Vindicator rifles glistened in the lights of the tunnel as streaks swam across their reflective faceplates, but Hayden didn’t look too closely at any of them. His fake ID wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny. If these were local boys, and not Varik’s hand-picked hardasses, that ID might be enough.
The Supremacy was going to stick their giant nose in now, which was going to upset Morna, but there was no help for it. Someone near the tunnel must have called the Vindicators. Even the most patriotic of natural-born sometimes did that when they heard enough gunfire.
“Freeze!” the closest Vindicator yelled. His rifle wobbled between them, and Hayden suspected he was a local draftee. No sudden moves.
Hayden had trained with Vindicator suits. He knew the screens inside the draftee’s sealed helmet offered a compressed 360 degree view of his surroundings, as well as a threat monitor. Hopefully, the powered armor’s computer would keep this jumpy kid from shooting someone. That rifle was networked to the armor, which offered innate trigger discipline.
“My hands are bound behind my back!” Slim shouted at the Vindicators. “I’d love to raise them but can’t, so please, don’t shoot me!”
The draftee’s rifle shifted again, complicating his mistake, but it dipped when a sergeant wearing a golden shoulderpad strode past him. The Vindicator sergeant’s helmet swiveled across the three men with exploded heads to the kid writhing by the car, then away. That made him a veteran. Star’s Landing peace officers saw shit like this every day.
The wounded kid, Cal, beckoned desperately. “Help me! I’ve been shot!”
“Medic,” the sergeant told the others as he picked up one of Zack’s discarded rifles. A narrow tube snapped down beside the sergeant’s helmet and scanned the very illegal weapon with a rotating series of green beams, archiving fingerprints and assigning blame.
“Who have we got here?” the sergeant asked his draftee. It was probably a training day.
“Can’t retrieve IDs on the bodies or the Asian, sir,” the draftee said, “but I’ve got IDs on the kid, the blond, and the bald guy.” At least he had his descriptions straight.
“I’m Slim!” Slim said, smiling wide. “I won’t resist.”
“Slim and the bodies are Ryke’s boys,” the sergeant said, which meant he was also familiar with all the local troublemakers. “So who are the assholes shooting at them?”
“IDs flag them as Zack Marano, and…” There was a pause. “Bucky Wonderballs.”
The sergeant handed the smart rifle to another Vindicator and turned his reflective plate on Hayden. “Bucky, I’ve got you firing an illegal weapon at registered security contractors in the middle of a public street. Anything to say about that?”
“Please,” Hayden said, “call me Mister Wonderballs.”
“What about you, Marano?” The sergeant turned on Zack. “Is SpaceGov sanctioning military ops now?”
“I have a permit for these rifles,” Zack said, “and I can up it to your PBA, right now, if you promise not to shoot me. Also, this is my day off.”
“Who shot first?” the sergeant asked.
“Ryke’s thugs, sir,” Zack answered in an earnest, truthful tone that Hayden had always appreciated during interrogations. “They attacked us. There’s an apartment you might want to check out a few blocks back.”
The sergeant turned his sealed helmet on the friendliest thug in Star’s Landing. “What about you, Slim? You agree that you shot first, or do you want to spin a different story?”
Slim bowed his head. “One attorney, please.”
The sergeant crossed his armored arms over his armored chest, then glanced at the draftee. The draftee didn’t notice, despite having a 360 view of his surroundings. That must be frustrating.
Hayden risked raising a hand. “The next thing you say is ‘Hands on your head’. After we comply, push us down and cuff us.”
The draftee just stood there.
“First day?” Hayden asked.
The draftee stomped forward and pulled out a pair of plastic cuffs. “Hands on your head!”
He pushed Hayden down and cuffed his hands behind his back. Others did the same to Zack and Slim. No one would get the chance to explain themselves until the sergeant delivered them to a trained interrogator: someone like Hayden had been, before the Supremacy fired him.
As the Vindicators pulled them up, Hayden watched another Vindicator inject a sedative into the wounded driver. Made sense. Didn’t want him screaming all the way to the hospital. The Vindicators holding Zack, Hayden, and Slim all waited awkwardly until a large autotruck pulled into the tunnel.
When it arrived, the sergeant motioned them forward. Hayden turned so the sergeant could see his cuffed hands and crossed his index and middle fingers over one another. The Supremacy’s crossed hammers.
The sergeant visibly relaxed inside his armor. “Marano, Wonderballs, behave yourself and you’ll have a chance to explain down at the station.” If this was some covert Supremacy op, as the sergeant must now suspect, Zack and Hayden wouldn’t be his problem for long.
“Into the truck,” the draftee said. He had his confidence back now.
As Hayden climbed into the armored autotruck, it finally sunk in just how badly his plans were blown. Varik was certainly going to watch the local arrest reports for Hayden’s smiling face, and worse, Ryke would certainly escalate. The crime lord would send every bounty hunter in the city after him, which would make getting Cassie out that much more difficult.
His emotional balancers assured him the situation wasn’t that bad. All he had to do was stay calm, stay rational, and plan. Some days, he came up with really good plans.
He would start with planning how to get himself out of jail.
* * *
[ If you like what you’ve read, you can purchase Supremacy’s Shadow for $3.99, or read it for free with KDP Unlimited. Thank you! ]