Ten suburb-sec officers surrounded a quaint house with an actual white picket fence and wet blood flowing down the porch stairs, turning black as the dusk darkened. They flooded the front yard, trampled roses into dirt freshly churned up by an immobile dredger with which some enterprising member of the family had been attempting to dig a well. A well, this deep in the city, surrounded by a white picket fence. The thought of these kinds of vanilla citizens accidentally punching a hole through the crust into the Tunnels was almost funny enough to make Rav Sharps laugh all the way back to the station, were it not for someone in the house shouting,
“Back off pigs, or we’ll hack up this here little girl the same we did to her parents!”
This was followed by a sharp cry of pain from a little girl. At least she was still alive, Rav though. He turned to his outfit.
“Let’s try backing off, sir!” Someone suggested. Everyone chuckled, then stopped with a look from Rav.
“So far as we can tell,” he said, “We have two dead members of the community that pays our salaries. Spilled their blood in front of their kid, no less. Two men, probably blacklisted criminals, somehow made their way through the gates, armed, and wandered all the way to this particular house at least a kilometer inside the burb, break in, and take someone hostage.”
“Don’t be thinking about trying nothing, now! We mean it!” Someone inside shouted.
“That’s Yuan at the gates today,” Rav continued. “the Jacobs brothers who programmed the Neighborhood Watch, Abdul and Zena patrolling this quadrant, all likely out of a job today. Lord forbid the kid dies, they’ll never work again.”
The men shifted. They knew it was nobody’s fault, really, that two criminals had found their way in. Suburb-Sec depended on a “severe consequences for messing with our community” strategy more than a leak-proof security net. The community, however, did not care about the methods by which the company kept them safe, and would probably demand a healthy sacrifice of their security company’s force.
“Back in my day, we would call this a Class A, level 10, Cock Up of the Century.”
“So, what are we going to do?”
“We’re going to kill the girl!” Another voice inside the house said.
“Hold on a second,” Rav shouted back. “We don’t even know what you want.” He motioned for two of his men to round the back of the house.
“We want money!”
“I would like nothing more,” Rav sent two men to cover the door, “than to give you some money,” one man climbed on top of the dredger, “however, I don’t have any money with me right now, so you’re going to have to think of something else.”
There was a pause. Rav gave a ready signal. His men tensed.
“Ok, that’s fine, just leave and nobody has to get hurt,” shouted the voice inside. The girl whimpered.
“This is our last chance to salvage some semblance of respect for our company. Keep it in mind,” Rav said to the men remaining around him. He received curt nods.
“Shit!” Someone in the house shouted. A gunshot went off. The windows flashed throughout the ground floor, lighting up the dusk with a low lightning that cast the men’s shadows into stretched caricatures.
“In!” Rav said, and the men moved.
As Rav led the short sprint across the manicured yard to the front door, preparing himself so as not to slip in the blood still flowing down the steps, he listened to the girl begin to scream. Funny, he thought, the thing ones thinks of before rushing into what could be the last storm of bullets one runs into.
He heard a thud as the man on the dredger fell off.
The girl’s scream modulated, took on an electronic quality. It reminded him of the old guitar he had when he was a kid, an ancient Ibanez he plugged into an even more ancient tube amp. He’d fiddle with the knobs for hours, playing with the different sounds he could make out of just one string. Just like that old tube amp, so too did that girl’s voice shift throughout the possible dimensions of sound, into noises he wasn’t sure any human could make.
Three steps covered in blood and Rav raised his foot to kick down the door.
The world exploded around him. One of the men grabbed his flackvest at the neck and yanked him back, shards of wood slicing across his exposed forearms.
“The dredger!” someone shouted.
Rav and his men watched as the dredger entered the house and destroyed everything in its path. It had a terrifying pneumatic swiftness, an unyielding power. The wall seemed to provide no more resistance than a tissue.
A cloud of debris choked the air. There were several more gunshots, a man’s desperate scream, a wet, strangled sound, a dull thud, and then silence.
The girl had stopped screaming.
Dust settled. Rav took two men and entered the house. Lights on rifles switched on. The dredger was illuminated first, smoke and debris causing it to loom from the darkness. One clawed grabber hung motionless in the air. Dangling from it was the headless body of a junkie. Below the bucket, designed to claw one half ton of dirt out of the ground at a time, protruded a bruised arm.
The little girl knelt next to one tread of the dredger, holding on to a spoke as a child might her father’s hand. Blood dripped from her hair and chunks of brain stuck to her nightdress.
“It’ll be ok, little girl,” Rav said.
“No,” she replied.