In a grown-up game of Cops n Robbers, Bounty Hunters worked the fringes of the fight with one foot on either side of the law. Taking jobs that the cops didn’t want, using tactics the cops couldn’t use, Bounty Hunters were a part of the big circle of life. But every circle has a back side and sometimes the hunters become the hunted.
Shipyard Block G37, Brimstone
“Tiger Team you are go in three, two, one.”
From a rooftop a block out a suppressed rifle chuffed on the ‘wuh’ of ‘one.’ Dyson didn’t hear the shot, but the back of Greyshirt’s head burst like a melon and he dropped, a puppet with cut strings. At go-plus-two Dyson was already up the short flight of stairs, exo-skeleton driving long strides, when the next precision shot dropped Tattoo in the parking lot on Side 4.
“Two in the box, two in the box.” Dyson barked on the secure comm.
An icon for each member of Tiger Team defined the four corners of Dyson’s HUD, all bright green. Zach and Connor would be hard-charging the garage door on Side 4 while Dyson and Sego took the front with Lance on overwatch with the rifle.
Who says we’re not ready for this shit, Dyson sneered.
Pivoting, Dyson pressed himself against the wall on the hinge-side of the door while Sego swung the muzzle of the breacher’s gun over the doorlock. A modified 40mm grenade launcher, the gun fired a flatbody projectile, something that could drive a deadbolt through an armored door. Sego pulled the trigger.
Despite the cannon-bang of the gun, the door exploded outward instead of in, a burst of shards and buckshot scorching between the two bounty hunters. Dyson dropped flat, swinging the stubby carbine up as he kicked. His boot connected and the splintered door swung inward, revealing a black-jacketed shooter some three meters inside.
A sharp whine scorched over Dyson and blackjacket toppled backwards, the auto-shotgun falling to the floor.
Dyson snapped a quick glance over his shoulder, throwing a rapid thumbs-up to the sniper. Out of sight, but never out of range.
Sego was bleeding but it wasn’t bad, a pellet or two had carved furrows across the outside of his left bicep. Dyson wasn’t taking any chances and pulled a grenade from his vest. He yanked the pin and lobbed it into the room with a loud ‘stun out’. The sphere skipped off the wall before the gyromotor kicked in, accelerating it across the floor towards the greatest concentration of heat signatures. Dyson turned his head as the dark room went white.
He was through the door before the echo of the blast subsided, Sego on his heels. Despite the smoke and chemical haze from the grenade, thermal images wobbled on Dyson’s visor. The room was a workshop, most of the walls were lined with benches and tool chests. Half the things lying about looked dangerous; acetylene torch, arc-welder, nail gun, plasma saw.
Well, Dyson thought with a malevolent mirth, they’re only dangerous if somebody is alive to use ‘em.
Dyson’s AR barked in short, controlled bursts, the first tearing holes through a glass-beading booth. The figure hiding behind it was knocked from a crouch to an awkward sprawl. The spray of hot blood showed white in infrared.
Twenty-three second in, seven in the box counting kills streaming up from the floor below, no team casualties. As far a high-risk no-knocks go, things were running right on plan.
Fuck you Old Man, who’se the Big Dog now?
Jäger was a legend, no question. One of the best bounty hunters to ever stuff a perp in a freezer. That’s how you end up running a training center like Magnum Force. But Jäger was old and grey now, in Dyson’s mind a dinosaur from an age gone by.
Never bet your life on a gizmo. Dyson’s lip curled in disgust as the Old Man’s voice ran through his mind. Gizmo’s can fail. No matter what new piece of tech Dyson tried to show him, the answer was always the same. Stick with the basics, the basics won’t let you down.
“Yeah, yeah,” Dyson muttered as he fired an airburst 20mm grenade over a stack of forklift pallets. The proximity warhead detonated as it flew over the makeshift barricade. More white splatter in IR. “Stick with the basics my ass.”
The Bounty Hunter glanced at his chrono. Thirty seconds and still no sign of this Gort motherfucker. How tough can it be to find the jolly-fucking-green giant? They needed to move faster. Storming a large building like this was always a crapshoot that could go to shit in a heartbeat.
The no-knock warrant gave a bounty hunter a much-needed bit of edge. You could come in shooting and thin the bad guy herd before they knew the fight was on. Not very sporting, but critical to this kind of run. Cops could secure a perimeter, reduce the numbers inside to a finite calculation. They could seige, holding tight while the trapped offenders got tired or hungry, or maybe just stupid.
Bounty hunters had none of those weapons in their arsenal. Actions against gangs started with you being outnumbered and outgunned, and Bad Guys could call reinforcements.
A powerful jolt shook the building, strong enough to shake handtools off shelves. Zach’s icon flared red on Dyson’s HUD, then black.
What the fuck? Dyson broke into a hard foreward charge, blowing past a couple uncleared doors. “Sego,” he snarled “you got this.”
Sego started to say something about breaking formation when an unseen force knocked the wind from his lungs, the words abruptly lost in a percussive exhale. Over the comm Dyson heard the rapid pang of bullets tearing through graphite armor.
“Goddammit,” Dyson cursed, hitting the brakes at the top of the stairs. Uncertainty tore at him, the muzzle of the carbine snapped down the stairwell ahead, then back along the hallway through which he’d just run. “Sego, talk to me,” he barked. “What the fuck’s going on?”
The voice on the comm transitioned from pummeled fighter to a thick, wet gurgle as the drumroll rat-a-tat continued. Sego’s icon flared orange, red, black.
“Sego!” he shouted, receiving no reply. “Connor, report.” Barely a heartbeat passed before he added “Connor get the fuck up here.” Dyson struggled to get the pieces straight in his mind. Sound was getting muddy as he fumbled to toggle the button that would spot-check the ammo in his carbine. Jäger used to talk about stress doing things to you: tunnel vision, selective hearing, loss of fine motor—
A shadow darted across the hallway and Dyson twitch-fired a burst, chewing a trail of holes through the synthrock sheeting. Bootsteps thudded behind him, no, below. Dyson rolled the railing and fired a burst down into the darkness.
“Fuck!” Connor’s voice screamed out, the younger man throwing himself hard againts the wall to avoid the rain of tracers. “It’s me dammit, it’s me!”
Dyson blinked rapidly, horrified at how close he’d come to punching Connor’s ticket. His eyes darted across the HUD. Why didn’t the— oh muther fucker! The IFF, the system that was supposed to highlight friendlies from hostiles, had somehow toggled off. Dyson viciously rapped his helmet with his left hand, which accomplished nothing at all, before he took a breath and activated the subsystem. A green outline suddenly resolved around Connor in Augmented Reality, stark against the three or four red silhouettes forming up at the bottom of the stairs.
“Frag out!” Dyson shouted, one hand dropping the grenade while the other grabbed Connor by the front of his exo. Dyson threw himself backwards into a sprawl, Connor falling on top of him as the grenade went off. Chunks of building and occupant filled the air.
This is fucked, completely fucked. Dyson’s mind struggled to regroup, ears ringing. Eighty-four seconds in and nothing but casualties on both sides. As he untangled himself from Connor and struggled to his feet he shouted “We gotta get the fuck outta here.”
The two men staggered back up the hallway, into the foyer where a riddled Sego lay sprawled. The breacher’s gun was gone, as was his sidearm. Dyson’s non-stop stream of profanity paused as he keyed his mic.
“Lance, we’re bugging out, coming your way. Shoot anything that gets between us and the door.”
The op had gone Charlie Foxtrot in a big way and Connor stared back with eyes gaped in fright. The weight of the last two minutes grabbed Dyson by the throat; Sego and Zack, guys that trusted his judgement, dead. Resolve coiled in Dyson’s gut. No more. He grabbed the front of Connor’s exo and leaned in, visor touching visor.
“Look at me Connor. Look at me!” The kid’s eyes were twitching side to side, then swung forward and locked. Dyson stared hard, made sure the lights were on behind Connor’s stare. “Look, we are out of here OK? Straight line, back to the ship then back to home. Stick with me and I promise I’ll get you out of this.”
Connor swallowed hard, then nodded.
“Good.” Dyson stood, took a step through the front door, Connor rising on his heels. “Then let’s get the fuck out of here.”
“Hell yeah,” Connor said. Then his head exploded.
Dyson looked through a visor splattered with brain matter. “Hold your fire, hold your goddamned fire!” The words tore from Dyson like a scream. “What the fuck Lance, I told you we were—“
The voice on the comm was deep, coarse. “Lance doesn’t work here any more.”
Dyson’s gaze raced up the street, just moving up the sniper’s tower when his right leg blew apart at the knee.
Jolted awake by the caustic burn of smelling salts, Dyson squinted up at the hulking silhouette. A deep gravel voice spoke with a odd, stilted pace.
“So my my boys tell me you come down here… to my place… an you make all dis’ mess… lookin for me.”
Dyson tried to rise but couldn’t move, felt like he was glued to the floor. His eyes tracked to his left arm. Not glued, he realized. Nailed. A row of fifteen or twenty construction spikes punctured his arm from palm to bicep. It wasn’t so much a scream that came out of him as a keening whine.
“Oh hey, hey, hey,” Gort said, scrunching his face as though to the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. “Dat ain’t how it’s done. Have a little self-respect.”
Dyson blinked, confused. “Wha—?”
Gort repeated himself great care. “Respect.”
As bizarre as it seemed, this Godzilla-sized thug was serious, enough so to explain.
Gort continued. “Look at T over there. Muggs is pullin’ frag outta T’s face with, what the fuck is dat, needle-nose pliers? Yeah. Well you don’t hear T goin’ on like a whiney little bitch do ya?”
Dyson shook his head, more confused than ever. Am I not about to die?
“You guys,” Gort grinned as he leaned forward, waggling a thick finger. “You fuckin guys, wit yer bounties and your fancy-schmancy gadgets. Bad enough we gotta deal with the cops without you piss-ants tryin to make a buck off our ass.”
As if struck by a distant memory, Gort slowly shook his melon-sized head. “Used to be you bounty guys had stugotz, big fuckin’ balls. You made your bones, fought a man nose to nose ya know? But now…” He reached a finger and flipped a shattered plate of carbon fiber off Dyson’s chest. “What the fuck is all this? You knock off a toy store on the way here or somethin?”
A smatter of laughter came from around the room, an odd sound from the scarred, tatted figures who quickly fell back into a silent glare.
“Now dis, on the other hand,” Gort stood once again to full height, hefting the breacher’s gun in his hand. A two-handed weapon for most men, it fit Gort’s oversized grasp like some kind of freakish, old-world flintlock. “Dis is nice. Dis is old school.”
The smile drained from Gort’s face. Whatever mirth there may have been in his eyes sank into a glower of burning coal as he leveled the muzzle at Dyson’s face. His voice was lifeless as he said, “Fuck the barbie-toys, kid. You wanna win a fight, stick to the basics.”