David’s weapon was dry, a double barrelled shotgun, each shell had claimed the life of a dog in the pack but there were six of them. Jasper had claimed three of them. The last dog leapt at him, it was black, a meter tall at the shoulder and weighed a shitload more than David. Its jaws were open and growing ever larger.
In adrenaline fuelled slow motion David backed up, lowering his weapon with his right hand and drawing his knife with his left in a reverse grip. David leant back, putting a foot back to steady himself before thrusting with the knife.
Shwack. The Fairburn Sykes dagger sunk into the eye of the canine, killing it instantly. The weight of the creature slammed into him and he absorbed it with the help of his rear foot. He slammed the creature to the floor.
Jasper gave an approving nod from across the decaying lobby, .308 bolt action in hand. David gave one last cautious look around the decaying lobby before yanking the blade back out.
‘Nice. We better scram. These dogs must have an owner.’ Jasper said as he changed magazines.
‘Yep.’ David agreed, replacing the shells in his own weapon.
They jogged into the space between the two staircases in the lobby. To their left was a pair of double doors.
‘You’re not going to believe this.’ Cain said, holding his mobile as Chantell flew his private two-person chopper over the so called ‘rust belt’ of Penrith.
‘What’s up?’ Taylor replied.
‘I just lost a K9 pack in Penrith. All six.’
Jasper whistled. ‘You want some help?’
‘Well, SHODAN tells me they were all killed by two bushmen, two against two, that’s fair isn’t it?’
‘Absolutely.’ Cain could imagine Taylor grinning. ‘If the two killed that many dogs they must have some talent. Where are you now?’
‘I’m five minutes out. Sending you the location now.’
‘Sweet. I’ll be five minutes behind you.’
Cain hung up and pulled down his dark grey balaclava.
Chantellheld the helicopter hovering over the corrugated iron roof of a building adjacent to the theatre where Cain’s pack dogs had died. Apparently it used to be a movie theatre of some repute though it was hard to tell now. The giant factory behind the theatre had run bust following the outsourcing boom and this part of Penrith had been mostly abandoned. The rust and rot that followed had resulted in the area being nicknamed the ‘rust belt’.
Cain dropped to the roof, it had looked like the most solid roofing in the area and it held his weight. The roof sloped up to the edge of the building which overlooked an alleyway linking the side of the theatre and the factory. He charged up the slope of the roof, got to the ridge and went spinning onto his back as a rifle round slammed into the side of his balaclava.
Jasper looked down the iron sights of his rifle with grim satisfaction, working the bolt action. The pair had exited the theatre into the alleyway that linked it to the factory at the back. They used a one by one cover formation all the way and it had paid off. Jasper had spotted the helicopter and sent Jack ahead into the factory. As soon as the black clad figure emerged on the roof Jasper had put a bullet in its head.
‘Factory looks clear.’ Jack called down from the steel stairs that lead into the factory. ‘You kill him?’
Jasper listened carefully, hearing the amused cackle coming from where the hunter had gone down.
As his cackling subsided into giggles Cain tapped his earpiece as the rubbery material of his balaclava regenerated. The smart polymer had absorbed the bullet and held his neck in place to avoid breaking his neck.
‘How goes it?’ Taylor asked immediately.
‘I just intercepted a bullet with my face. Remind me to buy more shares in Onyx.’
‘So I was right?’
‘Hell yeah mate, game on.’
Jasper swiftly dropped the notion of staying in place to put more rounds in the hunter when it re-emerged. The cursed thing had the high ground, wait for him to come down to the ground and then pump a magazine into him.
Jasper ran up the stairs and inside the door where Jack was waiting. ‘Shotgun’s not gonna be much use by the looks of it.’
‘Guess not.’ Jack said, looking inside the factory.
‘I’ll slow it down. You head inside and-‘
‘Look for a way to flank him. I know. I’m thinking an escape route might be more useful.’
‘Sure. If you can find one in there.’
‘Alright. Stay sharp. Fall back after a magazine.’
‘Will do.’ Jasper said, putting in a fresh 5 round clip magazine.
Cain leopard crawled to the edge of the roof, PDR in hand, red dot sight covering the hurricane fencing at the end of the alleyway. All clear. He swiftly jumped up and over the edge of the roof. Held onto the edge with both hands, dropped to the ground and rolled into a kneeling position. Still all clear.
Then he heard Taylor’s helicopter, it was one of the new one-man models that he flew by himself. Taylor was like that.
Cain tapped his earpiece again. ‘I hear you. They’re in the factory, you go in the front I’ll handle the alley side.’
Taylor landed on the concrete driveway in his all-black craft. He exited, Carbine in hand and locked the tiny helicopter with a ‘bip-boop.’ Looking down the Aim-point sight he advanced on the factory, entering a lobby area through the large, open double doors. The giant garage doors to the left and right of the lobby looked far too secure to bother with.
The lobby was home to a small reception desk to the left and various clock-on style machines on the right. At the other end of the lobby was another set of broken glass double doors standing ajar and pitch blackness beyond them.
Taylor took a knee and took his left hand off his weapon to tap the left eye lense on his balaclava, green night vision clicked on and his left eye had a near perfect view of the completely empty interior of the factory. Well that’s disappointing, Taylor thought as he slowly made his way inside the huge space. The actual machinery was no doubt sold for parts by the administrators, a last gasp attempt to salvage some profit from the business.
Jack kicked open the steel door that lead into the heart of the factory. Staring down the top barrel of the shotgun he spotted a figure silhouetted by the white light coming in double doors at the other end of the space inside. He immediately fired a cartridge at it and ducked back inside. Thanks to the darkness of the room he was coming from he had relatively good night vision and he could see there wasn’t much cover between himself and the double doors.
Jasper dived into the darkness to the side of the entrance as the air around him was filled with pellets from the shotgun. That was sloppy, he told himself. You never hang around the entrance once your inside, you might as well dance the funky chicken and sing ‘shoot-me’ at the top of your lungs. A couple of pellets bounced off his Onyx suit before he could roll into a kneel and put his scope over the area the shotgun blast had come from.
Nothing. Whoever was there didn’t stick around and he hadn’t come inside either. No doubt about it, these particular Bushmen had talent. Taylor smiled. Such a nice change from the usual noobs who ventured into the outer suburbs of Sydney.
At the end of the alley was a large crate and a hurricane fence covering two thirds of the end of the alley. The Bushman had shot him in the head from behind the fence earlier. Cain carefully walked around the fence, spotting the steel stairs and the figure lying prone at the top of them. He ducked back behind the crate just as a rifle round tore through the air next to his right ear.
What I wouldn’t give for a stun grenade. Cain thought. Sadly the hunting rules prohibited the use of explosives of any kind, or cased ammunition or non-frangible ammunition or anything else that could pollute the environment. Cain was a keen conservationist, finding a morbid beauty in how mother nature was slowly conquering the rust belt, but a simple flash-bang grenade would make his life that much easier.
But where’s the sport in that? He asked himself as he adopted the time tested strategy of abusing his resource advantage. He swat-turned around the crate, held the red dot over the sniper and went crazy with the trigger, his armoured suit was just gonna have to tough it out.
Totally saw that coming, Jasper thought to himself as he unloaded three rounds into the trunk of the rapidly side-stepping figure. Two of the rounds made giant craters over his chest and heart while another slammed into the magazine pouches over his stomach. His opponent was sending twice as many rounds back at him but with nowhere near the same accuracy, not even hunters could be that accurate while moving it seemed. The rounds flew over his head and shattered to dust harmlessly against the conrete wall behind him.
Jasper was on his last round however which he hip fired as he stood, covering his retreat inside. He ripped out the empty magazine and threw it away, running to the right he called out ’cover!’ as he put in one of his old magazines, only 4 rounds.
Across the room Jack took a knee and aimed his reloaded weapon at the door Jasper had come through. As the hunter’s head appeared Jack fired one shell and pulled the barrel down against the recoil, firing the second round just as the hunter’s weapon appeared over the top of the stairs. The pellets splashed across the hunters face and chest, making tiny craters across it. The hunter finally got its weapon to eye level and fired two rounds as Jack leapt and rolled towards Jasper who had his rifle aimed at the door at head height.
Cain put his back to the wall and swapped out his magazines. A small red light was flashing on his eye piece telling him his suit had nearly exhausted its ability to regenerate.
‘Taylor wherever you are I need you to push through for a sec, I’m low on juice.’ He said with his hand on his ear piece. ‘You’re probably gonna come in through the door opposite me. Slice the pie around to your left and you’ll find them.’
‘On my way.’
Taylor pushed, running across the empty space towards the door on the opposite corner of the factory floor. When he reached the door he began carefully sidestepping to the right, revealing more and more of the room as he went around. He found the bushman with the rifle on the opposite wall, swinging his weapon around to face him and double tapped the trigger.
The bushman took a round to the chest; Taylor took a round in the shoulder of his suit, the force of which was enough to send his second round high to the right. The bushman slid down the wall, dead from the force of a single 6.8mm round.
Cain came in sideways through the opposite door, lowering his rifle as he stepped over the threshold and raising it. Cain’s 6mm PDR went off twice as Taylor came in the room. The other bushman, the one with the shotgun, was dead next to his comrade with a round in his shoulder and his head. The fight was over.
‘Don’t know about you but I’m gonna need an ice bath after this one.’ Cain said as he fireman carried one of the Bushmen up the stairs into the theatre. The .308 rounds had managed to bruise him several times through the Onyx suit.
‘That’s what you get for rushing things.’ Taylor said behind him, fireman carrying the other Bushman. Inside the theatre they found the various pack dogs scattered around the lobby, some on the stairs some on the tiles, one having apparently been stabbed in the eye.
They lay the bodies down on the relatively intact tiles around the entrance to the theatre. They then collected all of the Dogs, and made a pile before laying the fallen Bushmen on top.
Taylor grabbed two protein bars from his combat webbing as Cain took out his phone. Accessing the application that ran the nanotech network in all of the dogs. He had nicknamed the app ‘SHODAN’, it was mostly there to stop the dogs from attacking people who had the nanotech implants necessary to be part of the global economy. It notified him whenever the Dogs found new prey and asked his permission to attack. It also had a self-destruct feature which Cain was accessing now. It would carbonize the dogs and the two Bushmen with them.
‘Farewell gentlemen. Thank you for playing.’ Cain said as he sat down next to Taylor to chew on a protein bar and watch the flames.
‘What’ll we do about the weapons and ammo?’ Taylor asked.
‘Leave ‘em.’ Cain shrugged. ‘Somebody might find a use for them.’ They had found five rounds with the .308 and 3 shells with the shotgun. Each bushman also had a 1911 pistol with 14 rounds of .45ACP each.
‘Somebody meaning other Bushmen.’ Tayor said, throwing the wrapper on the fire and crossing his feet.
‘They don’t have access to the global economy, where else are they going to get weapons and ammo?’ Cain asked, throwing his onto the flames as well.
No I get that. You’re just very keen to keep the Bushmen going aren’t you?’
‘They’re good sport. If they all die out we’ll have to hunt pigs and rabbits like in the old days. That’ll get boring pretty quick I imagine.’
‘I guess it does give us something to do on a weekend. Looks like you’re in need of some new dogs.’ Taylor said, nodding at the gently burning pile.
‘A whole pack gone.’ Cain shook his head. ‘They were experienced too, they’ve killed five in the last two months. I’ll order a new pack when I get home.’
After a while Taylor spoke again. ‘Ever ask yourself why they do it? The Bushmen I mean.’
‘Why they don’t just join the economy? No idea. The original Bushmen were all discontents from the service class so who knows. Apparently a steady income isn’t enough for some people. Shall we head back?’ Cain said, standing up, the flames were now embers.
‘Might as ort. ’ Taylor said, standing and stomping out the last embers. With the quasi-pyre extinguished the two began the walk back to the alleyway and then into the factory.
Cain tapped at his earpiece to signal Chantell to bring the chopper back around. ‘Meet at Kelly’s bar in an hour?’ he asked as they walked the stairs into the factory.
‘Sounds good.’ Taylor replied.
‘What about I bring Rosh, you can invite that Christa chick. Make it a double date.’
‘Well I don’t know about that.’
‘Oh go on. You two established a rapport at the compound.’ Cain said as they walked through the factory towards the double doors towards Taylor’s craft.
‘That would be on account of the bullets whizzing past us.’
‘Fortune favours the brave. Ask her. Call me when she says yes and I’ll call Rosh.’
‘Don’t want me as a third wheel eh?’ Taylor smirked.
They walked out the double doors into the glaring sunlight. It was summer, high twenties. Chantell had landed the helicopter next to Taylor’s smaller vehicle. The blades were still spinning, she waved at them, her lips smiling, her eyes covered by the visor of her helmet.
‘Well if Christa says no, Chany is always keen.’ Cain said, nodding at his pilot.
‘Your generosity knows no bounds.’
‘You’d be walking in the footsteps of greater men.’
‘Oh shut up.’ Taylor said, unlocking his craft and opening the door. ‘See you at Kelly’s.’
Cain opened the passenger door to his own chopper, making the ‘call me’ signal to Taylor’s chopper as it took off. With a grin he sat down next to Chantell.
‘Good hunting boss?’ she asked, spinning up the blades as Cain removed his balaclava.
‘Very. I may need you to dress up when we get back. You might be coming out with Taylor and I.’
‘Sweet.’ Chantell said as they took off, her eyes following Taylor’s chopper.
Chantell took off her helmet, black hair rolled down to her shoulders as she watched the helipad descend underground. Cain swiped his hand over the door to ‘the shed’, an equipment locker next to the helipad area which led into the mansion itself.
Implants in his knuckles opened the door and they entered. Chantell hung up her helmet and began unzipping her flight jacket; she had a black t-shirt underneath.
‘So smart casual for tonight?’ She asked as Cain unclipped his combat webbing.
‘Maybe. Taylor will call me in a bit, I wouldn’t get dressed until then. Son of a…’ Cain hadn’t noticed that one of the .303’s had punched a hole in one of his magazine pouches, mangling the rounds inside. Cain dropped the magazine on the bench next to his webbing and PDR before following Chantell into the house.
The door on the right of the shack opened into the main open space of the mansion which came in three levels descending down the cliff. The top tier was an open plan kitchen and TV lounge, the second level was an open gallery with bedrooms and bathrooms on the left and a transparent wall on the right looking out over the Pacific Ocean. The lowest level was another lounge area with a wraparound window looking out over the local beach. It was an average home for a knowledge class bachelor, the helipad was exceptional but that was technically government property.
No time to admire the view, the flight in from Penrith had taken 20 minutes. Cain peeled off the top half of his onyx suit. The bruises on his chest and stomach weren’t so bad after all; a hot shower might be more suitable. ‘I’ll be in the shower, keep an eye on the phone will you?’ he said as he walked into his room.
When he emerged 15 minutes later, clean, fresh and suited up in black pants and a navy blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up, Chantell was curled up on one of the couches on the bottom level, looking at the ocean with the wafer thin house phone in her hand.
‘Taylor called. He said meet at 6pm at Newtown and that Christa was coming after all.’ She said as he walked down the single step from the second level.
‘Sorry Chan, I wasn’t actually expecting Christa to say yes.’
‘Bah, I’ll live. I’ll see if Ben is around for a fuck after his shift. Mind if we raid your liquor cabinet?’ Chantell said, looking up at him. She had grown fond of Cain’s bodyguard over the years
Cain smiled. ‘Knock yourselves out. How do I look?’
‘Impeccable as ever boss.’
‘You’re too kind. Don’t wait up for me.’ Cain pulled out his transparent smart phone to call Roisin.
By six o’clock it was still about 25 degrees and humid in the city. The summer sun still found its way onto the streets, it wouldn’t get dark until after seven. Cain took the train into the city to meet Roisin at the Newtown station. Since leaving the compound Roisin had cut her hair off at the neck and dyed her hair a lighter shade of brown. She wore a thin pink-red dress with short sleeves and matching lipstick.
They met at the top of the stairs near the exit, hugged and kissed, as she hung her arms around his neck her brown eyes widened. ‘What happened here?’ she asked in her Irish accent, poking his left temple.
He blinked. He’d forgotten about the round in the temple from earlier, apparently leaving a bruise. ‘I ran into some unusually talented Bushmen out Penrith way.’
‘What were you doing out there?’
‘I lost my k9 pack.’
‘Lost? As in dead?’
‘All of them?’
‘Yep. All six. But Taylor and I avenged them.’
‘Well you could’ve called me. I haven’t been hunting in ages. Come.’ They turned to walk down Kings Street.
‘We aren’t meeting them at the station?’ Cain asked.
‘No Taylor texted saying to meet at Thai-Tanic.’
‘So he did.’ Cain said, checking his own phone as Roisin linked an arm around his. ‘So how was your day?’ he asked after a while.
‘Not too shabby. Checking scripts, humouring chatty old ladies, torturing the newest member of the staff. You know, pharmacist stuff.’
‘You just ooze job satisfaction.’
‘Don’t I just. I’m serious though, we should go hunting, just you and me. If I can disturb your little bromance with Taylor for a weekend.’
‘Well if tonight goes well Christa might be able to distract him from his brooding episodes which will free up my schedule significantly.’
‘Ah, so that’s how you rationalise it. You’re helping him get out of the house.’
‘So he’s still raw about Lisa then?’
‘I wouldn’t say raw…numb. He’s been morning for so long it’s hard to get him enthused about anything.’
‘We’d better start drinking early then. Sounds like I have a stake in him being as charming as possible tonight.’ Roisin said quietly, waving at Taylor and Christa as they approached Thai-Tanic.
The two had been sitting at tables on the walkway. Taylor was wearing a crimson shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a fedora. Christa looked stunning as ever; bronze skin, and caramel eyes. Her light brown hair had grown a few inches from the crew cut she had worn at the compound. The men gripped forearms before hugging the girls in greeting before they sat down to order.
Taylor and Christa began explaining how they had just discovered how they had both been in the same stand at the same event at the London Olympics in ’12 and how they had both always wanted to return. As they continued to merrily swap stories about their times in England, Roisin and Cain exchanged a glance.
Roisin smiled at him. Life was good.