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by Libby



(This story will be completed in a series of installments)

 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7
 

Chapter 6


Later that morning, Preston and Kyra prepared to investigate Storage Depot 4, accompanied by the usual security detail. Kyra disappeared to one of the Basement areas, where It took her awhile to find the necessary items, cannibalising various boxes to assemble a comprehensive Evidentiary Kit.

By the time she returned to the office, it had become apparent that circumstances had changed dramatically. Preston was grim faced and the fact he was adjusting one of his sleeve holsters told Kyra everything she needed to know.

'Want me to drive?' she asked.

'Absolutely,' he replied.

With the Kit safely stowed in a drawer, Kyra plucked her topcoat from its hook, rapidly checked her sidearm, then called to her startled assistant.

'Mind the store, Ted. Looks like we have trouble.'

On their way down to the Transport bay, they were joined by two more of the Free Cleric, Grammaton First Class Josh Stannard and his grey-coated Subordinate, Cleric Karl Freimann. Preston outlined the situation as they waited for their cars to be fuelled and brought to the covered boarding area. A Sweeper truck and several motorbikes were already rolling toward the open bay doors.

'It appears that an as yet unidentified group has taken control of the Broadcasting station in Sector 7. We have cut power to the station but according to one of the Technicians who managed to escape, it won't take long to hook up to one of the independent generators. Other Technicians are working on ways to jam any signal they do manage to get out.'

'So…what do they intend to do?' queried a puzzled Freimann. 'I mean, who's going to listen to a bunch of radicals trying to turn the clock back? Most people just tune in for the music and updates these days.'

'As yet, we have no concrete information,' replied Preston. 'But since it possible that we may be up against our former colleagues, the whys and wherefores can wait until we have the situation contained.'

Freimann nodded and glanced at Stannard, who was trying not to smile at the politely phrased rebuke. Maybe that's why I'm still wearing a grey coat, he thought wryly.

The first of the white cars drew alongside. Kyra waited for the driver to alight, then slid into her seat. Preston took the other front seat and indicated she should set off. In her rearview, she could see Stannard and Freimann preparing to get into the rear of the next car. Security procedures remained tight and no more than two Clerics were permitted to travel together.

As usual, the Sweeper team had reached the destination first and Kyra was surprised to see a swathe of standard Enforcement cars forming a barricade. Officers in riot gear were poised and ready behind the cars and it was obvious from the broken glass and gun smoke, that shots had already been exchanged.

The Broadcast station was non-descript grey edifice sandwiched between similar buildings. Unlike them, it bristled with antennae and shiny dishes. Although all pre-Revolution media had been controlled centrally from the Palace of Justice, certain sectors had outstations which could boost signals or take control if anything untoward happened. These were housed either in separate buildings, or in selected Equilibrium Centres, such as the one now occupied by the FLC. As soon as Preston had destroyed the nerve centre, the Resistance had stormed the outstations, allowing Jurgen remote access to the confused population.

Since then, certain freedoms had been granted to the outstations which meant that licensed individuals could broadcast music and disseminate useful information or even host discussion programmes and report news items. However, they were still subject to regulations as laid down by the Council and failure to observe these would result in an immediate revocation of their licence. As expected, there had been some initial dissention and graffiti about the Council being as bad as the Tetragrammaton, but in the end, most citizens accepted the need for regulation.

Nevertheless, it was being kept fairly quiet that eventually, the Free Librian Council's official media announcements would be broadcast from the studios in the Palace of Justice, once the building had been cleared of all the various lethal nasties the retreating Councillary forces had left in their wake…a further headache for the already overstretched Free Librian Security.

Although Preston had been silent during the journey, his mind had been envisaging possible attack scenarios; a natural response to his years of training. Today, and every day since he had come off the dose, the major difference was that he considered possible losses and tweaked the plans accordingly to minimise death or injury, something which was previously of no real concern.

Kyra's black-gloved fingers jabbed the radio button then immediately adjusted the volume as an almost incoherent voice raved about freedom and flying. The Cleric and Administrator exchanged resigned looks.

'I think we may be dealing with more than just radicals,' Preston sighed. 'Too many incidents recently have 'White Magic' as their trigger.' He shook his head. 'We have got to put a stop to this…'

'But where are we going to get the manpower? There's hardly enough to deal with the problems we have now. Regular Enforcement is struggling to keep up with petty crime…unless we can recruit more….'

John's pained expression told her he really didn't need reminding just now of the desperate position they were in. She waved a hand at him apologetically and returned to more immediate concerns.

'Seems like someone in there's obviously rational enough to fire up a generator.'

'Indeed.'

There was a slight squeal of brakes as Stannard and Freimann's car pulled in behind them. Kyra and the three Clerics got out simultaneously, each surveying their surroundings carefully. A fine drizzle fell from steel grey clouds above, reducing visibility just enough to make everyone even more cautious. The Sweeper Captain approached respectfully, visor raised, and directed the Cleric teams towards the main entrance of the broadcast station.

'Clerics, we've secured the ground floor and most of the first floor, but a group have locked themselves in the control room and are still broadcasting. We should be able to disable the generator shortly.'

'Excellent,' replied Preston. 'But warn your men to be vigilant. The situation could become volatile.'

'Yes, Sir.'

Once through the door, their ears were assailed by the incessant ranting of whoever was now in control of the microphone. Kyra could make very little sense of what seemed to be pure gibberish.

At each of the kicked-open doors along the corridor, a leather clad officer stood guard. Preston and Stannard stepped carefully over the debris. They stopped abruptly as the background babble took on a more desperate tone and an obviously terrified voice was heard pleading…until a single shot silenced it. Other voices began yelling and screaming as further shots rang out. Both men made brief eye contact and Stannard's grim expression mirrored Preston's own.

Kyra followed close on their heels, keenly aware of the prickle of apprehension as the fine hairs rose on the back of her neck. Her throat was ash dry and with an uncharacteristic movement, she reached nervously forward and placed a worried hand on Preston's left shoulder. As if this action underpinned his own assessment, the Cleric turned his head towards her. He pressed his lips together and nodded.

'Kata pattern,' he confirmed quietly.

The three Clerics withdrew their signature pistols and flicked off the safety. Kyra took out her own gun, smaller, but no less lethal. Several moments passed, then, slightly up ahead, they heard a grunt from one of the guards outside an open door. Almost in slow motion, he slumped forward, twitching violently as arterial blood spurted out from around a large knife jammed to the hilt into his neck.

A wild-eyed creature, saturated in even more blood, staggered into the corridor, tripping over the dying guard and falling to his knees. Three guns followed his descent, but no-one fired. The man was now unarmed, his face distorted by pain and terror. He cried out at the sight of the black coats, flung both hands behind his head, then curled up into a ball, shaking and moaning. In contrast, the guard was now completely still. Nothing further could be done for him in this world.

From a higher floor the staccato firing became more sustained, accompanied by increasingly hysterical screams. Stannard and Freimann prepared to move towards the door, only to be halted by Preston, who had cocked his head to one side and was listening intently.

'They're heading this way. Get ready.' He pointed to the man on the floor, who had started to crawl towards them, whining and begging for his life. 'Administrator, can you get that out of the way?'

'Done,' Kyra replied, stepping purposefully forward. She placed one black-booted foot between the man's shoulder blades and pushed him to the floor. The whining became a muffled wheeze as his face was briefly buried in the surrounding debris. None too gently, Kyra hauled first one arm, then the other behind his back and deftly snapped a lightweight double nylon cuff around his grimy wrists. Then, she grasped the man by his equally grimy collar and yanked him unsympathetically to his knees, wrinkling her nose at the redolent stink of body odour, blood and fear. 'Move it!' she hissed and shoved the gun muzzle hard against his neck. Still whimpering, the man lurched to his feet and stumbled along the corridor. Her concerned backward glance at Preston received a confident nod in reply, but she felt unnerved all the same.

Stannard and Freimann turned to Preston and in deference to his seniority, waited for instructions. From directly above, vying with the gunfire and screams, there was the sound of panicked running along the corridors. Occasionally there was an agonised shriek followed by the ominous thud of a body hitting the floor and more chaotic stumbling towards the nearby staircase. They were probably two or three floors up.

Preston rapidly assessed the situation and decided they were in a less than ideal position to return effective fire, since the corridor was too narrow and visibility beyond the door severely limited.

'We'll move into the stairwell. It'll provide some cover, should we need it, and allow us to gauge numbers and tailor our response accordingly. We'll have no idea who we're up against until almost the last moment, so be prepared and don't squander any advantage.'

Freimann swallowed hard. He very much wanted to make a good impression on Preston and finally wear the so far elusive black coat. Screwing up was not an option. He followed Stannard through the door, stepping carefully over the body of the guard, still leaking messily from the neck wound.

'What do we do about the mob being chased down the stairs?' he asked, as the thudding and screaming got ominously closer.

'Haven't got much option,' Preston answered grimly. 'If any one of them is waving so much as a BB gun, take them down,' He had both pistols drawn now and his breathing was slowing as his perception and reactions sharpened. He murmured almost distractedly, 'If they're unarmed, let them run…we want the ones doing the chasing.'

As if on cue, a group of five dishevelled and obviously frightened men rounded the last corner then skidded and tripped down the last few steps into the stairwell, colliding with the wall and each other in their desperate attempt to escape the fate pursuing them. Pupils already the size of saucers dilated further as the men struggled to comprehend their new predicament, but abject terror and a bloodstream boiling with 'White Magic' rendered them irrational and unhinged.

The men surged forward towards the doorway, forcing the Clerics back into the corridor. In a pre-revolution encounter, Preston would have had no compunction about shooting them all, but these men were unarmed and petrified, acting on instinct. He sidestepped and allowed them to scramble past Stannard and a worryingly startled Freimann, in their effort to make a dash for the door. However, the question of whether or not they would be contained by Enforcement teams outside could not be his concern as the gunfire above ceased abruptly and the Cleric was all too aware of how badly they were placed. There was no time to regain the advantage lost.

Stannard's face was expressionless, his body still and prepared. He nodded briefly at Preston and adjusted his stance to maximise his firing potential, whilst maintaining a position of relative safety. Preston glanced towards Freimann and felt a slight tingle of concern. The young Cleric's eyes were wide, darting everywhere, his breathing was too fast and there were beads of sweat on his upper lip. He had not moved from the open doorway.

Much later, when he was writing the most depressing of reports, Preston was forced to admit that the shot which killed Freimann was stunning in its accuracy and delivery; a precision head shot from an almost impossible angle. Such a shot was a painful reminder that the Free Cleric were perhaps not being as meticulous with their Continuing Professional Training as their single-minded new enemy …in fact CPT was hardly mentioned and even though Preston himself maintained his rigorous sessions, he had noticed the Hall of Precision empty on many occasions.

'We're becoming soft,' he thought, bitterly.

Preston had reacted instantly, as had Stannard, bounding up the steps following the retreating footsteps of whoever had fired the shot, both knowing the perpetrator to be as skilled and therefore as lethal as them, but also knowing they had no choice.

Unfortunately their adversary also had the advantage of prior knowledge and a 5 second lead…more than enough. The frustrated Clerics had to negotiate the prostrate bodies of those already mowed down in the initial fire fight whilst trying to determine their quarry's path.

Their pace finally slowed as they admitted defeat. The return journey to where Freimann lay was somewhat slower as they checked each body for life signs, to no avail. Most were still unnaturally warm, a known side-effect of high levels of 'Magic' in the system. Perhaps the Technicians would be able to salvage something from the survivors…anything that could give them a lead.

Preston slammed down the lid of his notebook.

'Time to get pro-active!'



Chapter 7










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