2-5

Beginnings: 2-5

“Alright, listen up.”

Inside the van, Grandmaster addressed Jason and Visionary adjacent to him. He was speaking through his comm as well, to keep in touch with the occupants of another van close to them. Jason and Visionary were sitting opposite him on leather-bound chairs. Facing directly opposite him was a monitor, showing a grainy picture of a large building from a point of view in the sky that was above the level of where the van was.

“We’ve got one shot and we need to bring at least one of these bastards in for questioning. The local authorities are aware of our operation here and won’t interfere unless we request backup.”

Behind him was a rack of weaponry; rifles and pistols with a block-like design to them, a shotgun and some batons. A few had been procured already; Grandmaster sat with a pistol and a rifle and one of the batons already equipped. Visionary kept her bar maces at hand, Jason carried the same load-out as Grandmaster. Each of them carried two pairs of handcuffs each, discretely stashed away into belt compartments.

“Remember, these weapons have just been approved. Three shots downs somebody to exhaustion, four makes them unconscious. Do not, under any circumstance, hit them again if they’re down. Assume they’re out for good.”

Grandmaster glanced between the pair, who showed all signs of being ready. Visionary was calm, almost serene and watching him clearly. Jason showed the signs of a soldier, with proper posture and a body language like he was ready to burst into action. A coiled spring, being wound up gently.

“Call when you’re going to use a Fatigue Grenade, and only for a good reason. Anybody found out to directly or indirectly hit one of the NFU in the blast radius will see how pissed off I can get before you’re suspended for the rest of your career.”

He tilted his head to show he was looking between them. Visionary gave him an affirmative nod. Jason was silent, still, his finger tapping the side of the rifle in his hand just above where the trigger was. Grandmaster paused for half a minute, the radio silence created a thick blanket of tension as they waited.

A voice sliced through the wait, whispered and hushed.

All operatives, Squad is in position. All exits covered. Eyes on the roof by the far stairwell. Over.”

Everyone perked up. Grandmaster put his index finger to where his ear would be to reply.

“This is Agent Grandmaster, is the path clear? Over.”

Agent Grandmaster, the path is clear. We are mobilised and ready. Over.”

“Containment Squad, good work. Stick to the plan, don’t deviate, and keep on comms. Await my signal or the sound of conflict. Over and out.”

Affirmative. Over and out.”

The comms died a moment after.

Grandmaster cleared his throat. “Helmet, command mode.”

Only Grandmaster heard the response.

COMMAND MODE ACTIVE. RECOGNISING PROMPTS FOR COMMS.”

The light was on in the back of the vans, though it was still dim. As he activated this, his visor began to increase his visibility in the darkness, almost as bright as clear sunlight. He looked around the room, and saw the information he was being fed back. All non-combat systems had been shut off or eliminated, and his targeting system seemed to latch onto people and identify them as friendly or hostile quicker. In addition, a small square materialised in the bottom right of his view; an overhead map of the area, with several green dots on the screen surrounding the target building.

They were near a small housing estate, where a small road could be driven down to access the building in question. The lights were out, though there was a very faint glow inside if you were close enough and could study the windows. It was square in shape, with just a single entrance on the ground floor and a pair of exits at the back, one on the second floor with a metal staircase that came down to the ground like a helix.

Grandmaster also had an overlay of the interior of the building in his helmet, and it was all carefully explained to every person on this operation. Both floors had a U shape to them, with the bottom of the U near where the front entrance was. On the top floor, it kept mostly to that shape. On the ground floor, the U itself was divided; the entire bottom section was a reception area, the rest of it was divided into 6 rooms, with two either side on that U shape and the other two in the middle. Those two were connected by doors leading to other rooms.

The top floor was much more simple, and stuck to the U shape. As a derelict office building for a call centre, this is where most of the desks and computers were, the bulk of the business. There were smaller rooms up here, offices and stationary cupboards and toilets.

Grandmaster nodded to the others, then slid open the door of the van that faced away from the building. Visionary and Jason were the first to get out and armed themselves with rifles, Grandmaster doing the same and leaving just shortly after. They’d parked in the driveway of one of the houses, everything already cleared beforehand to avoid drawing any suspicion.

They circled around with Visionary taking point, sticking close to the row of houses and using cover to weave and manoeuvre themselves as they approached the building. The agents who were in position had done so much longer before, and crept through a canopy of bushes and trees that surrounded the vicinity. The easiest way to get through them would be to cut through the back garden of one of the properties. They were in luck that the local people were fully cooperative.

Visionary lead them through a wooden gate, clattering against the bricks of the side of the house. The lights were dimmed, other than the glow of the television being on in the front room. They made their way to the back gate and holstered their weapons. They approached the wooden fence on the far side and Grandmaster rushed over, squatting beside it whilst cupping his arms. Visionary jogged up, and he boosted her over. She tucked her legs in and neatly jumped over, landing and moving to the side whilst taking out her rifle. Jason soon followed, propping himself over with one leg.

Grandmaster was the last to scale the fence and he landed with his palm open to the grass below. They all knelt motionless, staring at the building ahead. Grandmaster let his helmet scan the building, vision piercing through windows until he scanned the area. With a nod, he raised his hand and flick pointed towards the building, taking his rifle out. They advanced, quick and silent, unheard over the rustle of wind blowing grass and trees under the night sky.

Visionary lead them to the side of the building, making sure they weren’t in line of sight of anybody or any cameras that may have caught them. They knelt beside a large window pane, one open and accessible, large enough for a person to slip through. Whilst they knelt beside the brickwork that gave them cover, the men turned to Visionary.

She closed her eyes. Flickers of strain and concentration trace in pulses along her eyelids and her cheeks. As she opened her eyes, she raised her head up, and she gazed through the air at nothing in particular. It only took a second and she caught a breath afterwards, before making a gesture to Grandmaster and Jason with her hands.

Two men. Entrance. At ease.

Grandmaster nodded. With a pair of fingers, he reached up and took the open window by his hand and gently began to pry it open, at first wide enough for a head to pass. He let a few seconds go past, then glanced back to Visionary. She repeated what she did before, as if the silence around her was magnified to a greater degree as she exerted some senses beyond everyone else. She turned and nodded. Grandmaster continued, and made the gap wide enough for an upper body to fit through. He checked with Visionary one more time, and she repeated the motions again. Quickly, she nodded and made another hand gesture.

Looking. No.

He lifted his head, not into the gap but to stare through the window beside him. To him, he could find his targets easily. A pair of men standing, facing away from them and towards the room where the stairs were located. They were engaged in a conversation that they could barely hear, only a few emphasised words here and there. Grandmaster picked up one making a hand gesture of sorts, something sexually implying. The other laughed loud enough for the others to pick up. Grandmaster remained quiet, then motioned for Jason.

They wore ballistic vests that looked like a much simpler, archaic version of Jason’s current armour, minus a bodysuit to go with it. Their helmets were riot visors, open, and the one on the left had a lit cigarette hanging from his lips, the cherry close to the filter. Grandmaster’s helmet picked up on the weapon holstered on their hips, identifying them to be some sort of knife. The one who wasn’t smoking was carrying an older version of the Emotional Dampening weapons.

Jason crawled over on his hands and knees, squatting and kneeling to get beside Grandmaster. He took out his pistol and checked to see if the energy core had flushed enough energy into the weapon for enough shots, and was satisfied to see it was ready. Jason took the unsaid hint and got his own pistol and checked it, making sure it was ready.

Grandmaster began to tap his foot on the edge of the bricks so they could all hear a small thud. Visionary kept on point, studying the surroundings and keeping her rifle close, to cover them. Grandmaster tapped loud enough for them to hear, a gradual beat. Once, twice, thrice…

On the fourth beat, they both quickly raised up with pistols already aiming at their respective targets. Grandmaster and Jason blasted them with a salvo of pulsing energy fire from their pistols. Three shots each, Grandmaster striking the back of the non-smoker’s thighs where no armour protected it. Jason aimed for the same area on the smoker. They groaned, energy drained from them, and succumbed to exhaustion before crumpling and falling to the floor on their sides.

Visionary kept down, though she glanced slightly to the side. Even from this crouching position, keeping them covered, she had seen what had transpired. She touched her comm in her ear and spoke so gently that it may have been confused for a noise in the wind.

Front guards down.”

Grandmaster stood up a little, then put a fourth shot in each guy. One was feebly trying to reach for his phone, wheezing and letting out a croak for breath, before the final shot rendered each of them out cold, too tired to even stay awake. Jason slunk to the side slightly, and Visionary raised to her feet, still keeping watch. Grandmaster rose up and put one foot on the window ledge, before landing down onto the carpet with a slight thud. He took his pistol and aimed it, scanning the room for any signs of activity. When his helmet picked up no signs of motion or life, and quickly flicked through to see any short range thermal signatures, it signalled the all-clear.

In turn, Grandmaster did the same, and made a single wave of his hand with a thumbs up. Visionary turned towards him, Jason was quickly scaling the wall and climbing into the room through the window, and swapped his pistol for a rifle. Grandmaster drew more energy reserves from the weapon’s core, so he had a full round of shots to work with.

Jason took a Hardware Bug from his belt and pushed in the head with a click. The feet uncoiled out from the middle and he aimed for a security camera currently pointing away from them. He hit his mark, and the legs quickly seized the camera and sent out a small pulse, a few feet in diameter. It was an unusual noise, a faint spark of electronics that sounded like a crackle of electricity, followed by something calcifying or freezing.

Grandmaster nodded, and holstered his pistol. Visionary quickly moved over to the door with the stairs and kept her back to the door, with a clear line of sight from her head through the window, at the stairs behind it. She kept her eyes on the other doors, rifle raised.

Jason stubbed out the cigarette onto the carpet beneath them with his boot. Grandmaster motioned to the other body and Jason moved over to the legs, as he grabbed the upper body underneath his arms. Grandmaster tapped his foot and on the fourth tap, they both lifted him up, and hauled him to the reception desk. They put the body where it wasn’t immediately visible, and went to move the other with just as much haste and efficiency.

Once both bodies had been moved, Grandmaster went to the window and gently eased it back to being closed, clicking the handle shut. He turned to Jason, tapping his wrist, then pointing to the bug.

Jason responded back with four finger, followed by holding his thumb, index and middle finger out. He closed all but his index finger.

Four minutes.

Grandmaster nodded, then turned around. Jason took this as a sign to sheath his pistol and take out his rifle, check the charge was correct, then moved to cover Visionary and keep the other doors in his sights.

His helmet began to shift his vision from the clear view of the walls and slipped into a thermal vision that took a few seconds to warm up. What he saw ahead was a total of four figures but couldn’t make out what exactly they were doing. A few were lower than the others, possibly seated. One more was much further away, much more faint than the others. It was difficult to see if it was just lingering head from a power generator or a person.

Grandmaster’s vision returned to normal, becoming clearer and giving him perfect visibility again. He stuck up four fingers and pointed ahead to their direction. Visionary nodded, then took herself off point and carefully crept over to the door. Grandmaster and Jason followed behind, in that order.

She opened the door as careful as she could muster, and her eyes flickered back and forth as if they were pulling on a tether in the middle of her eye. She proceeded, then turned left. Grandmaster followed after, keeping her cover. Jason covered the rear, turning to the other corridor with his gun raised, finger not quite on the trigger. When it was clear, he turned and kept his eyes in front of him, though before they all turned a corner to the right, he did one final check.

They turned around a corner into a much larger room, with one wall giving them cover. They could hear a television in the distance, and there was a chant of a crowd and the distinct noise of a commentator over it. The other guys were talking boistrously, though nobody could make out who was who or what else was going on.

“…the fuck are Man United playing, anyway?” One man had a deep, gruff voice, with a distinctly Mancurian accent.

“Eindhoven.” Another man had a much lighter accent, harder to pin.

“That german or summit?” The other asked him.

“Nah, it’s like Sweden, mate.” A third voice chimed in, a tone somewhere between the two. He also seemed to hail from Manchester.

“Better than the fuckin’ paki’s anyway, right lads?”

The others agreed quite verbally, as if to prove a point. They cheered in a machismo fashion, verbally pumping themselves up.

“At least Barnes is gonna kick those fuckin’ brown faced cunts outta England, after he kicks out those Farborn freaks.”

Grandmaster hadn’t been wasting time listening to them, and was already making plans. Visionary kept point, staring ahead into the distance and through everything else. Grandmaster made a quick series of hand gestures.

Visionary, left. Jason, middle. Me, far away, then right.

All three nodded in agreement. He tapped his foot several times, counting down for them all, and things moved quickly from this point onwards.

They all moved out with their rifles raised, ready with their fingers on the trigger. They saw all three of the men in the room, on chairs, watching a big flat screen television. On the table in front of them was a deck of cards and crumpled up notes, coins and face up cards sprawled everywhere. All three guys by the table had taken their helmets off and put them on the ground near their chairs. Football was playing on the television, the opening minutes of the game.

The one of the left was overweight, had a flat nose and a broad face, with a shaved head. The one in the middle had brown hair, shaved on the side with the top left at a medium length, and a broad scar on his cheek. The third was much thinner, with tattoos crawling up his neck and onto his face. T, wearing the same equipment as the two men outside.

Only the man on the opposite side of the room, who was walking back from the television behind a table that had been left when the office was abandoned and hadn’t been moved since, was facing the NFU agents as they moved out of cover.

“Shit-”

The three Technomads all looked up to him the moment that they were opened up on. The one at the far end of the room was lucky enough to drop on the spot and avoid the first shots that Grandmaster poured into him, a volley of three hits that would have been precise were they not obfuscated by the furniture in the way.

Visionary and Jason hit their targets, and they weren’t even aware of it. They pumped four shots into each of them, jolting for a second before the effects of the Eldritch weaponry took its toll and rendered them unconscious.

Grandmaster altered his fire and hammered the one man who hadn’t been shot at just yet, and swiftly plastered him with energy fire. He’d managed to stand up in shock and reached for the gun that was still strapped to his side, and almost reached it before three shots had fell him. A fourth was quickly put between his eyes, and his eyes rolled to the back of his skull with an awkward grunt.

“Shit, shit! Boss, we’ve got trouble downstairs-”

Visionary and Jason ran around, circling the table in a pincer formation. They had been ruthlessly quick in dispatching the others and quick on the trigger to hunt down the final one, and that was all he could say through his old comm device before they both ran around, and the pair pumped two shots each into him. He was curled underneath the table, holding his knees to his chest with his finger near his ear.

Grandmaster reloaded his weapon, then looked up. Heat signatures above him, as limited as his visibility this way would allow, had begun to rise up and stir from being inanimate. He changed himself back to normal visibility and didn’t even pause for thought.

“Stairs, now.”

Jason and Visionary nodded and checked their weapons. They ran back to the door and Grandmaster thrust it open by ramming his foot into it. He poured through, Visionary and Jason shortly afterwards.

“Put pressure on them. Stall.”

Grandmaster flung the pale wooden door open and pointed his rifle with a single hand holding it into the room where the stairs were, and scaled it up as he walked inside with haste and resolve. Visionary and Jason moved in and took aim to the stairs as well, and all three were pointing their weapons to the doors that they could see. Grandmaster began to scale up the stairs carefully, both hands now on his rifle, and he barked out something whilst being careful to not be too loud.

“Got a lock on them. They’re moving carefully. Old mark ED weapons.” Everyone present knew that previous versions of Emotional Dampening weapons were less efficient, but they would drain the target of the will to fight and render them emotionally neutral. Perfect for capture, or a coup de grâce.

There was three doors from this point onwards. One to the front, two to either side, positioned centre in the building, with a pair of toilets before the door right ahead. Visionary slunk ahead and took point again, pressing the button to the lift that was opposite them. Fortunately, it was already on this floor, and once it opened she stepped inside to give her cover, as she kept her eyes on the door to the front, and the one that was hidden from view of the stairs.

Grandmaster and Jason lowered to cover, with Jason behind and above the kneeling Grandmaster, using the opaque guard on the banister to keep themselves covered. Grandmaster put a finger to his ear.

“Containment Squad, advance on the exit but do not enter. That is an order-”

He was cut off as the Technomads had opened the doors and were staring down at them, with their visors down this time and guns and knives at hand. Two from the door directly facing the stairs, two from the centre door, and a single one where they couldn’t see.

They got about a moment to judge the situation before Visionary opened fire and hit the guy in the centre at the front, who was holding a rifle. He fell down just as he was raising it up, falling backwards and sending the guy behind him off balance. The man behind him staggered for a second, before Visionary unloaded a trio of shots into him as well, and he soon hit the floor behind him with a cumbersome thud.

Grandmaster and Jason fired onto the two in front of them, though the Technomad at the front was covering the other guy, and after they both fired a pair of shots each, they had to wait before cover was clear. The Technomad already had something in hand that nobody had seen before, and it was primed and ready to throw as his comrade fell down. Jason only managed to get a single shot before it careened through the air.

BUG DETECTED.”

“Bug!”

Grandmaster’s Visor had begun to automatically shift and change, though Grandmaster called out too late as the device collided and latched onto his arm. He threw himself into cover away from Jason and the fight as the feet wrapped over and latched onto him, and Jason sunk down to his knees and gave him cover, landing the last two shots on the Technomad who was trying to get out of sight himself. The Bug sent out a pulse that caused his weaponry’s technological aspects to cease to function for the duration, circuits paused and frozen so no current could travel through them.

Luckily, his helmet had a fail safe, and upon the detection of a bug, it began to split and pull apart at the face. He’d be denied his sensory equipment and comms for the time being, though the faceplate had parted so a single glass slit allowed him to see through normally. A fail-safe built in for just this occasion.

“Shit.” Grandmaster, grabbed the bug and threw it at the nearest wall, shattering it to spare parts in an instant.

Visionary and Jason swept up from the Technomads who were there, and everyone was a groaning lump on the floor. A pile of bodies too exhausted to fight, that they in turn ‘executed’ with a final shot to knock them out.

“I’m down my senses and comms for a few. Visionary, extra vigilance. Jason, comms.” Both nodded. Jason handed Grandmaster a spare pistol he had, and he checked to see if it had been affected. It was a relief that Jason’s equipment hadn’t suffered.

They regrouped. Visionary on point, they advanced through the door to the right, careful not to step on any bodies.

They emerged into an open space office area; the tables were still arranged in neat lines, though the computers had been removed by now. Office chairs were still present and strewn across, with some of them in a small open circle where the Technomads had previously been sitting passing time. They could see ahead to glass panes separating the far end of the room with small offices, and to their left after the stretch of wall, the room opened up into the middle chamber and the other end of the building. No doubt in the same arrangement.

Grandmaster was closest to the desks at the right side of the room, Visionary in the middle and slightly to the front, and Jason was closer to the wall.

“Flush him out. He’s still in here.”

Grandmaster held his pistol tight, and they moved on. They were a dozen or so feet away from the clearing when Visionary’s eyes went wide, and something was flung from out of view into the room. Everything ran slow as she clutched her ears and began to close her eyes desperately.

“Flashbang-”

The grenade bounced off one of the desks, into the window and bounced back just to the right of the trio. Grandmaster raised his arm to cover his face as quick as he could, without the warnings or protections that his helmet normally provided. Visionary was the most defenceless and almost dropped to the floor, with her eyes closed, mouth open, ears covered. Jason would fare the best and even he turned away from it.

Everything went quiet and their worlds turned to darkness, a white void followed by a harrowing screech of feedback that blotted out the world around them.

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