began, “How much time will you need to bring me a proposal so we have a better idea what you have in mind?”
Pet perked up, hovering above her right ear. Sipping her coffee slowly, Talia replied, “Two weeks.”
Assistant producers conferred with producers who conferred with managers, in hushed tones, until the conversation centered on her producer.
“Two weeks,” she said.
A conversation over lunch…
“You are positive I can find
Establishing shot, panoramic view of Middle Stroud; make sure to get a shot of “The Cloud” and convergence of the elevated highways and flight lanes passing above and below “The Cloud.” On her retina screen, Talia watched her pet take the requested footage; directing her attention down to an alley behind a noodle shop, neon lights from the shop’s sign causing difficulty with the shot. Her pet, a baseball sized grey ball with the channel 18 logo on the side, hovering a few feet to her right, floated further away from her at her mental command. Looking around the ledge, Talia spotted a better location to continue her investigation. Checking her retina screen, between her vantage point and the pet’s completely covering the meeting. Two weeks of investigative working finally paying off; an opportunity to record a Red Hand’s exchange.
Adjusting her position to relieve the strain from being in one position for so long, Talia’s retina screen flashed; her pet recording four hover bikes entering from the back of the alley. Finally, she thought, watching the bikers park and spread out along the back of the alley, she wondered who they were waiting for.
“We have tried.
We have failed.
A family is only as strong as those who take part. Even a family has to let go of those who refuse to work with the family. With this symbolic act, Eth-il-Liccon is no longer a member of the family. He is free to do as he pleases. He will no longer bring shame upon the rest of us. Aliq-tal-ummar.”
A single flame illuminating the room extinguished with a single, soft breath.
Eth woke up with a start; a momentary panic as he tried to remember where he was; blankets tangled around his feet.
A quick breath.
A glance around.
Kicking the sheets onto the floor, Eth realized he was in his bed, in his apartment.
Damn his father.
Damn his family.
Eth hated that dream.
Eth walked into the bathroom, mentally vowing today would be the day he showed his family he was worthy. Today, first step towards returning home.
Fuming about the nature of fairness and life being against him…
Stuck in a long line, “Why had the deities cursed him today? If this old herg woman could make up her mind and order her coffee, he would not be running late for a meeting. Why were people always getting in his way, making him late?”
White knuckle grip on the steering wheel, mentally cataloging the moment, “Are all of the traffic lights working against me? Red light! Red light! Another red light! And this car, this damn Big One Mouse!”
Stuck again, Eth looked up, wishing he had a hover or flying car. An angry horn behind him, a space in front of him. Looking at his skin watch, late for the meeting.
Pulling into a parking spot outside NiHo’s Noodle Shack next to four heavily modified hover bikes each bearing a holo-motion Redhand logos, an open hand blood dripping down.
Eth readied himself for the meeting. A brief spike of panic, he couldn’t find the issta-cred-stick. Entering the alley behind NiHo’s, panic subsiding when he found the cred-stick in a different pocket. The stench of the alley causing him to gag. Water, he hoped, dripped down on his head, cymeans had very sensitive scalps, causing him to flinch. Down the alley, rough laughter of the gromathi gang members. Adjusting his jacket, his very expensive mem-ware jacket, Eth strode into the meeting.
“What?” Eth said in a panic, “I came alone. I don’t hear anything.”
The youngest gang member yanked a serrated blade from the back of his jacket. The oldest gang member looking around the alley waved an augmented arm towards Eth. The other gang members moved around the alley, hands on weapons searching for whatever made the noise. Knife in hand advancing on Eth, who put his hands up in the universal sign of “don’t hurt me.” “Just a second, can we make the exchange? There’s nobody here. Nobody came with me and nobody followed me here. I promise,” Eth said rapidly while trying to control the panic and keeping the kid away from him.
Without any warning, the gromathi with the augmented arm at fell over, clutching his neck. Backing away from the knife-wielding ganger, Eth kept his hands up. A second before Eth’s vision vanished, the knife-wielding ganger’s head exploded, spraying blood over Eth’s face. Blinded, Eth fell onto his knees. Please don’t let this be the end, Eth thought.
From the shadows…
From his vantage point on a ledge above the meeting spot, John watched the Red Hands arrive. Until Eth walked into the scene they discussed absolutely nothing of interest to John. Hoping to catch something of use, John waited.
Everyone, including John, jumped when someone tripped over a can or some piece of debris. The sound echoed throughout the alley, John slid deeper into his corner, pulling his gun, while scanning for who made the noise. Below, Eth’s meet went south.
Aiming, John shot the leader while dropping into the alley behind the gangers. Next shot put the knife-wielding ganger down. Third shot, took out a knee. The fourth shot, took down the last ganger. Walking past the only ganger alive towards Eth, John knocked him unconscious with a kick.
Helping Eth stand, “Looks like you owe me again. Quit sobbing, you can get another suit.”
Shit! Talia mentally kicked herself when she knocked the garbage aside while shifting her position. Her pet showing everyone below on alert on her retina cam. Damn. Holding her breath and position, Talia waited.
Talia exhaled at the first shot. She ordered Pet to zoom in and follow the action, while she found the quickest path to the ground. Rapidly climbing down a fire escape, Talia landed behind John and Eth.
“Who in the hell are you? You’re not militia that’s for sure,” Talia standing in front of John her eyes blazing angry, but her voice never got loud, “What did you do, borrow some of your Dad’s old uniform?”
“I..,” John began.
“Don’t bother. I will find out soon enough. You just ruined two weeks of my work,” Talia seethed with a particular emphasis on my.
“Two..,” John started again.
“I had better not cross paths with you again,” Talia said and the threat was plainly evident.
“But..,” John tried to respond again.
Talia turned on her heels, marching out of the alley while Pet rotated to look at John and Eth one last time before she rounded the corner.
“You are such a smooth talker,” Eth said sarcastically.
“Shut up Eth,” John snarled, “Now how about you tell me about this deal of yours while we get you cleaned up?
Wiping his head clean with a wet wipe, a small pile of blood stained wet naps around his feet, Eth asked, “This is your idea of cleaning up?”
“It’s all I had,” John responded, “Now how about you start talking before I find some reason to turn you in. I’m sure I can find something.”
“There’s nothing to tell. I give them isstas and they give me the case. Then I take the case back and get my payment.”
“No more, no less,” Eth said, “Now what am I going to tell my boss?”
“Tell them the truth. A crazy bounty hunter showed up looking for Red Twist. He shot up the place caught you, questioned you and since you don’t know anything let you go,” John said with some sarcasm.
“Are you serious? That’s the story you want me to tell them, that I don’t know nothing,” Eth said while making air quotes around I don’t know nothing.
“Yeah, it’s the truth and pretty easy to confirm with the Red Hands.”
“You do have something there. Why are you after Red Twist?” Eth asked, “You know what never mind the less I know the less I have to deal with. I’ll send you a bill for the suit.”
“You do that,” John said to Eth’s departing back.
A short time after the shooting…
Bone weary, sore, bleeding, Hesh squatted down onto a herg-sized chair in front of a battered, but organized workbench; the center of the workbench illuminated by a single light. Tradition kept his people centered, far from his clan, Hesh honored clan traditions. His thick fingers pulled a lump of mashed metal meant for his boss from his body armor. Rotating the bullet under the light looking for the best spot to make a hole, Hesh reached across the table for a drill, leaving a bloody streak on the tabletop. Pinning the bullet to the table, whine of the drill filling the room as the drill cut a hole. Blood ran down his arm, pooling under his elbow. Setting the drill aside, Hesh picked up the bullet, watching light shine through the hole, catching motes of dust.
As his Lorekeeper taught, Hesh exhaled slowly, centering his thoughts. Ignoring his pain. Ignoring his blood pooling on the table, allow the remembrances to flow like water into the world. Tilting his head forward, several braids woven with beads and other objects fell in front of his eyes. Hesh found the braid near his right ear and tusk. Slowly, Hesh undid the braid, removing each object woven into the braid, setting them on the table in the same order as he removed them; an ivory skull worn smooth from years of contact, a blood stained strip of white cloth, and a battered unadorned gold ring. The mashed bullet sat last next to the gold ring.
Ignore his pain. Thoughts centered. Hesh picked up the skull running his thick fingers over the smooth surfaces allowing the remembrance to flow in; passed to him from his father and his grandfather passed the skull to his father. Hesh recalled the moment his father wove the skull into his first remembrance braid; his father’s scar etched face, his right tusk capped in gold, and the shining pride in his father’s eyes as he welcomed his son into adulthood with the symbolic act.
Ducking into cover. Shot through the arm. Gasping for breath. Pain. Sounds of warfare all around him. The remembrance attached to the bloodstained cloth flowed through him while he wove the cloth into place. The sounds of war fading into the past again with a last tightening tug of the braid.
Holding her hand. A genuine smile during a private moment. Her face in shadow. The twinkle in her eye. That twinkle fading. Weaving the ring into the braid, tears streaming down his face, Hesh relived her life and death. Pain he could not ignore.
Picking up the bullet feeling the contours, honoring the memory, Hesh relived an hour ago, setting the remembrance in place while weaving the bullet into the braid.
First to arrive at the gala, Hesh scanned the crowed before the door to his armored vehicle opened. Standing watching in front the roaring crowd of celebrity stalkers, as he referred to them, Hesh expected trouble; his boss was not a popular person.
Mister Slade’s black Zephyr Falcon pulled up to the red carpet. Keeping his eyes on the crowd, Hesh opened a rear door; Mister Slade dressed in the latest suit fashion stepped out waving to the crowd. The crowd reacted, roaring approval and trying to get closer to him. Left without cover, when the crowd surged toward the red carpet wanting to be near greatness, the gunman took aim…without thought Hesh shoved Mister Slade into the car, stepped into the line of fire, while pulling his own sidearm. The crowd screamed, scattered, or dropped to the ground at the first gunshot. The Falcon roared off, Mister Slade safe, gunman down, Hesh secured the scene with on-site security personnel.
Tightening the braid, remembrance in place, Hesh headed to the infirmary.
Two hours ago...
At eight feet tall, fourteen feet long, and over three thousand pounds centaur-like Tanx stood out in a crowd; with a rhino shaped head with elephant tusks topped with a Herg sized Stroud City Police Department conflict helmet, he stood out even more. Police officers stepped out of the way as he passed. Each of them greeting him with a “hey,” “morning,” or “ready for the day.” After ten-years on the force, Tanx was well known and well liked.
Squeezing through the patrol room doorway, Tanx searched for Ali, his newest partner. He felt tapping on his hindquarters, looking over his shoulders Tanx found tiny Ali waving at him from his rear leg. Grinning she walked the length of his quadruped body to his torso running her hand over his thick hide the entire way.
“Morning Sir,” she said just a hair too loud. Ali thought she had to yell.
“Morning Ali. Ready for the morning meeting?”
“Yes Sir, I am,” she grinned knowing how informal Tanx was.
Ali leaned against the back wall next to Tanx. Being an illietheril, Ali stood three tall, weighed next to nothing, and no amount of fitting could make any uniform not look oversized on her; her large pointed ears and long hair stuck out from her helmet and her standard issue sidearm looked like it was going to pants her at any moment.
“Need a boost?” Tanx asked.
“If you don’t mind,” Ali replied.
“Hop on up,” Tanx said while gesturing to his back.
Illietheril were known for their athletic prowess, Ali was no different; a single leap off the back wall and she perched herself on Tanx’s back looking around his shoulder to see the presentation at the front of the room.
“Not hurting you, am I?” She whispered into Tanx’s ear.
“Not at all.”
For the next hour, they listened to the day’s big activity, a sweep of the Eastern Corner of Tumbledown. The Staff Officer and Special Tactics Officer explained the usual reasons behind this raid, proliferation of drugs, isstas, weapons, keeping the people safe and so on. From Tanx’s perspective, the reasons never mattered, what mattered was keeping his partner safe and doing his job.
Ten minutes ago...
“Stick close to me,” Tanx said into the helmet mic. “Tumbledown is a mess and I don’t want you getting separated.”
“Anything else?” Ali replied her already big eyes bigger with adrenaline.
“Keep your mind on the job and remember your training.”
Ali and Tanx checked their gear while the combat bus, the only department vehicle big enough for Tanx settled to the ground outside of Tumbledown. The roar of the thrusters landing drowned out all other noises, Ali jumped out as soon as the doors started to open. Tanx had to wait until the doors were fully open.
Tumbledown, aptly named he thought; an entire city block collapsed into a giant pile of rubble. Despite that, people lived in and on the rubble and despite the best efforts of the SCPD and other agencies more people lived there now than any other time. From his street level view, he could see construction by the residents turning rubble into places to live and adding on. The combat bus lifted off, gusts of wind from the thrusters pushing against his back and almost knocking an unprepared Ali down; she covered her almost fall well he thought with a smile.
“Ready to go Ali?” Tanx asked as he keyed up his helmet’s heads up display. Milliseconds later his visor filled with information; locations of other officers, support, and suspected locations of gangs.
“Just checking my display,” she replied. “Our first target is down this…”
“We call them tunnels. No clue what that space used to be. Tumbledown is full of tunnels, hideouts, and more.”
As expected, Tanx shouldered and muscled his way down the tunnel, pushing rubble and garbage out of the way or trampling it flat. Gang tags, wall art, and other signs of life covered every available surface not covered in garbage, filth, or rubble. Signs of life everywhere and signs that the residents tapped into Stroud power, not his problem though.
Barely fitting in the hallway, standing in front of the gang tagged door, parts of the hallway ceiling hanging off his shoulder, Tanx looked around the hallway terminated in a pile of rubble, the walls, floor, and what remained of the ceiling covered in graffiti and garbage of all sorts. Glancing at his head’s up display, the area map showed a hallway, several more rooms, and a whole lot more than what he currently could see.
Whispering into the microphone, “You seeing the same things I am Ali?”
“Yeah,” she responded sounding disappointed while adjusting the strap on her combat helmet around her large pointed ears, “Is this the place?”
“Let’s knock and find out.”
Balling his huge fist, Tanx banged on the door three times, “SCPD!”
Ali and Tanx heard weapons ratcheted and people moving around. “Put down your weapons and come out with your hands up!” Tanx bellowed at the door.
“What are the odds?” Ali whispered into her microphone.
“Come in and get them!” Someone shouted from behind the door.
Ali winked at Tanx, while crouched next to the door waiting for action. There was no way of knowing what was on the other side of the door. He was hoping for a single room with one or two gunmen. Checking his head’s up display again, Tanx made another decision.
“Make a fly by on our position,” Tanx requested while taking a step to the left of the door.
The sound of the combat bus flying overhead was deafening. Tanx silently counted down from four and with a thunderous kick of his front legs and using his size, he knocked a hole in the wall. Stepping into the room, four Eastside gangers wearing Eastside colors had their backs to him watching the combat bus fly overhead.
Despite the noise of the bus, the gangers heard Tanx, turning they raised their weapons and began to move away from the window. Tanx shot the one closest to him in the chest. Ali slid into the room to his left, placing his bulk between the gangers and her. She rolled into view, shot a ganger through the knee and chest as the ganger collapsed to the ground.
As sections of the wall slide off Tanx’s shoulders one ganger began firing at him, the other at Ali who had rolled behind a chair. The small rounds from the gangers sub-machine-guns impacted Tanx body armor, a minor irritation. The ganger trying to shoot Ali in spray-and-pray mode, firing in a semi-circle as he tried to track her movement behind the chair. Some of his rounds struck Tanx in the arms and shotgun, knocking the gun from his hands. Out of the corner of his eyes, Tanx saw a ganger enter the room carrying a Maxwell Arms Roomsweeper, the distinctive barrel of the auto-shotgun well known in the department.
Popping out from behind the bullet-holed chair, Ali shot spray-and-pray in the chest four times. The top and middle of the chair exploded into bits of chair and stuffing flying everywhere before spray-and-pray hit the ground; the distinctive whine of the auto-shotgun chewing through rounds and scenery filled the room. Pulling his over-the-shoulder combat knife charging the ganger shooting at him, over a dozen rounds peppered Tanx; the force of his charge drove the knife through the ganger into a wall behind them.
Silence for a second while the auto-shotgun ganger reloaded. Ali started shooting again, the ganger groaned when several of her shots hit him. Ali leaned out from behind the remains of the chair and gave a little wave, “Room secured.”