Monday, June 18, 2018

Query 1.17: Hysteria

A centralized point in Old Town was selected for the mission. The building had been a theater, everything in the room left to languish in obscurity, the few seats left were rotted out skeletons more than furniture. The vaulted, curved ceiling, common of entertainment venues, had a fair recreation of the Sistine Chapel, though like everything else in the room it was covered in dust, the paint peeling away and slowly distancing God from his children.

With a fresh perspective, and some long hours calculating and recalculating the variables, the search radius for the operation had been restricted to only a handful of miles. The duty fell to a squat, potato of a man, Chief Carl McArther to give a basic, if bitter, introduction.

The Chief brought his hands together in a thunderous clap to get everyone’s attention.

“Alright, listen up assholes! This operation is to be conducted in full cooperation with the FBI. It’s their show, a matter of national security, the details of which I’m afraid are ‘need to know’. You’re to listen to your squad commanders and for Christ sake don’t embarrass me out their. Now, officer Maxwell…”

Vergeron had convinced the government that the use of an unregulated neurotoxin constituted an act of domestic terrorism, resulting in the presence of the FBI Counter Terrorism Unit. As a registered military contractor, Vergeron had secured the possibility of developing uses for the toxin if it was successfully retrieved, thus ensuring Py’s place in the command center as a Vergeron corporate liaison.

Large white letters indicating ‘DPD’ or ‘FBI’ were prominent on the backs of almost everyone in the room. There were a few senior operation officers from both organizations milling about in blazers and khakis. Everyone had basic tactical gear: bulletproof vests, gas masks, and sidearms.

Logan moved to the front as McArther passed the baton. There was pride in the Chief’s rotund frame as Logan gave a complete, if succinct, mission briefing, showcasing the prowess of the DPD.

“The target,” Logan began, “a.k.a. the Alleyman, is believed to operate within our search radius. He’s a white male in his mid thirties, of large build and aggressive disposition. Alleyman prefers a knife over a gun, though he carries both, and is especially dangerous in his use of a psychoactive substance that manipulates perception. Gas masks have been provided to all offices in hopes to prevent exposure to this chemical, which is believed to be airborne. The effectiveness of the masks is currently unknown, friendly fire is a concern, so only non-lethal methods are approved for the mission.”

Logans eyes got hard and he seemed to be looking at specific people in the crowd. “Any ‘just in case’ measures you might be carrying are to be set aside.” There were a few glances among the offices at that, like some unspoken rule had been violated.

Logan held up his hand to bring attention back to him. “Listen, I’ve gone toe-to-toe with this guy. Any lethal option you have is an option for him as well. Now this,” Logan turned to indicate Py, who had taken position off to the side, “is Mr. Black. He’s a civilian liaison who will be tracking Alleyman and reporting on his position. Mr. Black is patched directly into the command coms. You’ll be receiving directions, points of convergence, and if things go sideways, escape vectors from Mr. Black. I ask that you give him your full cooperation. He may just save your life tonight. Now, any questions?”

Py glanced around the room and saw nothing but stoic, determined faces staring up at him. A part of him felt responsible for them, like their lives were in his hands.

Logan waited a few seconds and gave a nod of approval. “Let’s get it done!” The officers dispersed, their individual positions to be discussed with their team commanders. Logan walked over to Py, glancing out at the assembled force and just shook his head.

“I can’t believe this came together so quickly. When you said you’d take care of it I wasn’t expecting such a prompt response.” Py had to smile at that. It was an easy sell. Untraceable substances were always in high demand.

“When you’ve got the opportunity for exclusive rights to an undetectable psychoactive substance, corporate mountains become rocket ships.” Logan continued shaking his head. Py had to admit even he’d expected a little more bureaucracy in mobilization, but with Cain weaving ‘domestic terrorism’ into the narrative, the government seemed not only able, but eager to participate.

“Are we ready for this?” Logan asked.

Py gave a shrug. “There’s still a lot of variables. I wish I had more time with the data. Actually, I wish we’d had time to test the gas masks.”

Logan’s partner John was waving to Logan to hurry up and circle up with the team. Logan made a hand motion like shooing a fly and turned to Py.

“When this is over, dinner’s on me. Something to look forward too, yeah? I can’t imagine your diet includes many satisfying meals, if what you ate while I was tailing you is any indication.” Logan didn’t wait for Py respond, just pat him on the shoulder and walked off to join his team.

As the troops filtered out of the room, Py took a deep breath and steeled himself for the task at hand. He moved to the front of the room, which had been converted into a command center. Alice was patched into the system and the original theater screen was repurposed to show an overview map of the search radius. Collections of yellow dots representing their forces were beginning to move in clusters to different locations on the map. Live body camera footage was being played on large monitors, lined up side-by-side on fold-out tables below and to the right of the main projection. To the left were more monitors also streaming live camera feeds, though on the map above these streams were represented by clusters of blue dots that as of yet had not moved their position.

Py put on a headset and waited for confirmation that everyone was in place. One of the blazers in the room gave Py a nod and he took his cue to begin.

“You with me Alice?”

“I’m here Py.” Her familiar voice was calming. It centered him and gave him a renewed sense of confidence.

“Alright, while I’ve been trying to think of something more poetic, nothing seems more appropriately ironic as this...release the hounds!”

“...are you talking about the cats, Py?” Py brought his hand up to his face as a few of the agents in the room glanced his way.

“Yes Alice, if you would be so kind, release the cats.”

Outside, the light was fading. Old Town was bathed in the blanket of twilight. The Uptown sprawl glittered, iridescent just a few miles away in the failing light. If you were in the right spots, the disapproving mewing was unmistakable and with a simultaneous mechanical click, magnetic locks disengaged and a flurry of flashing eyes and fur charged into the night.

Back in the theater, the blue dots began to fan out across the city.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Cartwright sat perched on a roof near the border of Old Town, where the last crumbling buildings slowly gave way to crumbling suburbs behind them. Through binoculars he watched as law enforcement officers spread themselves tactically across the major arteries of the region.

“Looks like they’ve got some feds with ‘em too: gas masks, flash bangs, smoke greanades. Sorry Lulu, but it’s over.”

Lilith shared Cartwright’s view, broadcast to her remote location, and Cartwright could see the image of Lilith’s face floating in the top corner of his sight. Her expression was tense, and seemed to grow increasingly anxious as he described the situation below.

“Now what do we do?” Lilith’s voice sounded desperate, and almost rhetorical as if the phrase weren’t actually a question but simply the reflection of her increasing panic. Not a surprise considering the weight of failure that could fall on both if them if the truth were uncovered.

“What? You’re asking me? One thing's for sure, I’m out. I don’t get it, but somebody down there’s got my number. You’re going to have to put someone else on cleaning duty for a while.”

“Listen Cartwright, you have your orders, and you’ll follow those orders until I tell you otherwise.”

“Right, right.” Cartwright mumbled back, his attention falling away from Lilith as his eyes caught a glimpse of a shadowy form rounding a corner and disappearing into the darkness beneath him.

“Listen love, I’ll call you back.”

Without waiting for a reply Cartwright terminated the call and made his way down the fire escape into the alley below.

Doing his best to keep to the shadows, he deftly maneuvered through the familiar streets just on the heels of his prey. Finally, the faint sounds of footfalls slowed and Cartwright stopped just short of the alley to observe its clandestine occupants. Leaning close to the wall he moved one eye into the open, peering just around the corner. Standing tall in the shadows was a monstrous form, looming powerful in the dark. It was all but invisible in the night, but Cartwright’s trained eye could trace its unmistakable silhouette. A monster straight from a nightmare that had been slowly carving a path through the heart of Delphi. Surrounding the ethereal titan were three thin figures in long grey cloaks. The scent of death hung heavy about them. Not the fresh death of the daily grind, but an ancient, moldering death, and the thin robes blew like tattered cobwebs in the night air.

That’s not right. It's supposed to be alone... Better tell the bossman.

“You, stop there!”

Cartwright turned to face the stern voice, finding two men in riot gear glowing with the light of the streetlamp behind them. The men held guns high and at the ready, one a pump action shotgun, the other a short assault rifle. Cartwright doubted the bullets were lethal, probably rubber, although from this range they’d give quite a sting.

“Hands up!” One of the men spoke as the pair slowly advanced, his face covered with a gas mask, causing his voice to resonate with a strange echoing sound.

“Requesting validation of facial recognition.” He could hear the other man speak into his mask.

Good luck with that lad.

“...looks like we got him.”

...really!?

Cartwright raised his hands, walking slowly but confidently in the darkness.

“Evening gents.” He spoke with easy charm. “I hope you didn’t go through all this trouble just for me?”

“Get down!” The man with the machine gun ordered, moving his firearm menacingly in Cartwright’s direction. Slowly he began to put one knee on the ground, his hands raised high, his face still showing the cocky smile.

“Looks like he’s unarmed.” The other one spoke, reaching up and loosening the straps of his mask.

“What are you doing!” The first man scolded.

“I hate these things. They make me feel like I’m suffocating. Besides, like I said, he’s unarmed.”

The officer with the assault rifle turned to face his comrade, probably intending to deliver another rebuke, only to find himself face-to-face with a shotgun at point blank range. The streets filled with the sound of the blast as the slug instantly dropped its target to the ground. The wielder soon followed, landing hard on his knees and babbling incoherently.

Cartwright returned to his feet, walking over to the shooter who was now sobbing hysterically. Slowly he reached down and retrieved the shotgun, popping one round out of the breach to see what it was made of. The round was definitely not lethal, but still serious business, something on the order of a 12 gauge rubber slug.

“I can work with this.” He spoke, grabbing some grenades and hooking them on his belt.

Cartwright picked up one of the flash grenades and examined the trigger. A ring dial on the top of the grenade changed the duration of the fuse, increasing its flexibility in combat.

“Fancy that.” He spoke, twisting the dial and feeling the click of the cylinder as it fell in and out of its preset increments.

Setting the fuse for three minutes Cartwright tucked the grenade inside the officers bullet proof vest, right against his sternum. He leaned in to whisper in the man’s ear.

“Go tell your friends I’m on my way^”

Cartwright gave the man a push, causing him to first stumble and then run down a narrow alleyway. Turning to face the small surveillance drone that had accompanied the two officers he gave a sly smile, pulling the ring on a smoke grenade and dropping it at his feet. Another moment and he vanished from sight, lost somewhere in the billowing smoke.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The officers at the DPD checkpoint were getting restless. Stationed at one of the larger intersections of Old Town they were instructed to stay in a specific radius, so they could be deployed quickly when word came down from central command. A few had broken off in pairs to form patrols, but the rest stayed at the crossroads, idly awaiting orders.

“Suspect spotted, 21st and Ash!”

The group turned almost in unison toward the narrow alley that separated them from the target location. The suspect had been spotted only one block down, just on the other side of the adjacent building. Looking into the alley it was dark, too dark. A moment later smoke began to roll into the street, and it became obvious that the milky blackness obscuring all light had emanated from smoke grenades tossed into the slender passage.

Suddenly, a figure burst from the depths. A DPD officer, missing his gas mask and gun, sprinted towards the group, raving, screaming like a maniac. Relentlessly he clawed at the faces of his friends, desperately trying to remove their masks, pulling on cartridges and scraping at rubber gaskets. Charging from the side, a large officer tackled the crazed man and brought him to the ground. Two more quickly followed, doing their best to immobilize him.

“Grenade!” Someone shouted in panic, noticing the flash bang nestled snugly under the frantic officers bulletproof vest.

The grenade detonated, instantly blinding everyone who was near it, causing them to fall to the ground, gripping their ears in pain.

Several of the remaining personel ran to assist their fallen comrades as others darted behind squad cars looking for cover. As officers began to converge on the wounded a large metal dumpster came flying into the street with frightening speed, crushing the wounded on the ground and killing or debilitating anyone who had raced to assist them.

Two more smoke grenades were lobbed into the street.

“Shit!” A man exclaimed, reaching up and feeling the gash in his mask created by the attack of his hysterical counterpart. Racing to a nearby cruiser, he frantically searched the car for a fresh mask. A moment later he was firing his rifle into the backs of his friends, catching them off guard and driving them to the ground. Dropping his rifle, he pounced on one of the fallen officers and began pummeling him violently with his fists, punching the plastic and metal gas mask until they were a bloody pulp.

Alleyman emerged and walked to a downed officer who was scrambling to get to his feet. In one fluid motion he pulled out his razor and cut a deep gash into the officer’s mask. Bending down Alleyman retrieved an assault rifle, handing it to the officer and motioning toward one of the many surveillance drones.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Damit, we’re losing visual!” Logan heard one of the task force chiefs scream over the radio as he sped toward the compromised checkpoint.

“It’s alright.” He heard Py speak in a more measured tone, his voice thick with the sound of deep concentration that Logan was becoming quite familiar with. “He’s moving north of the command center. Divert drones from the southern outpost to area 3.”

Logan threw his wheel to the right, changing course from the command center to the nearest northern cross street.”

“Have we re-established visuals yet?” The chief continued to clamber on.

“There’s a lot of smoke, but we think we’re right behind him, sir.” One of the surveillance officers replied.

Logan arrived at the scene just ahead of several others who wasted no time in establishing a perimeter of cars and ducking for cover. Based on inel from command, the suspect should be arriving at any moment.

The streets were still for what felt like an eternity when finally the penetrating silence was broken by the faint sound of an old storefront door swinging on its hinges.

A woman stepped into the road, sweat streaming profusely down her face which was twisted in the visage of animal fear and absolute rage. He hands were shaking violently, clutching a large kitchen knife in both fists.

“Stay away from my baby!” She screamed with a primal roar, charging past the side of the nearest patrol car and slashing wildy at the officer in cover behind it. Following the woman came a swarm of raving civilians, armed with pans, bats, anything heavy or sharp they could grab, each ranting incoherently as they charged.

“Uh, Py?” Logan spoke into his ear piece, shifting to the far side of his cruiser, concealing himself from the manic crowd.

“Working on it… he’s doubled back, no, he’s gone.”

One by one the officers started to fall to the ground, their bodies beaten and their gas masks in tatters. Again, an eerie silence grew as the beaten officers began to rise from the ground, almost as if in a trance. The formerly agitated civilians ignored the entranced officers, some swaying slowly while others collapsed in exhaustion.

Without warning, the affected officers started to run in all directions, shooting at drones and throwing smoke grenades into every alley and side street. They broke through doors, firing blindly into buildings and throwing flash grenades at open windows. As backup began to arrive, a second wave of civilians emerged from nearby apartments, throwing themselves at any officer still standing and demolishing squad cars.

“Py…?” Logan repeated into his earpiece. As Logan waited for instruction his eye caught a cat with a little camera on its head, trotting eastbound across the street, seemingly unconcerned with the frantic behavior of the crowd surrounding it.

“We can’t see anything!” The section chief screamed over the com. “Drones are falling everywhere and the streets are choked with smoke. We’ll have to split up. Remaining squads deploy to the following sites. Move to perimeter crossings A, B, and D. Regroup and await further instructions.”

“No,” Py whispered, repeating over and over the unfinished thought. “He doubles back, then he’s gone… doubles back then he’s... Wait, Logan! He’s heading east! He’s moving through the buildings to keep clear of the drones!”

“Can you be a little more specific?” Logan called back. Unable to reach his squad car for fear of being mobbed, he moved on foot in the new direction, walking quickly down the street with his weapon ready.

“Working on it. Checkpoint four is two blocks down in that same direction. Maybe you can rendezvous with them.”

“Two blocks?” Logan moaned, wishing he had his cruiser. “Requesting backup at checkpoint four.”

“No!” The section chief called back. “Any officers remaining at checkpoints three and four should head west and assist at designated perimeter crossings”

“Chief,” Logan heard Py challenge over the com, “the other points are clearly just distractions. The culprit is heading east towards checkpoint four.”

“No offense, but I’m done with this nonsense. Half my team is in chaos and if this intel is correct the suspect is nearing our perimeter. From now on we're strictly by the book!”

“Super.” Logan thought at the prospect of losing any chance at backup. Regardless of orders, Py was right, and Logan knew it.

“Hold up!” Someone called from behind. Logan turned to look and saw three other DPD officers quick on his heels, John Dalton among them.

“Fuck the feds” John called out. “We’re with you.”

“Thanks boys.” Logan replied, motioning the other officers toward the end of the block.

As Logan neared the checkpoint, he saw two officers standing stiffly under a streetlight, their gas masks missing and their weapons at the ready. Logan raised his pistol and inched forward. As he got closer a third officer came into view, advancing slowly toward Logan with his pistol placed directly against a woman's head. Logan knew that even a non-lethal round could kill at point blank range, so the hostage was in legitimate danger.

“Put down your weapons or I’ll kill her right now!” The compromised officer called out, creeping forward as the woman struggled to get free.

Hesitantly, Logan and the officers behind him placed their weapons on the ground and raised their hands in the air. As soon as their arms were up, Logan heard a scuffle from behind. Swiveling his head, he saw Alleyman emerge from behind the corner of the building where he’d hidden just out of sight, a billy club in his right hand. He’d caught the first officer completely off guard, stretching his hand over the top of his head and ripping the gasmask from his face. As John turned, Alleyman swung his club, smashing the front of his mask, breaking the eyes and severing the cartridge from its mount. By this time, the third officer had gathered his wits and started to charge, Alleyman hitting him square in the chest with his club, a sickening gurgle and crunch sounding from the man as he fell, lifelessly, to the ground.

Logan dove for his gun, running as he went, a hail of bullets flying by him as he tried to put distance between Alleyman and himself, finally landing behind a parked car to the far side of the checkpoint.

Emerging from the sidestreet, Alleyman scanned the area, squinting deeply into the surrounding darkness. His face broke into a twisted smile as his gaze reached Logan, crouching in his cover.

“There you are.” Alleyman spoke, looking in Logan's direction. “I knew you’d find me.”

Logan lifted his gun over the hood of the car to fire a small volley at Alleyman, the officers at the checkpoint firing back as soon as his head became visible. Logan knew the bullets were non-lethal, and he thought at this range he might withstand a shot or two if he was lucky, but it wasn’t a great time to be incapacitated, so he’d have to treat everything as if it were instant death. Logan looked again and Alleyman had disappeared.

“He’s running north!” Py called out. “Damn, I think he’s in another building!"

“Trying to flank me.” Logan breathed, a relatively friendly stray rubbing against him as he made his way across the street. “The clever fuck.”

Logan moved backward into the open street, looking for a place to cut into the building where he guessed Alleyman might have entered. Firing toward the checkpoint as he retreated, Logan managed to hit one officer in the knee, dropping him. The remaining officers charged forward, trying to maintain sight of Logan as he ran to escape into the neighboring alley.

Logan kneeled down in the alleyway just a few feet from the entrance. He pointed his gun about head level and waited. He could hear the heavy footsteps of the officers as they raced to intercept. Guns blazing, they swung into the alley, firing just over Logan’s head.

“Sorry boys.” Logan mumbled to himself, firing up into their unmasked faces, sending them stumbling back until they collapsed into the empty street. “Fuck.”

In the alley now, Logan began searching for the backdoor to the building. As he got close the door exploded outward and a handful of frantic civilians filled the alley, flying towards him.

“Jesus.” Logan muttered to himself as he boxed one man and then another, knocking them unconscious. “Are you serious! Carl’s going to kill me.”

“Behind you!” Py called out.

Logan had no idea how Alleyman had managed it, but there he was, standing just behind his left shoulder. Logan wasted no time, spinning around and catching Alleyman square in the jaw. Alleyman stumbled several steps backward, not seeming particularly hurt, but unable to keep his balance. Quickly Logan closed the gap, firing his pistol as he moved, Alleyman appearing unphased by the impacts. The pistol locked open and Logan threw the empty weapon at Alleyman, charging forward with both fists clenched.

Alleyman had now backed entirely out of the alley and into the street. He threw his own punch as Logan came into range. Logan rolled expertly with the punch, but the blow was still substantial. A second blow came, knocking him to the ground. Logan was hurt, the arm that had blocked Alleyman’s last punch wouldn’t move. Still, he fought his way to his feet and threw another puch, a wild swinging blow, which sent Alleyman stumbling out into the middle of the road.

As Alleyman regained his footing, he dropped his guard, standing tall in the light of a streetlamp. Logan wondered at the sudden change in posture just as the sting of gunfire struck the back of his legs, dropping Logan to his knees. John and the other remaining officer, two men who had bravely violated orders to assist him, had made their way around the building during the skirmish, flanking him, then attacking from behind. He’d been expertly maneuvered. Alone and nowhere to go.

Reaching behind his back, Alleyman retrieved the same antique revolver he’d struck Logan with in their last encounter, pointing it straight at Logan's head.

“I’m going to have to leave Delphi now thanks to you fucks.” Alleyman hissed, pulling the mask from Logan’s face. “But I’m not leaving without my pound of flesh.”

The hammer on the pistol rolled back, the hard metallic sound of the rotating cylinder dominating Logan’s ears. As the hammer finally locked, another sound started to grow, faint at first and then blaring, followed quickly by the blinding flash of lights. In a heartbeat, Alleyman vanished from sight, replaced by the shimmering white door of a speeding police cruiser. Logan pulled himself to his feet and saw Alleyman crumpled in a heap about twenty feet from where he’d just been standing, a police car slowly drifting to a halt with its hood and front window smashed so deep, Logan would’ve guessed it had stuck a streetlamp if he hadn’t just witnessed the crash with his own eyes. The car was empty, driven remotely.

“Are you alright, Logan?” Py’s voice came over the com, tired and nervous.

“I’m alright.” Logan replied, surveying the area. With Alleyman down the other officers were disoriented, but they didn’t seem to pose any threat.

“Thank god.” Py breathed over the com.

“Did... did you just smash my perp with a car?”

“Uh, yeah. Things were getting a little tense.”

“God damn.” Logan spoke, walking toward Alleyman’s body. “He made us look like a pack of assholes.”

“At least it’s finally over.” Py sighed.

“Not quite.” Logan replied, stepping over a fat tabby cat to check Alleyman’s pulse. “Better send an ambulance. This fucker’s still breathing!”

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