Curveball Issue 24: Triple Helix

Part Nine: Escalation Games

Phase One.

There are eleven buildings in the warehouse complex—four to the south, four to the north, one east, one west, and one much larger building at the center. To simplify communication, they refer to the buildings by number. The southeast warehouse is one, and moving west are two, three, and four. Four is the first building they came to when they emerged from the storm—the one CB is standing on. The next row, east to west, is five, six, and seven. Six is the large building in the center of the complex, and that’s the building all the trucks had stopped in front of the day before. Finally the north side, from east to west: eight, nine, ten, eleven.

Street Ronin and Zero crouch against the west wall of Eleven. Zero is typing furiously on a small, ruggedized laptop connected to a thin cable that travels down the length of the warehouse wall and into the ground.

“Status?” Street Ronin’s voice is calm and steady.

“Almost there.” Zero’s voice is anything but—a mixture of excitement, anxiety and adrenaline makes her voice shake so badly she laughs just to cover it up. “I’ve connected to the remote server, I’m sending it instructions now. When it finds the location it’ll send it straight to your helmet.”

“Good,” Street Ronin says. “How long before they trace it back to us?”

“They won’t,” Zero says. “In theory they shouldn’t trace it back to us—they should only be able to trace it to the remote server, and they won’t be able to tie that to us unless they tear it apart and find the code that has your ‘phone number.’”

“How long will it take?”

“Not too long,” Zero says. “We’re not really trying to hack in, right? Just figure out where they are? It’ll be pretty fast. If you want something more specific than ‘pretty fast’ I can’t help you.”

Street Ronin almost grins—it’s exactly the same thing he’s said to Vigilante on more than one occasion.

“Sent,” Zero says. She unceremoniously yanks the laptop connection out of the cable and snaps the laptop shut.

“Come on.” Street Ronin runs to the west warehouse, crossing the open space as fast as he can. He hears Zero right behind him, easily keeping pace. As soon as they reach the corner, they press flat against the wall.

Farther into the center of the complex they hear a noise that sounds like an electric razor pressed against the grille of a fan. Light flickers, the smell of ozone fills the complex, and Street Ronin’s earpiece crackles to life.

Eight guards just ported in between Six and Seven,” Curveball sounds distracted. Street Ronin wonders if he’s worrying about Zero. “They’re headed toward Eleven.”

“Are they looking around?” Street Ronin keeps his voice low.

They’re looking around, but they’re not putting a lot of effort into it. They’re sure as hell not looking up.”

“OK. Tell me when they go inside.” Street Ronin lets his rifle hang from its strap as he removes the remote detonator from his belt and arms it. He glances at Zero—she’s staring at the detonator.

“You know what’s going to happen next?” he asks.

He can’t see her expression through her helmet, but she nods.

“This won’t be a pretty fight.”

“I know the plan,” she says. “And I understand the consequences.” Her voice still shakes from the adrenaline, but there’s no hesitation in it.

His earpiece crackles again. “Six guards went into Eleven. There are still two by the door.”

At that moment, a location appears on the HUD in Street Ronin’s visor.

“Warehouse Two,” he says, then presses the remote.

Phase Two.

CB takes an involuntary step back as the explosion incinerates Eleven’s west wall as well as the internet connection they’d used to track the bad guys to this location. The two soldiers standing guard at the door—just your basic heavily-armed commandos in light body armor—instinctively throw themselves to the ground.

Almost immediately a streak of black and red smashes through Six’s east wall. Concrete shatters inward as the entire complex rocks from the sound of the impact, and then the western wall explodes outward, sending rock and glass and bits of twisted metal into Seven’s west wall. Red Shift streaks away, passing Eleven as he disappears around Seven. The guards on the ground don’t move. They will never move again.

I have two,” Red Shift says.

The streak of black and red returns, smashing into Six’s southern wall and out the north. A good third of the southern wall is gone, and more concrete cracks and shatters as the entire second floor begins to sag. The next pass takes out the southeast corner; the next, the southwest. This is too much for the rest of the building to bear, and the southern side of the second floor collapses with an ear-splitting crash. A cloud of dirt and pulverized stone rises into the air and billows out over the rest of the complex. Moments later Eight’s southern wall shatters, and the streak of black and red begins the process anew.

CB draws his pistols and waits.

The strange metallic screech fills the air again.

“More incoming,” he says.

A pale light flickers all around him, and as ozone fights with dust, four soldiers (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta) appear on his roof.

They’re not the lightly-armored guards from before—these are shock troops, wearing battlesuits that add at least half a foot and a hundred pounds. Their helmets are smooth, the faceplates made out of some kind of reflective material that covers the entire front of the head, and they carry heavy, strangely-shaped carbines with barrels that glow green at the tip. The one CB tags as “Alpha” immediately brings his carbine to bear.

“Four on the roof!” CB dives to the ground as the carbine fires. A streak of bright green heat flashes above him as he hits the roof, rolls up, and opens fire with both pistols. Bullets ricochet harmlessly off the armor. He’s dimly aware of Street Ronin shouting something over his earpiece, and the sound of weapons fire in the distance.

Push. Escalate.

CB drops his pistols and runs forward, head low, as Alpha fires again. Green heat tears through the end of his trenchcoat and burns through the spot where he stood. He’s now two steps away from Alpha—too close for Beta, Gamma, or Delta to risk using their guns.

He winks. Somewhere off in the distance—barely audible over the shrieking clouds and other noise—something goes pop.

Push. Escalate.

Alpha’s carbine immediately begins to emit a high-pitched whining sound, causing him to hesitate and look down at his gun. Beta, Gamma, and Delta spread out, their carbines sliding up their arms, locking in place farther up the arm where they’re out of the way. CB leaps forward, using Alpha’s own body as leverage to run up, push off, and kick the soldier’s faceplate with the heel of his boot. The short, sharp kick fractures the reflective material in a spiderweb pattern, and Alpha staggers as CB somersaults backward down to the rooftop in a crouch.

Beta flicks his right arm downward. A high-tech baton with a glowing green tip slides out from beneath his arm and into his waiting hand. Gamma and Delta follow suit. Beta, Gamma, and Delta close in.

Push. Escalate.

Delta jabs with his baton. CB steps beneath the swing and grabs the arm, hauling himself up and using his weight to make Delta stumble forward into Beta, closing from the other side. The tip of the baton touches Beta’s armor and a hisssss fills the air as green light arcs over the alloy. Beta goes rigid; Gamma steps back hastily.

Push. Escalate.

Beta falls to the ground as CB grabs the baton in Delta’s hand and jerks sharply to the left, putting his entire weight behind the force of the motion. The baton rips from Delta’s grasp, and CB jabs down into Delta’s knee. Green light arcs over armor; Delta goes rigid, and topples over.

Push.

CB turns to face Gamma. Gamma drops his baton as his carbine slides back down into the active position.

Escalate.

CB throws the baton; it flies through the air like a spear, ripping through Gamma’s faceplate and embedding itself in the helmet. Gamma sinks to his knees, clawing at his helmet with flailing arms, before he topples forward and to the side. CB tries not to think about what he just did.

Push.

Alpha has regained his balance and some semblance of vision. CB leaps, hands outstretched, reaching for his pistols, lying discarded on the rooftop.

Escalate.

Alpha fires, the flash of green heat from his carbine becoming a solid green line, cutting through the rooftop. CB hits the ground, reaching.

Push.

His hands close around the pistols as the furious green line sweeps closer.

Escalate.

He sits up, firing round after round after round at the soldier’s already-fractured helmet. The third shot finally gets through, the solid green line of heat swings wide, then ends abruptly. Alpha falls over and does not move again.

CB activates his earpiece. “Four down. All wearing some kind of enhanced combat armor. Go for the mirrored faceplate, it seems to be their weakest—”

The metallic screech comes from everywhere, all at once; a flare of light as bright as the sun envelops the complex, and when it fades there are soldiers in battle armor everywhere. Every rooftop, road—squads of soldiers with weapons at the ready.

“Hey guys…” CB takes a ragged breath and forces himself to relax, waiting for what’s about to happen next. “I think they finally figured out who we are.”

Phase Three.

Warehouse Seven is cluttered and covered in layers of dust. Zero sneezes once as she opens the laptop on a stack of sealed, rotting warehouse crates and mutters something about mold allergies. “Gimme the thing,” she says finally.

“Hold on,” Street Ronin says. “Blanket first.”

He can hear Zero sigh in exasperation, but she unrolls the thermal blanket and pulls it over herself and the laptop. “Happy?”

“Ecstatic,” Street Ronin says. He lifts up a corner of the blanket and hands her the two oversized smart watches Red Shift dropped off before he resumed destroying Warehouse Six. “These are all we have. If we need more we’ll need to sift through Eleven and find the bodies.”

“We won’t need more.” Zero’s voice is muffled from beneath the blanket, but that does little to mask her confidence. “If it’s networked, I’ll get us in. Then it’s up to you.”

“If you can get us in, I can handle the rest,” Street Ronin says. “Maybe.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

Street Ronin takes up position near a dirty, cracked window that gives him a good view of the ruined Warehouse Six. Most attempts to access Seven will require moving through that area.

“Clear so far,” Street Ronin says. “I thought they’d respond by now.”

A metallic grinding sound cuts through the air. He sees a flash of light on the roof of Warehouse Four—Curveball’s position—then he hears Curveball over his earpiece.

More incoming.”

Short pause.

Four on the roof!”

Street Ronin sees a flash of green, hears the hiss of burning steel and stone, then Curveball’s pistols, firing rapidly.

Four on the roof.

Street Ronin looks up. His visor shows the dim outline of four heat signatures filtering through the rock. They aren’t human heat signatures—most of the heat comes from the joints. Either robots or men in armor. Either way…

“Keep working,” Street Ronin says. He walks quickly to the far end of the warehouse, putting as much distance between himself and Zero’s work area as he can. Sure enough, the four signatures on the roof reposition themselves, tracking his movement. He activates his headset and aims his rifle at the ceiling.

“Seven, four on the roof.”

He pulls the trigger four times. He sees three of the heat signatures scatter; the fourth signature distorts, but doesn’t otherwise move.

One down.

The IR display shuts down as something generates enough heat to render it useless, and Street Ronin dives to one side as a streak of green energy hisses through the ceiling and cuts a swath across the floor where he stood. The line on the ceiling widens, and the structure sags slightly as it cuts through what appears to be a support beam. Street Ronin finds himself thinking “what the hell kind of weapon is that?” followed by “and where do I get one?”

He can’t track them with heat, but there’s a chance that’s working both ways.

“Back in a sec!” he shouts, and starts to run.

“…what? Where are you going?”

He doesn’t bother to answer as he leaps through the window. His armor protects him from the glass, and he assumes they’re expecting him to use the door. As soon as he hits the ground he turns and looks up. He can see an armored figure—big, with a glassy, reflective faceplate—starting to turn toward the noise. He switches his rifle to burst mode and pulls the trigger. The burst impacts solidly on the shoulder and appears to do nothing more than get the soldier’s attention. He switches back to semi-automatic fire and aims for the reflective faceplate.

One shot later, and the armored figure slumps and falls over.

Curveball cuts in on the line. “Four down. All wearing some kind of enhanced combat armor. Go for the mirrored faceplate, it seems to be their weakest—”

Another metallic screech rings through the air, the air is filled with light, and suddenly there are armored troops everywhere.

Hey guys… I think they finally figured out who we are.”

He prepares for a very bad day. Then, over the earpiece, he hears Zero announce excitedly: “I did it! I’m in!”

Street Ronin smiles. Zero just hacked a teleportation network.

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