I’m reworking Volunteers, my work in progress. I’ve already got the original up on the site (one of the first postings, I think). The original was set in Germany, but I now feel the book is best kept in the UK, so Nix can kick in a few doors, etc, rather than investigate from afar. Any views would be appreciated.
Smart-glass shards were scattered underfoot. Made crossing the room not unlike crossing a mini-minefield. It’s not that they’re lethal, but the blue and green sparks spewing off and fizzing round my knees were apt to deliver a serious jolt which, on the whole, I didn’t much enjoy.
I flicked a glance at the chewed-up desk, overturned and rammed against the wall, the plaster, brick and splintered beams littering the floor. That damage, was also recent.
There was a crunch and tinkle behind me, followed by a curse.
I glanced round, to where Beck was stooped, rubbing his calf.
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Don’t step on the glass.’
The glass came from something the vics had brought with them. Looked to be a scanner of some kind, though it was hard to tell, it being in splinters and all that. There was other equipment here, but it had been dead for decades. Big clue–the water which had penetrated the building years ago, turning everything original to black and rust, dripping mould. Anything once live in here had died a long time ago.
The big guy gave me a glare. Shook off the sparks clinging to his prosthetic hand. He straightened up.
‘Come on, Nix, you’re the detective. Start detecting!’
I crouched over one of the half-dozen corpses lying amidst the wreckage, touched my fingers to what was left of his throat. ‘I’d say he’s dead.’
They all were. Didn’t need to be much of a detective to figure that one out. I’d need a coroner to tell me for sure but, considering the blood was still pretty red, I’d say we’d only just missed this. Good job, too. I kind of liked my throat in one piece.
I twisted to look at the hole in the ceiling. Whoever had killed these men had apparently made their entrance from above.
‘Nah.’ Beck shook his head, followed my gaze to the gap above us, then behind, to where the missing north wall had once stood. ‘They’d have made more mess.’
Well, he should know. Shame, though. Would’ve made our job that much easier.
One thing the military, whatever country, was good at was leaving a trail back to whoever gave orders like, ‘Go in there, tear the place up and eliminate everything with a pulse’. Which is what someone had done here. And, by the look of it, without much resistance, despite all the now-dead suits having weapons of their own. Since only two had managed to clear their holsters before they died, things must have happened fast.
Whoever had survived the first barrage had managed to use a rotting desk as cover, for as long as it remained in one piece, at least. Judging by the spatter-pattern and concentration of pock marks on the wall over there, they hadn’t lasted much longer than the others.
‘Weapons are your field,’ I said, jutting my chin at the shredded desk. ‘What the hell could’ve done that? And that.’ Up at the ceiling this time. ‘And that.’ The missing two thirds of the north wall, which was currently letting fat snowflakes wander into the room to flop wetly on the torn-up carpet.
Beck took another glance around, shrugged. He pointed at the guy whose throat I’d checked.
‘Whatever did that was a different calibre to what did that.’ The hole in the wall.
I stared over there in disbelief. ‘You’re saying they shot that out?’
Beck clicked his tongue, glanced round again. ‘He. One guy. A team would have hit this place from two directions.’
‘One guy? Beck. One man did not do all this.’
‘One centre of fire,’ he said. ‘One man.’
‘And the different calibres?’
Beck shrugged. ‘Off and on-hand weapons. Or a single weapon with swappable mods.’
And there I was thinking I was the detective.
I picked my way round the disk of fallen ceiling and over to the ragged hole–the one with the swirling flakes, the grey sky beyond. Took a closer look at the powdered brick.
Beck knew weapons way better than me. If he said the wall had been shot out, not blown out, then it had been. Besides, it was starting to look like he was right. No powder burns.
I gripped the wall’s broken edge, leaned out. The sight took my breath away. Higher than I’d expected. Or at least, with the tide out, it looked a lot further down to the sea below. Black waves nudged the lower storey, washing through the ruin beneath us. Christ knows how much deeper the channel floor lay below that, but the rubble from the missing wall was down there. Fallen out, not in.
‘Escape route?’ I asked dubiously.
Beck was beside me, scanning a sea turned hazy by falling snow. Yeah. Snow. In this day and age. Crazy world, right? Last time Bristol had snow was before the US ex-patted my ass back to the UK. Long before.
‘So I guess you’re not scanning for footprints,’ I said.
You couldn’t tell by looking at him, but Beck’s right eye was cybernetic. Full of tech I could only guess at because he wasn’t the sort you just ask straight out. But he’d admitted to the infra-red. And night-vision. And I’d seen the targeting laser when it synced with his prosthetic arm, giving him flawless aim.
He didn’t respond to the stupid comment. Dug, instead, at the rotten carpeting with his toe. There was a fresh ding in the cement just there. Blast ring surrounding it. Whatever had been embedded there had been retrieved with a small detonation.
‘Rappel point,’ Beck said. ‘He took the fixings with him.’
Now I understood the fixed stare – telescopic gaze hunting out there, looking for a boat.
‘Can you see it?’
‘In this shit?’
I brushed melting flakes out my eyes, moved further back inside, away from that seductive drop and the icy sea beneath it.
This place had been abandoned twenty years ago. Like almost everything that had stood at sea level in this part of the country when the Pennine Quake hit, the old dock facility was no longer at sea level. Its lower floor, anyway, was below it. At low tide you might be able to get down there, if you wanted to contend with the slime. But mostly it was under water. With a rip-tide flowing through that could pull you a mile out to sea in a matter of minutes.
For some reason a bunch of bozos in suits had decided this was a good place for a meeting. Which some other, less friendly bozo had decided to crash.
A closer look at the damage overhead showed a ring of eruptions alongside one another, which had eaten a circle into the ceiling from above. The holes had weakened it, allowed the assailant to jump onto it and drop through, open fire on anyone not taken out by the opening burst.
Okay. So maybe Beck’s lone hit-man theory held some water, but I was getting that sinking feeling. The one I got in situations like this, when I began to suspect I was being kept out of the loop. Let’s face it. Wouldn’t be the first time and, well… Fool me once and all that.
I’d put money on Beck knowing more than he was saying because he was still staring out there, into the snow. Christ knows what he could see that us regular schmucks couldn’t but he sure as hell wasn’t waiting for Santa. Whether he got a kick from keeping me in the dark or whether he was following Tyler’s orders… Who knew? Trouble is, if it was the latter, it spelt bad news.
I sighed. ‘Are you going to tell me what this is about, or am I going to end up dead again?’
Upstairs–where the killer had begun his short, brutal spree–turned out to be more office space. This time with grit and bird shit washed in from outside. Reason being the roof had bowed in from above, collapsing under its own weight when the rafters gave way to time and neglect. Or, closer inspection, maybe something had crashed through, since there was debris. Just a little. The Port Towners would have been here long ago, lifted everything but the rubbish.
Slush and melt dripped through the hole, forming a pool of soggy daylight on the floor and highlighting another body.
This one’s throat had been cut. Deep.
My guess, he’d been a sentry. Killed silently, so the attacker could get into position before the alarm was raised. I’m told it’s pretty quick, having your throat slashed. But from the amount of blood, this guy took a while to bleed out. Hoped he’d been unconscious for most of it.
He lay near a fire door to one side of the room. It was open. Heavy enough to stick in position, despite the raw wind breezing through. I shoved it further open. The stairs beyond went in a spiral up to the flat roof and down to the slimy causeway I could only see because the tide was out. Sentry was probably watching from here, looking out for anyone approaching from the road. His killer had come from behind, down from the gap in the roof, almost above him.
I glanced back over my shoulder, uneasy all of a sudden. The killer was gone, assuming Beck’s one man theory was right. And if it was wrong, his accomplice would be stupid to hang around. As would any survivors of the attack. But if they hadn’t, I’d be as easy to stick as the sentry. Which was not a comfortable thought.
My hand slid naturally to the holster on my belt. Paused to consider the contingency tucked into my ankle holster, then decided against it. I was still anti-smokers. Still felt it was better to render a bad guy unconscious than spray-paint their ass with bullets. So I retrieved Mr Sandman, jacked a dart into the chamber.
The steel spiral went right to the top, probably for maintenance rather than escape purposes. From there I could see the hole in the flat tar coating, currently under a layer of slush. I tested my weight on it, felt it give a little. Yeah. Maybe not. I’d done enough dangling from rafters in my time. Had better things to do today.
Besides, I could already see what I needed to. Adjacent to the building, maybe twenty meters away, a massive old loading crane tilted towards the northern edge of the roof. The crane had come off its rails during the quake and no one had ever bothered righting it again. It lay frozen there, flaked yellow paint and rust, threatening to crush everything beneath it and never quite making it. But its arm had swung this way, almost touched the building, which would have brought down half the upper floor. Instead, it had locked there, poked at an angle over the roof, partly blocking the lead sky for the last twenty years.
At its very tip, maybe ten feet above me, a trailing cable ended in a hook which had snagged something. Or rather, the something had snagged it. The fabric was sodden from the snow, but light enough for the wind to get under it, roll around inside it, lift it briefly so I saw what it was.
I activated my throat mike. ‘Beck. I found his entry route. He parachuted in.’