This is an excerpt from WARDOGS INC. #2: Hunter Killer, published today.
Two weeks later I stood on a platform behind Chief Executive Officer (Planetary) Heiermach, suited up and carrying both my Reaper and my Popov-Norinco 60. I was glad for my battlesuit’s climate control as I watched the important men and women around me sweating in the hot afternoon sun.
I’d placed Zelag and Ward down in front of the stage, behind the local fuzz. Jones was on the stage platform with me, also a bit behind Heiermach. The crowd was pretty big. I’d estimate between twenty and thirty thousand people were there. The whole thing was a legitimately big deal.
DVG and the Chrysalans had managed to put this event together and get it advertised quickly. I suppose you can do stuff like that when you have more money than God. There were plenty of locals present, along with more than a few offworld tourists, historians and media crews interested in the temple. I had no doubt I’d end up in the background of a half-dozen documentaries. Good thing I was wearing my exo and my visor was mirrored.
Wardogs had provided us with an armored luxury skycar and a driver to escort Mr. Heiermach. That got us to the mountain in about five minutes instead of driving an hour or two through the desert. Mount Xirtis looked close through the windows of DVG HQ but the flat terrain played tricks on you.
The ceremony itself was typical PR stuff. Sappy speeches by local politicians and a university professor, various religious stuff, some music, blah blah blah. At one point some young Chrysalans did a little dance with gauzy wings on their backs, then we had to listen to a guy playing some sort of glass organ with his feet. I was desperate for coffee to stay awake within the first ten minutes, and I’d been standing here for two hours.
Fortunately, our suits are well-stocked with pharma. I set it to zing me with a little chemical pick-me-up whenever I started nodding and my heart rate dropped too low.
Heiermach played emcee himself. He was good at it too. He made it look easy, introducing each person and pronouncing their names correctly, then standing back and letting them go for their allotted time, then stepping in and moving everything along to the next portion of the program if it looked like they were going to go on too long.
“And next we have a woman who is both a priestess of the temple and an honored historian,” Heiermach announced, his hand on the shoulder of a heavy, older woman with facial tattoos. “You may have seen her book on the divine origins of the temple and the many fascinating events which took place over the centuries on this very ground. Her work has been designated as worth preserving in the Alexandrian national library, as well as bring recognized by the Academy of the Ascendancy as a–”
Some yelling up front at the barriers caused Heiermach to pause. My visor was jacked into the security grid and gave me a tactical summary. Four yellows were pushing through the surveillance field and starting to scuffle with the local police.
“Possible hostiles at barrier!” I yelled into my comm, but I could already see Ward and Zelag converging rapidly on the scrum, so I held my position. Just to be safe, I pulled my Reaper and stepped in front of the CEO and the confused historian, holding it up so no one would think I was aiming it at them. Jones stood behind Heiermach, facing backwards in case a second threat materialized from behind the stage.
I focused on the four men and confirmed they were hostiles. They were dressed like tourists, but they’d pulled vibro blades and had put the police down fast. Two police already lay bleeding on the ground, while a third was staggering away holding his bleeding stomach. I flicked the Blitz to a moderate dispersion and braced to fire, but before I had the chance there were multiple flashes of plasma fire from both flanks and all four of the attackers went down hard.
The crowd was yelling and shouting and starting to get frantic.
“Tell them the threat is neutralized!” I said to Heiermach. “Keep them from rioting!”
He recovered fast, taking the mic. “Ladies and gentlemen—everything is under control. Please remain calm—please stay where you are!”
“Jones, stay with Heiermach,” I ordered, then jumped down off the stage.
On the ground were four men, two of them neatly burned through center mass by plasma bolts. Ward and Zelag were already there.
“Ward, Zelag? Who torched these two?” I asked.
“That was me,” Zelag admitted. “I nailed them with my Cerebus.”
“Good shooting,” I said. “Though non-lethal would have been better.”
I kicked myself mentally. I should have specified that to the team. We wanted captures, not kills. Assuming knowledge was not good leadership, especially since Zelag was a new guy.
“I didn’t kill mine,” Ward said, pointing to the other bodies on the ground. They were still breathing with no burns. Stunned. One of them had lost his hair—a wig? I looked at his detached hair, then at his head. On it was a network of green tattoos, ending at his face where they’d been obscured by makeup. I pulled at the other guy’s hair and it came off as well, also revealing ink.
Then I examined the other two. All of them were wearing wigs. They must be radical monks who hadn’t gotten the memo. Apparently the druid was right and not everyone was easily convinced of DVG’s contrition. Or maybe the gods were still pissed.
One of the two wounded police officers was now sitting up, his arm slashed from elbow to shoulder. The other one was being carried off on a stretcher.
“Damn Chrysalans,” said the local police chief, taking my arm and addressing me over the murmur of the crowd. I nodded. He shook his head. “I swear, I know they’ve been around a long time, but if I had my druthers…”
We’d introduced ourselves to the captain before the event when discussing the security plans and he’d told me in no uncertain terms what he thought of the “crazy cultists and their stupid temple.” I watched the police search the living and the dead. All four of the faux tourists had been carrying blades. I thanked Ares none of them had been wearing an explosive vest. Though the sniffers would have picked that up, I mused. Okay, a disrupter. Thank Ares none of them had a disrupter.
“You’d better make an announcement,” I said to the police chief, aware that the crowd was restless. “Get this thing back on track.”
I took the stage again, as did the police chief. He made a quick announcement, stating that two police officers had been injured in the line of duty but were receiving care and that “security had neutralized the threat and we shouldn’t let terror derail this momentous occasion.”
The event resumed, with Heiermach thanking the universe as well as the local gods and the sacred mountain for keeping everyone safe. We made it through without incident. As the sun set over the temple, the chief druid took the stage and publicly hugged Heiermach, accepting his repentance and blessing him for it, then sharing a drink from a large and glittering ceremonial chalice. It was passed around on stage among a circle of Chrysalans along with important members of the city and the DVG staff, then torches were lit and songs were sung for another half hour before the event came to a close.
And that’s when everything went rodeo.