Captain Grissim took one long, last drag on his nicostick and tossed the glowing butt across the empty parking lot. He watched idly as it arched briefly and skittered to a stop, sending ashes and sparks dancing across the asphalt. It was kind of pretty the way the sparks died out one by one. Grissim leaned back against the sloped hood of his Cltymaster, enjoying the surprisingly clear, moonlit night. Behind him, he could hear one of his men approach. He glanced again at the pale orange glow of his dying cigarette.
“Just like tonight,” he mused aloud. “Watch ’em die, one by one.”
Grissim absently rubbed the two-day growth of beard on his chin and neck as he turned to stare contemptuously at what his superiors referred to as an aide. From what he could tell, the guy was little more than some lop-eared techie with a datajack, fresh out of the academy, with no more sense than some drekheaded dreamchipper. In only six short hours, Grissim had grown to despise the young Elf. How, he wondered for the hundredth time, was he supposed to make a soldier out of such rot? He rolled his eyes in a silent plea for mercy, or maybe Justice.
“What is it, trooper?” he asked.
“Bane’s on Tac-2, sir. His men are in position on the far side of the Junk yard-”
Grissim smacked the trooper’s cheek without conscious thought. Damn kids. They didn’t know anything.
“Across the what, Trooper? Across the what? Why do you think we make up those cute little codes back at HQ? For the fun of it?” Grissim whacked him again, though he was sure the Elf had already realized the error of his ways.
“I thought you daisy-eaters were supposed to be tuned to all that magical mumbo Jumbo. I thought you knew about magical spying. I guess I was wrong. Was I wrong, trooper?” In reality, Grissim wasn’t really worried about someone overhearing his aide’s mention of their target. The pair of wage mages attached to his force had given him the all-clear signal five minutes ago, and they would have noticed if someone was about to try something tricky. Still, it paid to be careful, especially because no raid on Black’s Junk Yard had ever gone according to plan. Besides, the Elf had to learn sooner or later, and Grissim enjoyed this part of the training.
“Yeah, right. Sorry. Well, if you’re sorry, then it must be O.K. Think, boy. You’ve got to be thinking all the time. Now what is it?”
“Bane’s in position. The target is quiet. The new group appears to have moved into position and seems to be waiting on their contact. They are scanning, both magically and physically, but they are not searching this far out. Both our squads are ready to move in.”
“Good, trooper. That’s real good. Now, back to your post. Tell the boys to saddle up. We move when I give the word.”
Grissim adjusted his field jacket and watched the Elf climb into the depths of the Citymaster. Feeling the hairs rise on the back of his neck, he could tell that it wouldn’t be much longer. Time for a payback, and everybody knew how painful that could be.
Grissim headed for the command couch of the Citymaster and considered his good fortune. Only eight hours ago, one of his larks had spotted his old nemesis Blackwing leaving the Aurora Sheraton in a rush. Among the handful of people alive that could ID the notorious Elven hitman, Blackwing’s joygirl was one and Grissim was another. The Joyglrl was also Grissim’s lark. As luck would have it, the Captain was only a few blocks away at the time of the tip, and arrived on the scene in a matter of seconds.
It was no surprise, though, that his lark had already vanished and Blackwing was nowhere to be seen. The hotel desk clerk was extraordinarily helpful, with a little motivation from the Ares Predator Grissim brandished under the clerk’s nose. Directed to Room 616 on the sixth floor, Grissim found everything just as he had expected.
Blackwing had been typically efficient, killing the room’s three occupants with three precise shots. By the looks of them, they were “back-to-nature” Elven runners. The scene was as clean, almost sterile, as one would expect one of the best Elven hitmen to leave it. But under the body of the third victim, Grissim found a shattered pocket secretary. He wondered if the hitman had truly intended to kill the woman and shatter the recorder with the same bullet. It would have been a tricky shot, but the kind for which Blackwing was famous. Whatever the Elf’s Intent, the shot had trashed the pocket secretary. That wouldn’t stop Grissim, however. A lot of people owed him some big favors.
As it turned out, he only had to cash in one favor to get a partial reconstruction of the dead Elf’s last conversation. Most of it was still garbled except for the words, “one A.M.” and “Bruski’s Junk Yard.”
Snapping out of his reverie, the Captain ducked into the spacious Citymaster and leaned into the command couch. From here, he could oversee the entire operation. Strapping on the headgear with one hand, he used the other to flip a bank of toggle switches. Lights began to flash. Good. Grissim liked a lot of lights. He glanced at the amber display to his left, double-checking the Cltymaster’s readings. He confirmed what his rigger Ronnie already knew; everything was ready to roll. When a certain red light flashed on the console, Grissim hit the switch and listened.
“Group Two moving into position, sir. Five or six additional contacts. Total eight/nine in the net.”
Grissim grinned. The terrorists with whom Blackwing was supposed to link up had showed. Fine. He’d take them all down tonight.
“That’s a roger. Keep the astral boys flying. We’re on the way.” Grissim keyed the open channel. “This is it, campers. Blue One, move out. Gold One, follow my lead. Ronnie, take us in.”
Grissim could feel the big Citymaster roll forward as the rigger slipped into gear and pulled away from the attendant patrol cars. He glanced at the forward-mounted security camera as a side gate to Black’s swung into view. He knew, no matter what happened next, that it was going to be a blast.
The Cltymaster tore through the gate with a crash, immediately encountering a column of crushed cars. Without pause, Ronnie swung the beast to the right and began to charge down the narrow lane.
“Blue One, this is Leader. We are in the perimeter. Ronnie, give me ETA.”
“ETA thirty seconds.”
Grissim glanced at the monitor. “You heard the man. Get a move on, Blue. You’re going to miss the excitement.” Grissim watched several cameras as the Cltymaster flew past the ancient walls of rust. His mental timer counted down the seconds as his adrenaline pumped wildly.
“Swope, take the water cannon. Hose them down good. We’ll sort it out back at the station.” Behind him, Grissim heard his assistant climb into the cupola, the glamour slot on the Cltymaster. Though he wouldn’t admit it, Grissim hoped the kid would do well. “Any grief, Swope, and hose them with lead.”
Ronnie’s chipped voice filled his headphone.
“ETA in ten, nine, eight. All passengers prepare for Immediate Impact. five, four. Blue reports Initial contact. One. Impact!”