Tales from the TCPD: The Ironport Fiasco (Composition)
The call for SWAT came in late in the day. Low, autumn sun shone in Kathleen Aurelia’s eyes as the SWAT van forced its way through the evening traffic on the Hercules Bridge. She’d been in Titan City only a few months, and she’d seen some frightening things here, fighting alongside SWAT. But even now, in the chilly, autumnal evening light, she loved it. “
“Nervous, Aurelia?” said Lenny Alvarez, crouched across from her on the van’s functional seats.
“Not with you backing me up in that,” she said. She gestured absently at Lenny’s gear. It took up most of the rest of the compartment; they rode alone in the second of two SWAT vans dispatched to the crisis.
She looked up to catch Lenny grinning crookedly at her. “You’re just jealous because my outfit’s more slimming than your body armor.” Kathleen just smiled and shook her head. This was Lenny’s way of dealing with the tension—bantering. She’d discovered over the past few weeks that it helped her, too. “Admit it. You only trained on that thing because you wanted to have an excuse to say, ‘Time to put on the old COP suit.’”
Lenny pretended to think for a moment. “Well, I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a big factor.” When Kathleen didn’t laugh, he added, “Seriously, I’ve heard there were some delays on deploying these things because it took NWT and the city six months to think up an acronym that spelled ‘cop.’” He laughed.
Kathleen continued watching the scenery, such as it was, through the reinforced window. She lived in Hollybriar, which remained suburban despite the development in the rest of Aurora over the past fifty years. She still hadn’t seen much of South Titan, except on rides like this. They moved faster now that they’d left the bridge traffic behind. They navigated past deserted factories and refurbished condos rubbing shoulders uneasily in Clarkstown. Soon, the eclectic, inexpensive buildings and scattered art installations of Highpoint flashed by. Kathleen had nearly moved there rather than Aurora; Highpoint had the reputation of being cheap and fun while still being relatively safe. They passed by a café, and she heard a split second of music from inside.
They crossed into the unlovely, functional cinderblock and metal buildings of Ironport. Though the sky remained streaked with yellow and orange, the dim blue of early evening had fallen in the deserted streets of the shipping district, turning warehouses and loading docks indistinct. They rounded a corner and emerged beside an immense dock stacked with enormous cargo containers. Piles of wooden pallets burned like bonfires.
The van rolled to a stop behind one of the containers. Kathleen donned her helmet and glanced at Lenny. “I’ll be right behind you,” he said. “Just gotta put on the old … well, you know.” Kathleen grinned. She slung her New World Technologies-made shock rifle over her shoulder on its carry strap and swung out the van’s rear doors.
Outside, the damp breeze from the bay alternated with the heat of the flames. Across the dark water, the lights of North Titan twinkled. Kathleen hurried to the SWAT command post, beside two more vans that had already discharged their occupants.
Chief Gherrenfur stood in the center of the group, dressed in Kevlar armor much like Kathleen’s. His eyes gleamed, reflecting the flames far more brightly than the humans’. “Aurelia,” he said, nodding in greeting. “Where’s Alvarez?”
“Right here, sir,” said Lenny’s voice, now tinged with electronic overtones. Heavy footsteps rattled on the pavement beneath her. Kathleen looked around to see her fellow officer approaching, now armored in his Computer Operated Protective Suit. The COP Suit added a foot to his height and covered him in black and white plates of high-impact plastic, making him resemble a human-shaped prowl car. Behind his transparent faceplate, he winked at Kathleen. “I just had to put on my—“
“Yes, Alvarez, we know.” Gherrenfur growled softly and rolled his eyes. “Here’s the situation, team.” He gestured toward a dockside warehouse with a clawed hand. “Two hours ago, Detective Aragon of Narcotics arrived here for an undercover operation. He was posing as an envoy to the Pyrebrands from a drug cartel from someplace off in South America, where they supposedly have their own supply of Chaser.”
Many of the officers nodded in immediate understanding. The Pyrebrands were Titan City’s biggest distributors—and consumers—of Chaser, the superdrug that granted advanced-stage addicts powers over fire. For over a decade, detectives had suspected that the Black Rose controlled the Pyrebrands’ Chaser supply, and thus the gang, though they’d never found proof sufficient to stand up in court. An independent source would free the Pyrebrands to make a bid for power of their own.
“Aragon was sniffing for evidence that would tie the Pyrebrands to the Black Rose conclusively, something that’d hold up in court,” Gherrenfur continued. “But the operation went sour. Just as Aragon began the meeting, a hero bursts in, starts busting heads, and in the confusion, Aragon’s cover gets blown.” Gherrenfur’s hackles stood up, and several officers muttered about “stupid hero hotshots.”
“Enough,” said Gherrenfur. “Stay focused, team. Plus, turns out this hero—his name’s Topaz—bit off more than he could chew. Aragon was meeting with Skullcharred himself.”
A couple officers whistled, and Kathleen blinked in surprise. No wonder Chief Gherrenfur was here in person. Skullcharred—formerly pro football player Thomas “the Wash” Washington—had been the biggest sports scandal in decades when he vomited flames all over an opposing player in a championship game. His career ruined, he’d turned to Chaser with a vengeance and turned the Pyrebrands into an underworld power, ultimately taking the name “Skullcharred.”
“Skullcharred,” Lenny scoffed. “Sounds like a kind of smoked fish.”
“Shut up, Alvarez,” ordered Gherrenfur. “Skullcharred himself bugged out as soon as the hero showed up, but he left a big contingent of his fire-flinging senior Pyrebrands behind. We’ve forced them back into the warehouse, but they’ve taken Aragon and this Topaz idiot hostage. They’re refusing to negotiate. I don’t have to tell you how crazy threatened Pyrebrands can be. Sooner or later, they’ll take out their frustration on Aragon and Topaz. We’ve gotta get in there, rescue those hostages, and take out twenty or thirty Pyrebrands, before this turns into an even bigger fiasco.”
He looked slowly around the circle, locking eyes with each officer in turn. “This’ll be a tough operation, but I know you’re all up to it. We have two viable access points: the front door and a delivery dock with a sliding gate around the back. Alvarez, you’ll lead a team in through the front door.”
The circle had gone even more silent as Gherrenfur discussed tactics, and Kathleen heard a soft buzz of servos as Lenny nodded in response to the command.
“Once the gangers are occupied, I’ll lead a second team in through the delivery port and hit them from behind.” Gherrenfur rattled off a string of names assigned to each team. Kathleen would be part of the second team, attacking from the back.
“Let’s go,” the Chief said. “Time’s wasting for those hostages.” Whirling red and blue lights, like the light bar of a squad car, lit up on the chest of Lenny’s COP Suit. The teams moved into position.
Moments later, Kathleen’s team waited silently at the delivery door. Gherrenfur’s pointed ear twitched, and Kathleen heard the sounds of gunshots, muffled bangs, crackling flame, and muddled shouting from inside. Gherrenfur nodded. Two breachers, SWAT troopers equipped with personal rams and shotguns, smashed in the delivery door. Thick smoke billowed out of the aperture. The troopers donned gas masks, and they stepped inside, covering each other with their weapons.
The warehouse’s interior was chaos. Streamers of tear gas and smoke swirled through the cavernous space. Sparks of gunfire and gouts of flame from the Pyrebrands lit the clouds like far-off lightning. Flashing beams of red and blue from Lenny’s lights cut through the smoke. Above the cacophony of weapons fire, flaming blasts, and furious shouts, Gherrenfur’s voice rang out beside her, “Everyone down on the ground, now!” Unfortunately, no Pyrebrands complied.
Kathleen sighted for targets down the gleaming barrel of her shock rifle. It wasn’t as easy as aiming a firearm. The glowing lights around the shroud kept washing out her vision. With a scream, a Pyrebrand charged at her out of the cloud of gas. As it always did when she faced combat, time seemed to slow down for her, and she caught every detail of the onrushing ganger. He showed only the earliest signs of Chaser dependence: a red flush to his skin, bloodshot eyes, and some slight cracks in the skin of his hands and around his eyes. He wore the gang’s usual mixture of red and black street clothes covered with flame patterns, as if he’d painted his clothes to resemble a ‘70’s muscle car paint job. He held a knife high in one hand, ready to stab down inexpertly. Spittle flew from his mouth as he charged her.
Kathleen fired a short blast from the shock rifle. The lack of recoil always surprised her, but she managed not to pull off-target. The lights around the shroud flared, and a crackling beam of energy rippled from the barrel to the center of the crazed Pyrebrand’s chest. He dropped, convulsing.
Kathleen scrambled atop a pile of crates in one corner of the room. There, she could look down through the chaos and spot targets for the shock rifle. Clouds of gas and smoke shifted and whirled around her, hiding and revealing a dozen scenes of battle. The chaingun built into Lenny’s suit’s forearm spun as it unleashed a hail of bullets. Energy crackled around its other hand as it backhanded a Pyrebrand away. A Pyrebrand with glowing, red-hot cracks in his skin gestured angrily and flung a wave of fire toward two troopers. Gherrenfur, his fanged jaws wide and seemingly unaffected by the gas and smoke, screamed orders Kathleen couldn’t hear over the roar of flames and gunfire.
As quickly as it had begun, the battle wound down. The smoke cleared to reveal more than a dozen Pyrebrands sprawled on the warehouse floor, some slain, but most alive, cuffed with high-tech shackles, and looking none too happy. Troopers clustered around a single, fallen officer. Lenny loomed just behind them in his COP suit.
“Find them!” shouted Gherrenfur. “Find Topaz and Aragon!” His nose twitched. Kathleen gingerly stepped down from the heap of crates. She stumbled over a body half-buried in broken slats and other debris. She heard a groan. She knelt down and flung the debris aside. A powerfully built man in an amber-colored outfit lay beneath it. Kathleen spotted an elaborate, Art Deco-style pistol or ray gun holstered at the man’s hip and the tattered remnants of a cape around his shoulders. Tinted goggles covered his eyes. Dark burns marred his suit.
“Chief!” she cried. “I think I found Topaz! He’s injured!” Seemingly in moments, a paramedic knelt beside her, working feverishly on the hero’s injuries. When had the paramedics arrived? Kathleen withdrew to give him space.
She drew up beside Gherrenfur, who stood with Lenny, watching as officers secured Pyrebrands’ cuffs and read them their rights. “Aurelia,” said Lenny, sounding more serious and more nervous than she’d ever heard him, “are you all right?”
She nodded tightly. Stumbling across the horribly burned Topaz had been far more disturbing than the firefight itself.
“Aurelia,” said Gherrenfur. He looked at her levelly. “Good job today.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said. To her disgust, her voice came out slightly breathless.
“Your first major operation,” Gherrenfur said. “You did well.” His voice dropped to a soft, steady growl. “Now, relax, and let it all go.”
“Sir!” shouted one of the other officers. “This Pyrebrand lying here, at the base of this wall … this isn’t a Pyrebrand. It’s Aragon, sir!”
“Don’t tell me, you fool. Paramedic, to that officer!” Gherrenfur pointed.
“No, sir,” said the trooper. “He’s been hit in the back of the head with some kind of energy weapon. Aragon is dead.”
Gherrenfur snarled incoherently. Kathleen exchanged an uncertain glance with Lenny. Something told her that this fiasco was just the beginning.
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