On to part 3 of my short story Hostages.
We stumble down the hallway, me supporting Hisashi’s uninjured side. It’s slow going and each step I hope I don’t slip on the marble. Hisashi sounds like he’s breathing through a glass of water. One of his lungs was probably burned to a crisp and is filling with fluids.
The elevators are dead, of course, now that the electricity is gone. I hear the hum of emergency power but that’s no doubt for the IT infrastructure. I go through the door next to the elevators, and we stumble down a set of switchback stairs to a lower floor. Then another, and another. Each step I come nearer to tripping, but I soldier on. Fourteen floors of stairs is a long way down.
I push everything from my mind but the next step. Hisashi looks worse and worse with each floor we pass. We’re nearly to the bottom when I run into the muzzle of an assault rifle moving the other way.
“Halt!” a Thero says from a balaclava beneath a helmet. I sway in place. The razor teeth and scaly skin beneath the elongated helmet and black fabric look at me menacingly. No HUD identification pops up around the Thero.
I freeze and raise the hand with the symbiont container above my head.
The Thero’s HUD should be reporting our identities right about now. Dark lizard eyes stare at me, and I imagine seeing the reflected pinpoint of light of my name on his pupil.
“Officer Kujima,” he acknowledges me. “Lieutenant Mayu Yori.”
I nod and lower my hand with the container in it. He steps in and takes Hisashi’s other side. Hisashi grunts, then we all move down into the lobby. More armored Thero swarm around us to cover the stairwell.
The lobby is much as I left it, except it’s now filled with Aperture Authority officers. The reception desk is abandoned. The last civilians are being directed outside, beyond a line of police flyers outside.
We set Hisashi down in one of the lounge chairs between two pillars. The rest of the assault team ignores us as they move around the lobby setting up equipment.
A human in a combat suit walks in from outside. By the glances his way I can see he’s in charge. He’s only armed with a small sidearm, and he’s carrying a large pad. He has a firm jaw, and lines of muscles are visible beneath his body armor. There’s dark stubble on his chin and head. I glance at his spitting 3D image still being projected next to the reception desk. Soft Grit, add trademark. A body engineered to perfection. Expensive.
“Major Shin,” he introduces himself, bowing. “Hostage negotiation specialist.”
“Major,” I bow back. “Office Sora Kujima.”
My HUD confirms his credentials. A Major, wow, big shot. The Lieutenant and the Major look at me, and I put on a neutral expression. I avoid looking at Hisashi in the chair beside me.
“I’m going to need a full report, Officer,” Shin says.
I nod. “His name is Cain Winters.”
I proceed to relate everything to them. It sounds more or less professional.
“I’m sorry about your partner,” Yori says when I finish.
The Major just stares ahead. I can see he’s filed away what I said and is formulating a strategy. I wonder how much he makes.
He takes the container from my hands. I’d forgotten all about it.
“Well-planned,” Major Shin says. He absently rubs the stubble on his chin. “He knew he was going to shoot one of you the moment you entered the room. To show us he means business.”
I swallow. One of us. Either of us. A cosmic toss of the dice that chose me instead of Hisashi. It could have been him standing here. Or had Winters purposely chosen to down the Thero?
“We should get your partner some help,” Yori says. I nod. Hisashi is barely conscious, breathing heavily.
Major Shin is scrolling through information on his pad. He frowns. More humans in combat suits enter the building. They’re carrying all kinds of gear. I know some of it, like network hubs and Wi-Fi routers, but some of it is completely foreign to me. All of the people are generic body builder types. Square jaws, short-cropped hair, and toned muscles. Still, they’re human, and probably delegated to a supporting role. I suddenly wonder who they all are. I don’t know any of them. If I had to guess, they’d come from out-system. But they couldn’t have gotten here that quickly after my call. They had to have already been on the station. Why?
“Who is on the hostage list, Sir?” I ask, remembering Winter’s words.
“You don’t need to know, Officer,” Shin says and flicks on his radio. Lieutenant Yori looks from the Major to me questioningly.
“Do we have a shot?” Shin asks over the radio, ignoring me.
“No,” the radio cackles back. “The top floor is a black box. Light goes in through the windows, but doesn’t come out. No heat or sound either.”
“Lieutenant,” he snaps at Yori. “Get the resonance gear set up.”
Yori salutes and starts doling out orders. The support crew unpacks some of the crates they brought in, revealing metallic disks and a heavy metal box with a display and what look like electronics surrounding some kind of gyroscope. They head upstairs with the devices.
“Sir,” I ask. “Who are you and your men?”
It’s rude to interrupt a superior officer, but I’m not a by-the-book cop of course. Shin turns to me, the corners of his mouth turning down in distaste.
“Thank you for your cooperation, Officer,” he says. “You are dismissed.”
“If it’s all the same to you I’d-”
“It’s not,” he says. “Go outside and find a medic.”
I open my mouth to reply, but the man turns to one of his men, pointedly ignoring me. I clench my fist. This is my hostage situation. So I didn’t want it at first and I kind of messed up. It’s still mine.
I crouch down and pull out my pad, which has survived my ordeals intact, and link it to Hisashi’s vitals. Not good. While the pad scans through all the data, I hook it into the police net as well. Feeds of information start to pop up. The status of the local emergency services. A report from the flyers circling the building above. I see my direct colleagues have been put to crowd control and traffic rerouting. The major and his team had arrived from the Rogu system in response to the dispatch Hisashi and me responded to and taken control immediately.
Hisashi had been so fast to respond that we’d already entered the building before they’d taken over, otherwise we’d never have been allowed anywhere near it.
It takes a few more taps to find the list of hostages. When I try to open it, a ‘classified’ message pops up. Shin’s doing, no doubt.
What are you hiding, Major? Why are you here at the ass-end of nowhere?
The pad has finished its analysis of Hisashi and pushes his status at me. The particle beam has indeed burned through his left lung as well as the tissue and muscle around it. His other lung is undamaged, but the burns are preventing him from breathing properly. The damage is wreaking havoc on his entire body, causing toxins to build-up and his organs to fail. Fluid is building in his lungs. Summary: he’s in bad shape.
He’s turned off neural feedback, explaining the unresponsiveness. There’s not much I can do. Taking him outside won’t help him much at the moment, just take me out of the loop. I turn back to the police feed.
“They’re in position, sir,” I hear Yori say. He and Shin are standing next to a beacon on the wall.
“Turn it on,” Shin says. A live 3D imaging feed appears on my HUD, positioned next to the beacon to allow simultaneous interaction by everybody in the room. It’s titled ‘resonator imaging’.
The feed shows the top floor. The image wobbles, but I can clearly see all the rooms and a number of figures. The image pulsates, clear one moment, then fuzzes before becoming clear again. I put two and two together. They’re sending vibrations through the frame of the building with the large device. The disks are sensors measuring for the reflected vibrations, which are combined to a 3D image. Sweet technology, and a toy way above my pay-grade.
“Got you,” Shin says. The shape in the center of the room turns red as Shin marks him in the feed. Winters is standing next to the table of containers, wraith pistols in his hands.
“Sniper team,” Shin says over the radio. “Are you getting this?”
“Confirmed,” a voice says over the radio. “Aiming now.”
Two white lines appear in the 3D image, intersecting Winters. The sniper team is hovering outside the building in flyers. They’re patched into the same feed and aiming their high-powered particle beams using the 3D image. A pair of video feeds from the sniper’s head-cams pop up. They show the outside of the Xiu building, with cross-hairs in the center that match up with the white lines I’m seeing in the 3D image. They can’t see Winters directly, but they can aim at him with the 3D image, even in the shielded building.
“Target acquired,” the leader sniper says over the radio. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Winters isn’t moving.
“Minimal risks of casualties,” Shin says. “Have at it.”
My stomach twists. It can’t be this easy. I look at the rendering more closely, remembering what I saw before.
I gasp. He’s too tall!
“That’s not him!” I shout.
Shin and Yori turn to look at me. Shin opens his mouth, but is interrupted by the snipers opening fire. The sound of shattering glass blasts from the sniper feeds.
A human sleeve in a suit is standing in the center of the room. His body convulses as two high-powered particle beams slam into him and he drops to the floor.
“You traitorous worms!” Winters shouts from a desk chair. He was pretending to be one of the sleeves. The sound comes through clearly now that the shielded windows are gone. “How does it feel when the tables are turned?”
He jumps up and grabs one of the containers from the desk.
The snipers are shouting for orders, but all of us are transfixed by the tiny undulating body inside the container. Winters tosses the transparent canister into the air. It glints as it tumbles outside. I hear gasps. Winters raises a wraith and shoots. The container explodes, a cloud of metal and fluid spraying through the broken windows toward the ground fourteen floors below. Dead.
“Take that you body-snatching worms!” he shouts.
My hand involuntarily goes to the interface hatch in the back of my own head and I shudder.