“They’re in the house across the street from you,” the Handler said through Josh’s ear implant. “They have the package. I am shifting you into Alert mode. Let me know when it is in full effect.”
Josh leaned back into the driver’s seat of his Explorer and waited for the chems to kick in. Alert mode was the lowest level of enhancement activation, and consisted of a particularly powerful form of methylphenidate. It was the same chemical that Ritalin used, only far more potent. He felt his concentration focus in, and the world came into a greater clarity. “I’m there,” Josh said calmly, his years of training taking hold.
“Acknowledged,” the Handler replied. “Sources say there are four squares in there, but be flexible. I am prepping your system for full Tactical mode. Switch up when you are ready to go in.”
“Understood,” Josh answered as he made sure his two pistols each had a round chambered. He favored the classic M1911 pistol. The affectation was a holdover from his years in the Marine Corps, as it had been the standard Marine service pistol for decades. A lot of Marines still preferred it over the 9mm that was adopted in the 1990s, and Josh, being a bit of a traditionalist, fell into that category. He glanced over at the house he was going to be going into shortly, and asked, “It’s the yellow house, correct?”
A pause, and then, “Affirmative, it is the yellow house, Tiburon.”
Josh climbed out of the SUV, pocketing the two pistols in his jacket. He hated the codename they’d assigned him, but seemed to have little say in the matter. “Beginning recon,” he said, which the Handler acknowledged. Josh walked across the street, taking in every detail of not only the target house, but the entire surrounding area. Sights, sounds, and even smells were noted for possible reference later. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary to his finely attuned, chemically enhanced, and highly trained senses, but he had been wrong before. He approached the building with extreme caution.
“Squares.” It was a hold over phrase from the early days, back in the sixties, for people who weren’t chemically enhanced. The technical term was “non-enhanced,” but all organizations had their own histories and lingo, and the Conspiracy was no exception. Some agents in the past had assumed that squares weren’t particularly dangerous, but they always learned a lesson on that point early in their careers. Whether the lesson was fatal or not varied.
After checking the entire perimeter of the house, Josh circled back to the front, where there was only one unblocked window. Just on the other side of the glass there was a young woman watching television from a couch. She had hair in various colors and lengths, and wore a dark patchwork of latex and leather clothing that appeared to be held together by safety pins and black electrical tape. She seemed attentive only to the program, and was completely unaware of Josh’s presence.
Leaning back against the outside wall, Josh said quietly, “Switching up to Tactical mode,” and triggered the flood of a tailor made chemicals that the Handler had prepared into his system. Cocaine derivatives were piped directly to targeted centers of his brain, bringing on a hyper-awareness well beyond the Ritalin’s capabilities, while methamphetamines poured into other parts of his brain, boosting his energy levels to unimagined heights. His body shuddered at the sudden rush of chemicals, and Josh was only able to maintain his composure through the instant euphoria with the help of the Ritalin and the harsh discipline of his training.
Painkillers numbed his fiery nerves in less than thirty seconds, while a new drug, synthetic adrenaline of an unprecedented quality, coursed into his veins. Were it not for the painkillers, Josh would have collapsed to the ground with this last infusion. The new adrenaline was infamous amongst his fellow K-Troopers for its brutal training period, and Josh could feel the power it quickly bestowed on his body. He flexed his twitching muscles, and took a deep and measured breath. A lot of yoga training went into his current mastery of a body hovering on the edge of exploding, and he did not look forward to the inevitable crash after the mission.
“I’m going in,” he said softly, and without waiting for a response from the Handler, Josh stood up and threw himself through the glass window. The two pistols appeared in his hands, and he blasted a few rounds into the reclining woman before he even hit the floor. In the slowed flow of time characteristic of a ramped up system, Josh could almost see the individual bullets punch through her flesh. Unexpectedly, he was also able to watch the skin knit itself back closed as she rose from the sofa, her green glowing fist aimed at his face with inhuman speed. Josh sent three more rounds into her as he dodged backwards out of her reach.
The girl shrugged off this latest volley of lead and lunged at Josh with a knife that appeared out of nowhere. The blade missed his throat by millimeters, and he sidestepped her outstretched arm with ease. Not only was he noticeably faster than her, she seemed to have very little actual martial arts skill. He stepped in and almost casually snapped her arm at the wrist and elbow, before shooting her in the side of the head. This wound did not heal, and her suddenly limp form crumpled to the floor.
Listening for any sign of the other occupants of the house, Josh keyed his transmitter. “One down. Target appeared to be Talented, Handler,” he said, maintaining his even tone. If one of the people in this house could change reality so easily, he expected that the others could, too. Based on her abilities and her appearance, Josh judged her to be a member one of the arcane factions, but there was no telling which one. It seemed as if everyone these days who discovered they had the Talent wanted to be wizards or vampires, like something out of a fantasy novel. These people, who formed themselves into covens, coteries, and any other goofy nonsense they had read about in New Age books, were generally looked down on by others in the Talented community. The one Josh had just dispatched probably fancied herself a vampire, judging by her outfit. Nevertheless, they could be a threat in their own right, and Josh took the few available seconds he had to reload his pistols with fresh magazines.
“Tiburon, be advised, Over-watch is reporting a sudden burst of Phase activity in the area,” the Handler said. “Recommend switching on Phase enhancements.”
Josh groaned. He hated the Phase enhancements. The way they distorted reality around him always ensured the following crash would be ugly, and probably last for much longer than usual. Most K-Troopers suffered a week of downtime after a mission, while the ones who found themselves undergoing Tactical mode with Phase enhancements were typically out of action for at least a month. Some never fully recovered, and had to be reassigned to avoid addiction, breakdown, or both. Still, he needed to be able to see into Phase to properly fight people who were able to operate in that realm. “Turning on Phase enhancements,” he said, as hallucinogens were dumped into his brain. The primary one was raw ketamine, which endowed upon the K-Trooper a powerful sense of detachment; a side-effect of existing on two planes at once.
Normally, for the average square person, drugs like these could take hours to go into effect, but the K-Troopers had the advantage of customized chemicals, training, and the brain-pump system. It was fundamentally a simple mechanism, but was a triumph of miniaturization. Carbon tubing ran along his nervous system to various points of the body, as well as directly into his brain, all connected by a central pump attached to his back ribs. He had once seen a CT scan of his head after the installation surgery, and the webbing of tubes spread across the inside of his skull like a road-map. Between this system, and the designer drugs engineered specifically for this method of delivery, the K-Trooper was a chemically enhanced force to be reckoned with.
Almost immediately Josh noticed the walls pulsing rhythmically, glistening with the strange sheen that indicated a thinning of the barriers between realities. He knew right away that he now existed simultaneously in the real world and Phase, and steadied himself with carefully controlled breathing patterns. “Phase enhancement engaged,” he muttered before stepping through the now semi-material wall.
In the next room he appeared behind two more of the vampire types, who were watching the door in ambush, and fired directly into the backs of their heads before they could even begin to react. They dropped in slow motion to the ground as the blood spray began to paint large stains on the wall. Not waiting for their bodies to hit the floor, Josh leaped backwards through another wall, spinning around as he flew through the thick air. He landed in an empty room, and almost without thought sent his mind out to locate the fourth target, as well as the package. He found them moving across the back yard through the night, heading for a car to presumably make an escape.
Knowing that he only had a few moments left, Josh threw himself through the outside wall and glided halfway across the yard after them. He saw a woman holding a little girl of about twelve by the hand, hurrying through the darkness. He brought his pistols up and aimed at the woman, but stopped himself before squeezing the triggers. It took a precious few seconds for his brain register the fact that the while the woman was wearing normal looking clothes, the girl was dressed much like the three goths he had just left dead in the house. Also, she was leading the woman, rather than the other way around. His hesitation almost cost him everything.
The girl, whose hair was dyed black and who wore black lacy clothes, stopped, spun around, and threw up gloved hand. A wave of black energy rushed through the Phase and slammed into Josh, sending him flying backwards against the house. The glass windows shattered under the blast’s assault, and the plastic siding split in various places.
“Oh, hell,” Josh muttered as he stood back up, dusting himself off. The woman fell to the ground unconscious while the girl stalked towards Josh, her eyes orbs of bottomless black. “Oh, hell,” he said again, and raised his pistols to aim at her. In the real world she still appeared as a creepy child, but in Phase her form had shifted to something more menacing, with claws, scales, and very large teeth. As her monstrous shape walked towards him, sending bolts of black energy across the air, Josh charged directly in, dodging with an inhuman speed as he fired round after round into her.
When he got within arm’s reach, she lunged out at him, swinging a large and muscled arm through empty air, and missing by a hair’s breadth. Josh pistol whipped the little girl as he leapt past her, spun around, and lashed out with an unnaturally strong kick to her spine. This sudden attack knocked her face-down to the grass, and she lost concentration long enough for her Phase form to shift back to her natural shape. The pummeling didn’t actually hurt her, but it put her in position for Josh to finish the job, which he did without hesitation with two bullets to the back of the head. Little girl or not, he made it a policy to kill things that scared the hell out of him.
Josh collapsed to the grass, his chemically induced energy all but spent. The world came back into tangibility as the micro-dose of ketamine wore off, and he turned to look at the package. She was a woman in her thirties, with blonde hair, and was lying unconscious in the dirt. Mustering up the last of his natural strength, Josh dragged himself to his feet and stood over her.
“Package has been secured,” he said to the Handler.
“Good work, Tiburon. Now eliminate the package.”
Staring down at her, Josh shook his head. “Say again, Handler?”
The voice, which seemed irritated at his hesitation, repeated, “Eliminate the package, Tiburon. Quickly, before authorities arrive.”
Josh had never refused an order in the past, but he had never been given such an order before now, either. It was one thing to kill people who were legitimately trying to kill you first, but someone who wasn’t an immediate threat? He figured that the Conspiracy might have a very valid reason for wanting her dead, but this was not how Josh operated. He fired two rounds into the dirt beside her head, and walked away into the shadows.
“Package has been eliminated, Handler,” he said, maintaining his professionally monotone voice.
“Good job,” the Handler replied. “Report to Recovery at once. You’ve a long month of bed-rest ahead of you.”