New Debts – Chapter 1

It was winter in the Last City when I lost my eyes. It was cold, cloudy, and dry that day.  The snow that remained on the streets had frozen the night before when the temperature dropped. Our vehicles were barely warm by the time we pulled up at our raid target site. I’d been a member of the LCPD for five years at that point—a member of Armed Response Team for three of those. The idea of kicking down doors while wearing body armor was no longer exciting and cool to me, but the hazard pay was good. With a wife and three-year-old son at home to support, extra pay was always welcome.

It was still early morning, the sun just starting to cast its light into the streets. I remember a strong wind, which intensified the cold. The wind came down out of the mountains, curled around the Tower, and moaned through the nearly-vacant city streets. Sitting in the passenger seat of the LCPD cruiser, I wondered if the Guardians had to bundle up against the cold on top of the Tower, or if their superhuman abilities allowed them to stay warm even in this frigid weather.

My sergeant was driving. Abu Zeram is a good guy and he had refrained from taking part in any of the new-guy hazing that I had to endure from a lot of other officers. The Last City Police Department was a strange place, but no stranger than the Last City. The City is the only  place with known major human habitation anywhere in the universe. There are only about twenty million of us humans left, if you don’t count the Awoken out in the Reef (which I don’t; from my understanding, they don’t think of themselves as human either). Two million out of those twenty  live in the Last City.

Two million humans is more than enough to squabble with each other. We have all the same problems that people always have. As long as people still steal from each other and do violence to one another, you will need a police force to keep things from getting out of hand.  Hell, even the Guardians fight amongst themselves. Guardians aren’t human either, even the ones who started out as humans.  They’re something else.

The vehicle pulled to a stop in an alleyway and Sgt. Zeram turned toward me. “We’re here, Bird.  Don’t forget your helmet.”

“Mrs. Hill didn’t raise no dummies, Sarge.” I replied.

Abu pressed the squawk button on his radio microphone twice, which was the signal to the rest of the team in the back of the ATV that we’d arrived and it was time to disembark. I could hear the rear doors creak open. We were actually around the corner from the apartment building that was our target.  An informant had tipped us off to its use as weapons storage by one of the Last City’s major gangs. It was illegal to possess a firearm in the Last City. That’s one of the reasons the city’s population isn’t bigger. You tell a refugee who managed to survive the various dangers of post-Collapse Earth, mostly by their own wits with the liberal use of firearms, that they can’t have those precious tools of self-defense anymore and more than likely they’re going to tell you to go to hell. Or, worse, they might invite you to try to take it from them. To some it makes a difference that even the police don’t get to carry guns, except for the ART, and then only for operations that have been sanctioned by a court order for extremely specific reasons. Mostly, though, the response is for said refugees to turn their backs on the city and try to make their lives in one of the burgeoning communities surrounding the city.

My parents were refugees. I was born very near the Last City, just a day’s travel away by foot actually. I have very clear memories of my father slapping a hand to his hip where his pistol should have been and frowning at the absence. He never said anything about missing the gun, but now that I’m a father myself, I can only imagine how defenseless he must have felt having to give up the gun that he’d used to protect me and my mother in our travels across half the continent.

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The team gathered in a loose circle around the back of the ATV and Sgt. Zeram gave a quick pre-op briefing. We all knew our positions, but Abu told us again just so everyone was clear. Mistakes on who was supposed to be standing where during weapons seizure operation could easily be deadly, either through enemy or friendly fire. My job was be the first one through the door—the point man. I was carrying a rifle that could fire in bursts or on full auto, depending on the setting. The people we were about to surprise were extremely dangerous, which meant we needed to be dangerous ourselves.

Every member of the ten person team was armed. We fully expected that the people in the apartment would be armed as well. They were trafficking in guns, after all. Since possession of firearms was a quick way to get yourself a prison sentence, or even exile from the City, we knew we had to take precautions to protect ourselves when we went in to make arrests and seize the guns. The guns we had were certainly high-powered and functioned well, but they were nothing compared to the stuff Guardians toted around. The one time I was in the Tower, I saw a 170-centimeter female Guardian, possibly a Hunter, carrying around a rocket launcher. I could hardly believe she had the strength to lift the thing, let alone run around and fire it during combat.

When the sergeant was convinced that everyone knew their roles and was ready to make the entry, he led us around the corner to the back of the building. We’d scouted ahead and determined there was a rear entrance to the building, through which we could access a stairwell that would take us to the fourth floor and the apartment we were targeting. It was a ten person team; the ATV had been packed full. Two officers would stay on the ground floor to watch the elevator and we would leave an officer at the second and third floors within sight of the elevators.  That left six people for the entry team. Our information indicated that there were only two people in the apartment, so we expected that six would be plenty.

It was sunrise, time to go. Our team got into position quietly and professionally. From the time I exited the ATV to when I found myself crouching beside the door of apartment 415 was no more than seven minutes. Gregor Amberson had the shotgun. It was his job to knock the hinges off the door so I could make entry.  We made eye contact and I gave him a nod. Gregor raised the shotgun and I watched his finger tighten on the trigger. I might have heard our radios start to go crazy just before the shotgun went off, but I’ll never be sure.

Gregor was quick and almost surgical with his shots. They went off one right after the other. No one in the hallway would have been able to hear their radios due to the shots and the explosive shells going off and destroying the hinges. I know that now, but it took me a long time to stop blaming my fellow officers for letting me go in that door. They didn’t know what was waiting for me any more than I did.

Sgt. Zeram tossed in a flashbang grenade as the door was still clattering to the floor and all of us made sure we were out of the way. The grenade went off and so did I. I’m still proud of how quick I was off the blocks that day. It was my job to get in the door and start identifying targets while they were still reeling from the grenade. I trained for that job and I did it well. What I didn’t know is that only one of the two scumbags in the apartment had been stunned by the grenade. That alone wouldn’t have stopped me from going in if I had known it. What would have stopped me is the knowledge of the kind of gun he was carrying. It was just one weapon, but that one guy had the entire ART outgunned. It was a fusion rifle. Those are battlefield weapons, designed for war and used to fight and kill the most horrifically powerful enemies of all humankind. The Vanguard is extremely careful about controlling who gets those things.  At least, they’re supposed to be.

I found out later, while I was still in the hospital, that it wasn’t any ordinary fusion rifle, either. It was something called Telesto. Why some of these guns have names, I don’t know.  Seems a bit fetishy to me. What’s wrong with just a manufacturer and model number? Anyway, this is what Telesto does: it fires a shotgun-like blast of bolts of coherent energy at a couple hundred kilometers an hour into whatever you point it at. Those bolts then degrade over a period of a little over a second until they explode. That means you don’t have to shoot it at the person you’re trying to kill. You don’t even necessarily have to be able to see them, you just have to know where they’re going to be in about a second.

The guy who shot me, Kelly Pent, a.k.a Zero, guessed pretty good about where I would be. The investigation afterward determined that he’d hidden behind a counter in the kitchen. The kitchen door looked directly out onto the living room area where the other guy, Malcolm Dubard, was laying stunned on the floor due to the flashbang grenade. Zero actually ended up killing his buddy Malcolm outright when he fired the fusion rifle into the living room floor right on top of the fallen front door.

When I charged in, I ran up on what looked like a pile of glowing purple rocks. I didn’t know what they were exactly. We hadn’t trained for this specifically, but we did have a protocol for what to do if anything totally weird showed up: Run like hell. My reflexes have always been good and they probably saved my life that day. I somehow managed to stop all my forward momentum and start running backward in the space of less than a second. The other members of the ART have told me that I was also yelling some kind of a warning to them, but I don’t remember that. The last thing I remember seeing is a purple flash. It was the last thing I ever really saw.

I wish that was the end of my memories of that morning, but it isn’t. I remember my own screams. I remember that Malcolm screamed as everything above his shoulders was lit on fire.  He died pretty quick, but he felt it. I remember knowing that Zero was about to come out of that kitchen and cut down the rest of my team with that hellish gun. The last thing I remember, before waking up in the hospital with my eyes burned out of my head, is a massive explosion. Thankfully, after that, I blacked out.

When I woke up the hospital bed was warm and my back was in knots. That’s funny, somehow I noticed my back before the pain in my face. Thinking about it now, three years later, lying on a different floor with blood draining out of my back my ex-wife and son are forefront on my mind. If you care to listen, i’ll tell you how I got here.

Chet Kirkham
Been playing since Y1. Currently expanding the Universe with fiction.