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"Team Two, hold your position!" In the white panel van parked in the turnoff north of Wyvil Road, Midnight Team member David Southerland wiped sweat from his brow and squinted at the suddenly underpowered forward-looking infrared system he had been using to watch the front door of the eco terrorists' flat.
The five-man squad had been watching the flat for the past six hours, preparing to infiltrate the house and capture or eliminate the occupants, all wanted for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts against a sovereign government. Once their undercover agent had confirmed the presence of both biological weapons and homemade explosives in the house, Room 59, the global, top secret intelligence agency that had been tracking this cell for the past several weeks, had called in a Midnight Team, their own special-weapons-and-tactics division.
David was ready to move, but at the moment he was caught between closing the trap and trying to figure out what had just occurred. He and his partner in the van had just watched their target crouch down on the sidewalk, as if he had spotted something, but they couldn't be sure. Even with the fourth-generation thermal vision scope he was using, he couldn't make out the fine details necessary to confirm if their surveillance had been spotted.
"Jesus, M-Two, I told you, we've got a two-man hit team that just entered the back door. We need to get in there before they rabbit," one of the other operatives said.
The voice of their leader came on. "I ordered radio silence unless anyone spots a target leaving. Anyone else speaks out of line, and they'll answer for it."
"What do you think just happened?" Next to David, the newest member of the squad, agreen recruit named Tara McNeil, lowered the infrared binoculars she had also been using to scan the house.
"I can't tell, but get your MASC onwe'll be going green any second. Team Two, any activity on your side?" he asked over the radio.
"Nothing coming or going since we took our position, M-Two."
David thought he heard the other half of the backdoor team, the member who'd been dressed down earlier, mutter, "At this rate, they'll die of old age before we get to them."
David ignored the comment as their leader spoke again. "Nothing on the rooftops. However, one of our targets has been eliminated. My scope picked out two figures in the hall, and two flashes of what was undoubtedly a firearm just now. Move in and take the house," he ordered.
David flushed as their team leader pointed out what he should have seen in the first place. "Damn it!" He switched channels with a practiced flick of his eyes. "Vole, there are hostiles inbound, repeat, hostiles inbound on your position." The plan had been to "capture" their inside man, in case his cover needed to be maintained. Now that, along with everything else, was in jeopardy.
Switching back to his team's channel, David issued orders. "Team Two, take the back entrance. We have the front. Everyone make sure your seals are securethere are biologicals in there."
A chorus of affirmatives answered as David pulled on his Multi-Aspect Sensor Covering, or MASC for short. He'd always hated the acronym, but loved the full-head protective helmet with its integrated visual sensor suite, enhanced audio pickups, flash defense system, voice mask and networked heads-up display and communications unit. Along with their night-black uniforms under Dragon Skin flexible ballistic armor covering their limbs and torso, they looked like soldiers of the future, which, David supposed, they were.
He scrambled out of the van, with Tara right behind him. The fog was dissipating and the narrow street was deserted as they ran across and up the stairs to the door. With David covering her, he motioned for Tara to try the handle. She did and found it locked.
M-One's calm voice sounded in David's ear on the secure, laser-beam comm channel. "The door is blocked by a body on the inside. Suggest using the left windowthat room appears to be empty."
David switched over to thermal and saw M-One was correcta still-warm body lay against the lower half of the door, while the room to their left appeared to be empty. Sudden motion in the hallway beyond caught his eye, and he glanced back to see a glowing red-and-orange-and-white human form step out from another room on the other side of the house, leveling something at the door.
"Cover!" David shouted and ducked away as a silenced submachine gun loosed several rounds inside the flat, a long burst of bullets perforated the door and sprayed shards of wood into the street. David looked at his HUD to check Tara's status, along with the rest of his team, and was relieved to see that they were all uninjured.
More suppressed gunfire could be heard in the building from several weapons. "Team One, this is Team Two, be advised we have encountered multiple shooters upon rear entry."
"Affirmative. M-One, clear the hallway, if possible. We're going in through the side," David said.
"Roger." On the roof of the building across the street, David glanced back to see a hunched form poke out a long-barreled, suppressed XM110 rifle and place a trio of 7.62 mm bullets through the center of the door. David wasn't worried about being hit by friendly fire, even at this close range. Their team leader's weapon was wired into his HUD, and the Friend-Or-Foe imaging program meant he could not shoot his fellow team members unless he took the rifle off-line.
"Follow me!" David readied his silenced TDI Kriss Super V .45-caliber submachine gun in one hand and stepped onto the railing on the left side of the steps, bracing his free hand against the side of the building. Pointing the gun at the window, he triggered a short burst, shattering the glass and its wooden frame. As soon as the larger pieces stopped falling, he leaped to the windowsill, knocking out shards of glass with the butt of his weapon.
"Team One, where are you? Hostiles are advancing toward your position. They're almost on you," M-Five radioed.
"Almost there." Clearing the last of the glass from the window, David slipped inside, finding himself inside a kitchen. His thermal vision picked out several figures, each outlined in shades of red, orange and yellow, jockeying for position on the other side of the wall, their automatic weapons spitting flame as they shot down the hallway. David was about to give them a huge surprise when a smoking canister flew through the doorway that led into the kitchen, landing almost at his feet.
"Flash-bang!" he shouted. Snatching the weapon even as he knew it could go off at any second, David tossed it back into the hallway and turned away. The grenade had barely disappeared when it detonated with a thunderous explosion and bright flash of light.
The sound dampeners on David's MASC neutralized the potential damage to his ears, and the light-sensitive photofilm layer in his goggles had darkened at the first millisecond of the light burst, keeping his vision clear. Behind him, Tara had just come in through the window, and was moving into a position.
"Wait a" was all he got out before the hallway lit up again with automatic-weapons fire, stitching her high across the chest as several rounds burst through the wall and impacted on her body armor. Caught by surprise, Tara still stayed upright and returned fire through the doorway, laying down a diagonal line of Le Mas .45-caliber SPLP blended-metal bullets from right to left.
"M-Three is hit, M-Three is hit!" David rose to check her, but Tara shrugged him off.
"I'm fine, let's clear the hallway." As if nothing had happened, she moved to the left side of the doorway and scanned the hallway again.
"Team Two, we are inside the perimeter to the left of the hallway. What's your status?"
"Hostiles on ground level are both down. We are proceeding with cautionshit!"
David heard more gunfire. "Report!"
"Taking fire from the first story."
"We'll clear the front hall and meet you near the stairway."
"Affirmative, but watch yourselves. We're pulling flash-bangs."
"Copy that, we got a glimpse of them already."
Cody's voice broke in. "All teams, all teams, local police are en route to target area. We are pulling out in sixty seconds, copy."
"Copy that, M-One. We are clearing the area and will recover anyone still inside. You heard the manlet's sweep and clear," David ordered.
One last thermal scan revealed no one moving inside the hallway. With Tara on his right, David crept to the left and immediately covered the hall's front half, sweeping from right to left with his weapon. Crouching low, he waved Tara ahead, then slipped in behind her. A dead man in civilian clothes lay sprawled at the foot of the stairs, his face blown away. David spotted the Team Two members taking cover under the staircase, bullet holes pocking the plaster and woodwork around them.
David tightened his grip on his Kriss gun. "Team Two, we're inside. Go for flash-bang."
He watched the two grenades arc up onto the first-floor landing, then go off with twin explosions. Right after detonation, Team Two pounded up the stairway, sweeping the landing with their laser-sighted weapons. David and Tara followed, watching their six while also backing up the lead team.
"All teams, I have movement on the roof, repeat, movement on the roof. Hostiles are evacuating on top," M-One reported.
While he had said that, the two teams had split up, searching and clearing every room on the floor. David and Tara had booted in a door only to find unmoving bodies, already dead from multiple bullet wounds to the head and torso. One of the victims was their own operative, his chest a red smear of blood. Coming out, they met up with the second team, who also shook their heads. Whatever had happened here, they had missed it.
"Proceeding to the roof," David radioed as he pointed above them. At the end of the hallway they found a ladder and trapdoor. A quick scan showed no one lying in wait for them. David wasted no time in scaling it, readying his weapon before entering the room.
The dark third floor was filled with cobwebs, piles of timber and stacks of drywall. Checking all around, David spotted a square of light at the other end of the room. Once Tara joined him, he cautiously approached the far end, making sure their opponents hadn't set up any surprises. At the next ladder, he looked up, now aware of faint sirens in the distance.
"Crap, the police are on their way." Turning off his thermal vision, he climbed up and poked his Kriss out the trapdoor leading to the roof, panning the weapon all around. The small camera lens mounted on the right-side Picatinny rail gave him a good view of the rooftop without exposing him to enemy fire. He saw one black-clad body on the tarred surface a few yards away, a crimson pool spreading from his head.
"M-One, I have one hostile terminated on the roof. We are moving to secure, over."
"Affirmative, hostiles have left across the buildings, three down. Recover the body, and I will meet you on the south side for exfiltration."
"Shit, nearly get our faces blown off, and for what a couple dead tree huggers and some dead shooters who weren't even supposed to be here? We don't even know who these guys are. I dunno about you all, but I'm seriously starting to rethink the benefits of this job." M-Four, the loudmouth who had been riding David's back earlier that morning, kept grousing as they grabbed the dead shooter's body and hauled it to the back of the flat. Now they heard shouts and doors slamming as other people checked into the commotion in their previously quiet neighborhood.
As they maneuvered the dead body over the knee-high parapet, something spanged off the edge. The four Midnight Team members ducked for cover, each one taking a quadrant and searching for a target.
"Who's shooting from where?" David asked.
"From the west." Tara pointed with her weapon along the row of three-story buildings. David looked over to see a black-suited figure two roofs over sketch a jaunty salute before disappearing from sight.
David saw red. "Regroup with M-One. I'm going after them," he told the others.
Tara stopped and stared at him. "What? Pursuing is not in our orders. We already have a body for intel"
David was already shucking his gear, leaving only his vest, pistol and MASC on. "The three of you rendezvous with M-One. I'll meet up with you in a few minutes. Now go!"
Without waiting for a reply, he took off, hearing a muttered "When did the golden boy's testicles drop?" from M-Four. Reaching to the edge of the roof, David leaped out over the narrow alley between the two buildings and hit the top of the second one. He tucked into a shoulder roll, and came up still moving, heading for where he had last seen the mystery shooter disappear.
This is why I need to get out of the office more, Kate Cochran thought as she sipped champagne from a crystal flute.
Sheathed in a red stretch satin designer dress, she stood in the middle of at least one hundred law-enforcement officials from across Europe who had gathered in Dublin, Ireland, for the Second European Congress on Fighting Organized Crime in Partnership. They had convened in the main wing of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, housed in the converted Royal Hospital Kilmainham.