The Man From God Only Knows Ch. 02byAdrian Leverkuhn©
Part II of The Blackwatch Saga
©2009 Adrian Leverkuhn
Deirdre Gravvis-dottir and Pol Dienison drove through vacant streets in the city's central district, their eyes fixed on lengthening shadows left by the setting sun. People would be coming out now, leaving their shelters and coming out as temperatures fell, the sun no longer considered a lethal predator. The outside temperature was still f/114, though it would probably fall close to f/100 by midnight, yet already some of the more desperate souls were gathering to begin foraging for food and water. The early worm gets the bird, or so the saying went.
A heavily armed man ran across the street a hundred yards ahead and disappeared in shadow behind an old building. People did not run in this heat unless they really had to.
"Son of a bitch!" Gravvis-dottir yelled. "Did you see the size of that gun?"
"Yah!" Pol squirmed in his seat, suddenly feeling very exposed out here on the street. The air cars were only lightly armored, not designed to withstand assault by First Republic-style weapons. "Shouldn't we call for back-up?"
Gravvis-dottir stopped the car, scanned her display.
"Something's not right," she said.
Pol looked down the street but some part of his mind was screaming 'danger'; he looked to his left and saw movement in the dissolving shadows.
"Oh, fuck," he said.
The Watcher looked down into his glass desktop; permutations of probable outcomes flashed across one screen while an overhead image of the street filled another. He focused on the men in the shadows, analyzed the image to determine the make and caliber weapon each possessed and began sorting records to determine who these men might be, what their motive might be.
That was important. Were they simply criminals? If so he would move on. But if not...
Could it be?
The large image he had sent to The Wall, the image on which several other Watchers were now focused, was centered on the police air car stopped in the middle of a downtown street. Red cross-hairs flashed where armed men were hidden. Several were ahead of the police car, but many more were converging in shadows from the rear and both sides. There were now twenty armed men identified as threats by the first Watcher, and all were taking up positions around the police car.
'These are not criminals,' the first Watcher thought. His impulse burst into the network, interrupted the work of hundreds of other Watchers around the world; within a moment all their attention was focused on the evolving scene on the street.
They watched, blinking rapidly one and all, as they recorded images of hundreds of rounds being fired into the police car.
As if something or someone far away had thrown a switch in his head, the first Watcher broke his connection and stood. He blinked rapidly as the feed pouring into his mind slowed to a trickle, then stopped.
He turned and walked from the room.
Krul-son and August-dottir heard a first plaintive cry for help, then silence. An emergency transponder activated, indicating an officer was dead or dying and automatically sending the location...
"Go!" Sinn shouted when the data began streaming onto the cars central monitor.
Without thinking Aurie hit the thrusters and the car shot a hundred feet into the air and arced toward what decades ago had been called South Central. He looked down at the data screen and noted at least a dozen other cars enroute and he smiled, felt comfort in this communal response, this 'brothers-in-arms' feeling that swept through him. He saw the old Coliseum ahead and cut back power; they were less than a mile out now and were by far the closet unit to the scene.
"Do you want me to proceed, Justinian?"
"Why wouldn't you?" she replied caustically.
"It could be a trap, an ambush, Justinian."
"Of course it is. It is our job, regardless of the danger. Follow procedure and proceed."
Airborne, the newest generation police cars could travel at speeds approaching a hundred miles per hour; per standard operating procedure Krul-son swept in low over the scene at maximum speed and let the car's sensors record images, then he banked the car into a hard climbing turn and studied the images that danced across his central display. These images were sent to all other responding units automatically and simultaneously so it was no surprise when the shift commander came on the patrol circuit and began ordering deployments around the scene.
Krul-son was ordered to orbit the scene at maximum altitude and protect the Justinian unless or until called for. When the car reached its maximum cruising altitude of four hundred feet he flipped on the autopilot and commanded the car to orbit while he studied images that cycled across the display.
The air car on the ground was almost unrecognizable.
Twisted metal frames, shattered carbon-fiber panels, pock-marked lexan, drifting smoke... two bodies barely recognizable as human. He struggled to read the car number, then the command circuit chattered to life...
"All units, area appears clear at this time. Deploy in zone and we'll walk in."
New images came in as other cars overflew the scene; soon it was all too apparent who had been killed and Aurie closed his eyes for a moment as he fought back tears.
"Are you alright, Cadet?" he heard Sinn August-dottir ask. Did he detect compassion in her question?
"Yes, Justinian." He directed his attention to the flight controls and increased the turn angle; as the car banked hard he looked down on the scene as the other responding officers landed and walked toward the shattered police car. Something caught his eye...
"Justinian! There, by the large building on the corner..."
"I see it! Hover and illuminate!" She switched her headset to transmit: "All units, hostiles on the ground, transmitting coordinates - now!"
Krul-son leveled the air-car and set the search-beam to maximum intensity, then centered it on the moving shadows. The central display revealed several men running, but just then one turned and aimed something seemingly right at his face. The display flared as brilliant light flooded the sensor; Krul-son banked hard and dove for the surface as the shoulder launched surface to air missile crossed the distance in less than the time it took his eyes to blink.
The Watcher rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger, then he delicately fingered the plates grafted to the sides of his skull; they hurt some days more than others, especially when he was off the grid, but now they throbbed insistently, like someone or something was trying to run around inside his head. He blinked his eyes rapidly again, as if the motion itself might somehow clear the pain; when that failed he checked his flight instruments on the central screen and increased altitude another two thousand feet. His craft, a transport salvaged from the First Republic, was leaving the airspace of a region that had once been called the Alps, a country once known as Switzerland; the jet would take him across the deserted remnants of inland Europe and onward across the receding waters of the Atlantic.
A thin necklace of light delineated the coastline from freshly exposed seabed; all human population was now arrayed around the world's coastlines, around the desalinization plants that maintained civilization now that the planets once mighty jet-streams had drifted north -- and were now firmly anchored there. Rainfall and indeed almost all variation in weather was a conspicuous feature of extreme northern and southern latitudes, those higher than fifty five degrees north and seventy degrees south. All agricultural production was centered in those latitudes, which effectively had made the countries once known as Canada and Russia the world's breadbaskets; of more immediate importance, these two regions had proven inadequate to sustain the estimated one hundred and twenty million people that remained on the planet. Production had withered as the climate inexorably warmed. Trapped on a dying planet, the population that lay below the Watcher as he arced over the coastline had perhaps another five years before it faced the finality of extinction.
Krul-son leveled the car and raced between the rooftops of the burned city; the missile had lost contact and was arcing around in the blackness above, trying to find some tell-tale infrared signature to lock-on to. He throttled back and settled onto a deserted street and turned off the car's systems, then looked up at the blazing exhaust of the missile until it went out and its self-destruct circuit activated.
"That was good flying, Cadet," Sinn August-dottir said, her voice beginning to shake. "As good as I've ever seen."
"Thank you, Justinian. I was concerned for your safety."
"Noted. I think you can reactivate power now."
Krul-son looked at the threat receiver -- it was silent now -- then he turned on a single battery and turned on the car's computer. A query instantly flashed on his screen;
"Nominal," he typed on the tiny keypad. "Resuming flight after restart."
"10/4" flashed on the screen.
Krul-son began the engine re-start procedure and turned systems on one by one; the fuel-cell was low and would need hydrogen soon.
"We should refuel, Justinian."
Shadows moved between buildings to his right; there was not yet enough air pressure to effect a re-start.
"I see them."
They were both focused on the shadows to their right... so focused they failed to see the men who walked up to the left side of the air-car. One of the men tapped on the window and Krul-son jumped, turned toward the noise.
One man stood there smiling at him, three others had their weapons leveled at Justinian Sinn August-dottir.
The smiling man made a cutting motion across his neck and Krul-son reached for the emergency transponder; the smiling man drew a pistol and leveled it at Aurie's face. Just then he noticed the smiling man had odd looking metal plates grafted on the side of his bald head.
"Open the canopy, Cadet."
Krul-son motioned to the smiling man that he was going to release the canopy; the man nodded and stepped back fractionally while motors lifted the canopy. Hot air dense with hydrocarbons burst into cockpit; soon the smell of unwashed humans washed over him as well.
"Your weapons," one of the other men said. "Now."
When they had handed them over Sinn and Aurie were helped from the car; one of the men came forward with a bundle of plastic explosives and began rigging a booby-trap in the cockpit. Another came up behind Krul-son and placed a black cloth sack over his head; he felt his hands being restrained after that, then the crunching of tires on gravel and the high-pitched whirring of an electric motor. He was lifted onto, he assumed, the back of the electric car, then forced down harshly and tied to something cold and hard.
He felt the car lurch and accelerate smoothly away, and only then did he realize he was alone. The Justinian was not with him; his failure was complete.
The Watcher was high over the Atlantic while he watched these events unwind and it was during this encounter that he first saw one of his brethren, another one of the Watchers that had left years ago, and he knew his intuition had been correct all along.
"These disappearances are not random," he said aloud. They were the first words he had spoken in over fifteen years.
"Things are not," the Watcher said as he got used to the sound of his own voice again, "quite what they seem."
end part II