Opposing Forces: Nightshiftby Paul McManus
We should have been all over the headlines after our battle with Hob, but as usual, there was bigger news to overshadow us. There had been another rising of The New Americans and that had understandably occupied the media for a number of weeks. It was the biggest issue of our time and quite honestly it was why the world was in such turmoil. America was tearing at itself and had no time to take much notice of anything else. There were constant bombings and skirmishes from the North to the South; no front line this time.
The New Americans started out as a run of the mill group of activists unhappy with many things, but mainly their country’s foreign policy and attitude to the environment. For whatever reason, they quickly gained massive support and changed form a minority group into an underground organization that ran throughout the whole. With startling rapidity they began to rival the existing government in structure, credibility and even resources.
America would have been better off with a straight forward civil war, at least then there would have been some sense of a front line. The armed forces couldn’t be relied upon as they were just as split as the rest of America. As it was, everyone suspected everyone else of working for the other side; a lot of time they were right. When a power like the America of those days is forced to turn in upon itself, the rest of the world feels the repercussions in every way, not least of all economically. The Middle-East had been policed and influenced heavily by American and its manpower; that all stopped. The results were bloody and chaotic. Russia had been on the verge of collapse since the early years of 2K but this really accelerated the fall. Europe was in tatters as the religious fighting to the East crossed the borders of every country. New groups and charismatic leaders appeared, all with a grand plan for their country, their faith or even the world. Riots, terrorism, civil war and chaos became commonplace.
The United Kingdom managed to remain united but it certainly suffered, if perhaps not quite as much as those countries without the ocean as a border. When the Roman Empire fell, Britain saw the arrival of The Dark Ages. Dates change but the influence of power is always the same. So that’s why our desperate battle with a psychotic mutant on the streets of a British city wasn’t the big news that you would have expected it to be.
We still had work to do.
The old cinema looked deserted from the outside, its art deco façade dark and grimy with exhaust fumes and decay. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the tip-off came from a reliable source we wouldn’t have bothered giving it a second glance.
We were looking at the building via a direct camera feed from Sabre, who was checking the area out. Also looking on was Captain Stewart; he was in charge of the Civil Disorder Officers on scene. There were twenty of them altogether, armed to the teeth, covered in body armour and backed up by a Warhound Fighting Vehicle. It wasn’t really expected to be needed but if things got hectic its twin mounted 25mm chain guns could pour in a lot of firepower.
After Hob, we were more aware of the value of insurance. Pulse was getting a lot of attention from the male CDOs, even posing for some quick snaps and loving every minute of it. Sabre’s whispered voice came over the com-link, “It all looks quiet but I’m picking up unusual amounts of static on my sensors. It could be an unmarked lighting cable but I’m guessing it’s a shielded generator beneath the building. Movement!”
The alleyway to the side of the building was illuminated briefly as a door hidden behind a rusting van opened. A grubby youth appeared in the gloom of the street, lighting a cigarette. His shabby appearance blended in with the decrepit surroundings and the few down and outs who called this ghostly area of The Dip home. The camera zoomed in for a closer look.
Captain Stewart’s Sandhurst voice broke the silence as Scarlet, Bombardier and myself watched the proceedings on the monitor. cWell, he’s obviously on sentry duty. For somebody who’s dressed like he lives in a sewer he’s very clean shaven, wouldn’t you agree?”
I suppose it was a comedy moment as we all nodded or said, “Oh, yeah.” We weren’t stupid, just not used to playing detective too much. Since knocking Stick off his throne we’d been very busy breaking apart his organisation before it could grow another head. Couple that with the probing efforts of a hungry warlord by the name of The Emperor, and you can see why we were used to behaving like gladiators rather than detectives.
We really did have a hard time pushing back the tide of anxious replacements for Stick. There’s definitely something to be said for managing your enemy rather than getting rid him altogether; a power void is a terrible thing, especially when you’re the ones trying to keep the hatch closed.
After a lengthy wait while Sabre observed the comings and goings of disguised sentries, we were ready for action. Captain Stewart’s team would quietly take the sentries, allowing us to make a frontal assault. Anyone who made it past us and out would be running straight into the sights of our well armed support. A little red dot on your chest really does give you pause for thought. We made a dash for the side door and were through it in seconds thanks to Bombardier’s battering ram technique. Inside, it was just what you’d expect from an old cinema except that a lot of the litter was very recent and there was a smell of tobacco smoke in the air.
We were all on alert while Sabre worked on a very out of place electronic lock, fitted to a metal door hidden behind a curtain.
The sudden click indicated success and we descended a brightly lit staircase that clearly had nothing to do with the original building.
“It’s bloody impressive that they managed to dig all of this out and get their equipment down here without anyone noticing.” Bombardier commented.
I was pleased to see my friend seemed relaxed. I had been asked to keep an eye on him since his return to active duty. Physically he was fully recovered but the beating he took from Hob must have left its marks.
“Yeah, I mean I know this isn’t exactly a popular part of town but it’s still quite an achievement. Whoever’s behind this must be very well organised, especially in the moving tons of rubble without being noticed area.” Scarlet was always one to recognise hard work.
Pulse was twitching her nose and complaining that the place stank of rats.
“Less of the chatter Militia, we’re in enemy territory remember.” Sabre brought us back to the job but he didn’t sound too irritated. We were ready for action but all we were doing was shutting down a drugs factory.
Intelligence seemed good and we’d been told that the bad guys came in the form of armed gang members and nothing more.
The concrete walled tunnel was wide and well lit; I felt very exposed, convinced that we must have been picked up by one of several cameras along the passageway. I found out later that Sabre’s obvious approach was possible thanks to his preparation. He’d made sure the cameras that had been bought by the gang were Militia friendly; a simple press of a button and they showed an empty corridor. Considering his lack of powers, Sabre was more amazing than any of us.
The sound of chattering voices and the hum of electrical machinery began to get louder and my heartbeat picked up.
We stopped and Sabre ran through the brief again. “There’ll be ten to fifteen armed guards and around thirty workers; remember, just because they don’t call themselves guards doesn’t mean they aren’t armed. Let the runners go and just deal with anyone who wants a fight. Ok?”
We all nodded our heads.
“Disc. Look after Pulse while she gets rid of security. Bombardier and Scarlet, take any targets of opportunity you see and draw as much fire as you can. I don’t expect you two to be at much risk but you never know so…”
“For God’s sake can we please get on with this. It’s a few more idiots with guns and a bloody drug factory, how hard can it be.” Pulse burst in.
Sabre just looked at her and never said a word; he didn’t need to.
How Sabre dealt with the incident I don’t know, but I’m sure he did. At the time I was more concerned with the job at hand.
As we burst into the room I was surprised by the height of the ceiling and the size of the room itself. It really was an incredible achievement and far more than a Lockway mob was capable of. Something to think about.
If I was surprised then the guards and workers in the room must have had a real wake-up call as we appeared.
And that’s what I and no doubt the rest of The Militia were thinking as we burst into the room. I’ve mentioned that we’d been very active at that time but apart from our encounter with Hob you haven’t really seen us in action, so I’ll try to give you an idea of what a fairly normal encounter was like for us. Let’s face it, the battle with Hob was pretty dramatic but it didn’t show us on top of things.
The factory was basically a large room with eating and sleeping areas in one corner; a walled off office in another and all of the equipment in the middle. The whole room was surrounded by a raised metal walkway. Presumably, this was so the guards could keep an eye on the workforce to make sure they weren’t dipping into the profits.
The guards were the usual mix of shapes and sizes, each one carrying an M16, an AK-47 or something similar. The Kevlar vests were an extra bit of kit that you didn’t usually see though. I also noticed that they seemed to react a fraction of a second quicker than I would have expected and their movements seemed to be coordinated, drilled even.
For all their skill, the guards didn’t stand much of a chance. They would have been outclassed even had that been our first mission together but we were very experienced skirmishers at that time.
Pulse flew in as fast as she was able and sent low energy flare bursts in all directions. There was little chance of anyone dieing from a hit but the effect was very much like getting a kick from a car battery; I know that for a fact. It must have been quite a shock to suddenly see this beautiful woman in white come flying into the room and start sending blinding flashes in all directions. Don’t forget that I talk about our powers pretty casually but most people only saw us in action on the TV, the reality was something else.
While all eyes were on Pulse the rest of us moved in at the run. Sabre was the fastest and he was leaping up onto the walkway to attack a clump of guards; they were understandably distracted. Within seconds they were all out of the fight before they’d even fired a shot. They probably didn’t even know what hit them.
Bombardier and Scarlet ran parallel to each other but leaving plenty of space for the terrified workers to get between them and out.
I was behind the wall that was Bombardier, and keeping my eyes open. I had my discs held over my head, ready to strike if necessary.
In her armour, Scarlet stood a shinning 6’5” tall so it was hardly surprising that the factory workers parted before her. As one of our brawlers, her brief was to take out the gunmen and draw their fire from the more vulnerable members of the team. She did this by picking up a piece of machinery that must have weighed a couple of hundred kilos, and launching it at a group of guards who were looking as though they were going to do something. No, she wasn’t trying to kill them , but then she wasn’t worrying too much about their well-being either.
The level of violence that we found justifiable had increased steadily since we started the job. We were all aware of it at the time but it had never been something we discussed. I suppose it’s easy not to feel uncomfortable about something if you pretend you haven’t noticed it.
Bombardier was an equally intimidating sight as he barrelled forward. His costume was red, white, and blue with a picture of an old cartoon style bomb on his chest, the fuse sizzling away. A very appropriate symbol I might add. The outfit was a figure hugging affair to show of his muscles but it wasn’t made of spandex; contrary to popular belief, hardly anyone used that. It was made of a much more durable fabric, more of a synthetic chain mail. If that hadn’t been the case he’d have spent half his time fighting crime naked.
Bombardier was making his way to some guards who were on ground level and probably wishing they weren’t. Anything or anyone that got in his way was forcefully brushed aside.
I was following and providing some interference for Pulse and Sabre.
Pulse was attacking in earnest now and her energy beams were much more deliberate and focused. Not one of the guards had had chance to fire yet; things had moved too quickly.
Sabre had moved on from the first group of guards; he was a black blur of punches and kicks as he found more victims. Of course, I couldn’t hear the blows land but the sound of breaking bones filled my mind all the same. One guy clipped Sabre’s head with his rifle butt; it looked like a lucky accident as he was trying to get the muzzle pointing in Sabre’s direction. It must have shocked or annoyed the Boss because a sudden palm strike hit the guy in the face with sickening force. That was a crack I did hear and I saw shards of bone burst through the skin of the guard’s nose. He was falling to the floor as Sabre continued to deal with the others in a similarly aggressive fashion. None of the gunmen could get a shot at him; he never seemed to give them the time or space.
The sharp crack of gunfire signalled an escalation in the threat level. “Disc, cover Pulse.” How he’d seen the danger I don’t know. While I was watching him he didn’t even glance in her direction. Even so, he was right. By this point more than half of the guards were out of action thanks to Bombardier, Sabre and Scarlet but the others had finally had time to pick their targets. I’d been working defensively apart from the odd strike of opportunity.
Despite standing out so obviously, Pulse wasn’t as vulnerable as she looked. The effects of her flare bursts, and a disorienting glowing aura that she could generate made her a difficult target, especially when she knew people were aiming at her.
Some guards who had managed to get organised fired in controlled bursts at the twisting and diving form of Pulse as she went through a practised routine of aerial acrobatics. From a distance of about thirty feet I sent my metal disc smashing into the aiming weapons, while its hardened rubber friend gave the shooters a solid tap on the head.
Before I knew it, the room was quiet apart from a few groaning bodies. We checked everyone was okay before returning to the upper level. The police were already on hand picking up the injured criminals.
I was just about to go up top to join the others, when I saw Sabre. I could see him through the window of the office that was in the corner of the room. He had hold of some guy and was stabbing a finger at a computer screen. I remembered seeing the gunman running for the office in the middle of things; Sabre must have got a hold of him. The guy was red faced and shaking his head.
Sabre pulled the guard to his feet and went to work on him; he really did know how to hit those pain centres. I didn’t have any problem with what Sabre was doing, the bloke had probably done plenty to deserve it, but I didn’t enjoy watching that kind of thing so I had a look around the factory.
What was left of the lab section of the operation was computerised and state of the art; they didn’t even need a chemist on site. It was a simple case of mix the ingredients, put it in the machine and wait for the shiny yellow pills to pop out of the other end. Willy Wonka meets recreational drugs!
The nasty substance involved on this occasion was called Grin. It was fun, addictive and hell once you couldn’t get any more. Nothing unusual there, other than that it was new and was coming from outside of the UK.
When I turned around, the police were carrying Sabre’s victim away and he was walking towards me. As he got close he rolled the bottom of his mask up. Not so much as a bead of sweat on his smiling face; his gloves glistened though.
“You look happy.”
“This has been better than I’d hoped. Our friend there didn’t have time to get rid of his emails before I got to him. Not only have we shut this operation down but we’ve curtailed another of The Emperor’s efforts to get himself established here.”
“You’ve seen mail from him?” I was surprised that such a small operation would get the personal attention of what amounted to the ruler of a small country.
“No, but I recognised the coding in the security on the computer; it’s his organisation all right.”
“What did you get from him?” I nodded to the slumped figure between the two policemen.
“Ah, now this is where things get even better. Computers only hold the information they’re supposed to but people have a tendency to know more than they should. There are three more operations like this spread around the city and eight more nationally; if we hit them all today we’ll cripple whoever The Emperor has running things for him in the UK.”
And hit them we did. Police and other teams were contacted to deal with operations outside of Lockway.
To say it was a busy night for us would be an understatement. Pulse stopped complaining that it was tedious by the third factory; gunmen seemed to get better when you were exhausted.
Our day finished at Police HQ in the early hours of the next morning. The atmosphere was jubilant in the packed briefing room. Everyone was exhausted and half dressed with armour and weaponry scattered all over the place. A few police officers were getting treatment in hospital but no-one was seriously hurt, and even better, no-one had been killed, nobody on our side anyway. The telephones were going crazy with press and legal types trying to get in on the action.
Bomb and I were sharing a bottle or twenty with Captain Stewart’s team; they’d been with us throughout the night. We were all finally at ease in each other’s company, after a bit of an uncomfortable start. It was understandable really I suppose; masks, costumes and super powers must have been intimidating.
“Jesus, did you see that bloke’s face when Bomb picked him up? He looked as though he was going to faint.“ That was Fitz, a big Scot who was always as close to the action as he could get.
“He farted, I can tell you that for certain!“ Bomb slammed an empty glass down on the table and burped loudly as everyone laughed.
That was pretty much the tone of things; friendly camaraderie. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
In Lockway alone, there had been over two hundred arrests and God knows how many millions of pounds worth of drugs and equipment seized. The other factories spread around the country had been taken out and calls of thanks were coming in from the local authorities. We even got a personal congratulation from England’s Own.
Whoever was in charge of The Emperor’s UK operations must have felt like the sky was falling in.
Militia is © and ™ 2006 Paul McManus.