The morning light was streaming through the city windows like a golden river, chasing the last remnants of night from the cityscape. Sean had been awake now for four hours, half of that out of bed. He never slept well the evening before going operational.
He was just wrapping up his morning training session - stretching, PT, close quarters combat exercises, and node shifting. He removed his dimension glasses and wiped the sweat from his face with a hotel towel. After a quick shower, gathered his few belongings and set out for the first floor lobby, dressed for business.
As Sean walked the long hallway he adjusted his backpack and glanced at his wrist watch, 0515. He made it to the lift and stood waiting, staring into his reflection on the polished doors. His hand moved absently to his temple, where the gray was now firmly established in his close cut hair. He noticed a bit of slouch in his posture, probably from the pack he wore, and he stiffened his back to his full height. His nondescript reflection stared back at him, as if searching for something in his hazel eyes.
As he waited on the lift to arrive, his pocket began to vibrate silently. He slipped his hand into his pocket and removed a small translucent comm device. A message from an unknown sender, “Get out now.” As his eyes scanned the device’s display the building was rocked by a tremendous force. It felt as though every fiber of the structure groaned with the weight of a mighty stroke. He instinctively glanced at his wristwatch and drew a short breath.
Almost without thinking Sean was crouched low, one hand out to steady himself against the wall as he ran down the passage way to his left towards the stairwell. The lights flickered once, twice and then failed altogether. He raised his right arm slightly out, his hand holding tightly to his operator case as he ran. The passageway was now totally dark, there being no windows to let in the morning light into the corridor.
Sean slowed his pace slightly and reached the stairwell door just as the second blast ripped through the hotel floor somewhere behind him. He flung open the door and thrust himself into the dimly lit stairwell. The emergency lights were flickering on and off as though some kid was playing with a light switch.
He took a moment to crouch and tore open the briefcase he held in his right hand. He lifted out the lower tray and set it aside. With practiced hands he removed his firearm and attached a flare cartridge to the bottom rail and a light to the top rail. He already sensed his breathing slowing and his attention coming to a focused point. The noise of the fire alarm which was now wailing intermittently hardly registered in his mind.
He removed a small stun device and clipped on his dimension frames over his spectacles. He repacked his case and was now pounding down the stairwell. He glanced at his wrist watch, 26 seconds had elapsed since the first blast. He rounded the stairwell to the right as he flew past the 15th floor. He brought up an overlay schematic with a voice command and oriented himself to the building. He noted a skybridge which connected the hotel with the high-rise to the southeast.
“Give me the skybridge,” he shouted.
“10th floor, then follow the main corridor left through the atrium,” his dimension assistant informed him.
“Count off the from mark t minus 30, every minute on the minute. Display elapsed time, lower right as well.” A running timer appeared in his dimension frame’s heads up display.
“Mark confirmed,” came the response.
Sean reached the doorway to the 10th floor just as his event timer hit 90 seconds. He heard a woman scream from the stairwell below and he heard shouts as others began to make their way into the stairs above him. He tried the door, but it was jammed firmly in the doorway. A wave of acrid smoke hit him as the shouts and screams from below grew louder.
He licked his lip and tasted the familiar bitter taste. “Core markers,” he thought. The stairwell below was likely being transformed in to a furnace about now. The heat from a core marker would melt steel and ignite concrete as the marker went into a critical meltdown.
His worst fears now materialized. Sean stuffed his firearm into his trousers and threw himself at the handle of the door as his mind raced with the realization that he was not likely to escape from this assignment. Only the navy and the Trenchers used core markers. He laughed madly as he pulled at the door.
A third blast, this one very close, rocked the stairwell from above. He was showered with bits of concrete and his hearing protection kicked in full suppression mode. He could only hear himself breathing now. As he stood, the door burst open and a lady fell into the stairwell landing prone. Sean, leapt over her into the open doorway as wave of heat and smoke poured through the open doorway from the vented stairwell.
“Two minutes” his assistant chimed.
Sean raced into the open atrium, there was glass everywhere and more falling with each vibration of the building. Strangely there were few people running about, most were probably still in their rooms at this hour. Sean had expected a pandemonium. As he ran towards the skybridge, he passed a few rooms with doors cracked, patrons staring out into the well-lit atrium. Someone shouted at him, thinking him to be a security guard. Sean added to his pace.
He paused as he neared the entryway of the skybridge which connected the Flaming Star Hotel (now a very ironic name) to a shopping and transportation tower across the freeway to the south east. He knew that whoever was perpetuating the destruction to the hotel would know all entry and exit points of the building and should be watching the skybridge.
He grabbed his firearm and dropped his case. With his left hand, he slid his comm device out of his pocket and edged it past the edge of the doorway facing into the corridor. His dimension frames synced to the device’s camera he got a good look down the skybridge. There in the middle of the concourse was a sentry bot, squatted down in crowd control mode. “Range 15 meters, Model: BN-63, Manuf: Densig Ind., Sentry mode activated.” his assistant noted.
He withdrew the comm and returned it to his pocket. The sentry was blocking local communication channels and would fire on targets immediately. This was almost outside of his operational capabilities. These sentry bots were used exclusively by municipal authorities to suppress mobs during riots and uprisings. They could be outfitted with full blown anti-personnel ordinance or light duty crowd suppression rounds. Sean suspected it was not here to shoot rubber bullets today.
He opened his case and removed a long cylindrical device that was tapered on each end with a gunmetal sheen. He spun one end and the device lit up along its midpoint. “Eleven,” he thought, a few more turns. The lights changed to a dark red. He quickly closed his case, holstered his firearm in his pants and pressed a button on one end of the cylinder three times. The device suddenly began to grow heaver in his hands. It now resisted movement in any direction as though it was buried under meters of water. He waited until he could almost no longer hold onto it, and then tossed it with all his might with both hands into the air in front of the open skybridge.
The cylinder emitted a loud tone like a bell being struck as it streaked off down the skybridge as if had been shot from a gun. Sean dove down with his hands over his head and braced himself against the wall and the floor. An explosion rocked the atrium as the skybridge exploded with a brilliant white light and shrapnel.
After a few moments he looked up, his dimension frames returning to normal brightness after having darkened to protect his eyes, as a small piece of debris rolled out of the skybridge in a long lazy circle. “Three minutes,” marked his assistant mildly.
“I’m a dead man in two minutes,” he thought to himself as he grabbed his case, unholstered his firearm and rounded the archway into the smoking skybridge, opening up full auto into the burning debris of the sentry.
Chapter 02 →