Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Land of the Blind (Prologue)

Note: Due to unforeseen circumstances, the serialized piece Slow Boat to China is temporarily suspended. In its place is the first chapter of my newest book, due out in winter 2012.

Content advisory: Contains violence.

April 25, 2142

It took eight of the most grueling months of detective and intelligence work, but they ran him to ground. Trailed him from the heart of the Congo in central Africa all the way to Dallas/Fort Worth International Air & Space Port. Tracked him by satellite and wireless surveillance to the port’s rental terminal. Followed his old-fashioned hydrogen-powered rental car all the way to Fort Worth.

They took him as he passed through an intersection.

Fusion-powered vans sped up and cut the target off, forcing the driver to skid to a stop, brakes squealing, filling the air with the unfamiliar smell of burnt rubber. More black vans sealed off the street behind the car.

Doors opened and dozens of men and women dressed in the latest flexible black armor suits poured out of the vehicles. If they looked strange to the bystanders, it was by design. These were not any ordinary federal agents.

They wore form-fitting uniforms, composed of the latest generation of Kevlar body armor. When coupled with flak vests and plating, the uniform could stop any projectile up to twenty-five millimeters. Computer interfaces allowed the wearers to connect with the XM-17, the newest laser-guided submachine gun, which fired the deadly new slantium-depleted bullets.

“This is a Praetorian Guard operation!” a message blared out from one of the vans towards the gaggle of onlookers gathered at the intersections. “Please stay behind the city police cordons!  Anyone straying beyond those cordons will be subject to arrest!”

Captain Anna Velasquez crouched behind one of the fusion cars, close enough to feel the dull heat from the fusion core beneath the hood. In most cases, she would only have been second-in-command. But, she was no ordinary member of the Praetorian Guard, the premier security apparatus of the North American Federation. As head of the Praetorians’ elite forces, she was their best officer, consumed with a drive born a quarter of a century earlier in a night of blood and fear.

Anna knew she was the best, but then again, considering her quarry, she needed to be. Inside that rental car sat Devereaux Marshall Fox, dubbed by the media as “The Adventurer” for his worldwide exploits. To Anna, however, he was just a vicious murdering psychopath who, twenty-five years earlier, had massacred her entire village. From that day forward, she’d made it her mission to bring him to heel for his crimes.

Frowning at the lack of movement inside her suspect’s vehicle, she activated the subcutaneous implant behind her right ear and connected to her battle suit’s radio.

“This is the Praetorian Guard!” she called out. “Driver, put your hands up where we can see them, slowly open the driver's side door and exit the vehicle!  Do it now!”

“Sensors reveal no weapons in the vehicle,” the command van reported back.

Anna cocked an eyebrow in surprise. Had she really caught Fox unprepared, with none of his weapons?  Still, as she looked at his frightened face through the rental car windshield, she could not feel any sympathy for him. He was a cold-blooded murderer who she was about to bring to bay, for good.

“This is your last warning!" she stated with more authority. “Put your hands where we can see them, slowly open the door and exit the vehicle!"

There was still no movement from inside the vehicle. Anna frowned, flipping the selector switch on her gun from "single" to "automatic." She knew she had to follow procedure, but she was so sure that, at last, she was going to get her revenge that she could barely contain her giddiness. Alas, she forced himself to be more professional; giddiness was not standard protocol for a Praetorian.

She motioned to her aide, Lt. Freda Von Sturm, to pass the word. Sturm, on loan from the German DSG-9 Special Forces, flipped her gun to automatic. Anna noticed that Sturm's visage remained rather stony, belying little about whatever emotions might have flowing through her mind.

“He's trying to make some kind of communication,” Von Sturm called out.

Anna thanked God for the opening Fox had given her.

“Let him have it!" she shouted.

In an instant, dozens of machine guns, rifles and pistols opened up. The slantium-depleted bullets punctured the metal of the entire vehicle. The car had been made of reinforced new grade steel, but against the Praetorian bullets, it was like stopping a knife with a piece of paper.

Flames began to sprout out from under the hood as the slantium reacted with the vehicle's energy core. A few moments later, the engine blew up. The hydrogen started an intense, but brief fire. The rental car was ball of flame for about thirty seconds after which it petered out for lack of flammable material.

“Cease fire! Cease fire!” Anna ordered. “Do a sensor sweep.”

“No life!” came the report that Anna had desperately sought.

“Good job, everyone,” Anna said into her radio. “Lt. Von Sturm, please radio for a wrecker and a morgue vehicle.”

As curious onlookers and media vultures quickly descended onto the scene of Devereaux Marshall Fox’s demise, Anna retreated to the comfort of her command van. Alone in the back of the van, away from prying eyes, she collapsed onto the floor and let loose the torrent of tears she’d been holding back.

To be continued Oct. 13, 2011. For more exciting tales, check out the latest issues of Digital Digest at Amazon.

Gregory Marshall Smith
Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror author

Copyright © 2011 Gregory Marshall Smith
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.

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