Short Fiction: “ALPHA FOXTROT UNIFORM”

I don’t post much short fiction, but it’s an area I’d like to be spending more time and effort on, if I could catch up on other projects. When I originally began my writing career in the 1990s, I wanted to split my time between game writing and fiction writing, but I kept getting offered guaranteed money for game writing, and all fiction was on spec, so…

This is inspired by the quick vigilante/heroes concepts I’ve dabbled with for months on social media with the #StreetLevelHeroes hashtag/

ALPHA FOXTROT UNIFORM

Mike-Mike tossed two smoke cannisters around the corner then dove away from the cover of the alley wall, using a powerful kick against its brick to send him flying swiftly and suddenly across the refuse-covered back street and toward a storm drain. Bursts of automatic gunfire sprayed out around him, but didn’t immediately get a bead on his movement. The smoke wasn’t thick enough for good visual cover yet, but he’d mostly thrown the cannisters to create a distraction. He ended his leap in a slide, staying as low to the ground as possible, and reaching out for the storm drain grill. He felt twin sharp pains in his left leg, but didn’t have time to check if he’d taken shrapnel, or if bullets had impacted on his ballistic cloth costume, or if he was seriously hit.

His fingers just barely grabbed the grill and he quickly pulled himself past the gap between grill and the street, down into the drain. It was a tight fit, but one he’d checked he could make months ago when he’d first begun operating in the old Satan’s Hollow district. He also knew that it was, on average, a three-meter drop from a storm drain entrance to the floor of the crumbling brick waterways. He tucked, trying to roll blindly onto the curved wall he couldn’t see.

He hit, hard, and more flopped than rolled. His right shoulder flared in pain, but he didn’t think it was broken. Cracked, maybe. It would demand attention soon.

If he was still alive.

The muffled sounds of gunfire up in the alley stopped almost immediately, which was bad. It meant his assailants had a good idea where he was, which wasn’t a shock but it would have been nice to catch a break on their acuity.

This hadn’t been a “catch a break” kind of day.

He popped his last smoke cannister, hoping it would cut visibility enough to  make the gunmen cautious about following him into the drain system, then forced himself to his feet. The pain in his left leg returned with a vengeance, but the limb didn’t collapse under him. The drain was nearly empty—it hadn’t rained in this part of the state in more than a week – so at least he could move with fair speed down the tunnel. He hesitated for only a second before flicking on the light attached to his cap—right now it was more important that he move quickly and not bean himself on a cross-pipe than to maintain stealth.

He vacated the spot under the drain grill just as a burst of automatic fire sprayed down from the alleyway. The gunshots were deafening, but at least he didn’t catch a ricochet as he jogged away. His light revealed a cross-drain not more than five meters ahead of him, and he moved toward it as quickly as he could. Just as he reached it there was a clatter behind him, beneath the drain grill.

He threw himself sideways into the cross-drain, as a flash-bang filled the previous tunnel with blinding light and thunderous sound. The shockwave buffeted him, but didn’t make him senseless. He forced himself to his feet again, and ran down the cross-tunnel as fast as he could. He couldn’t be sure the assailants above were following any specific protocol, but most training made flash-bangs a step taken just before a breach.

They were coming to get him, and soon.

Thankfully, the layout of storm drains beneath the Satan’s Hollow district was as convoluted and irregular as the streets of the neighborhood above. He soon found a second intersection, then a third, each time dashing in a random direction to force his pursuers to spread themselves thinner and thinner to chase him down.

Unfortunately, it had looked like they had the numbers to DO that, even if it took some time. Their gear had included some upscale communications and screen devices as well, so he would guess they had nine backup giving them schematics, traffic camera views, and local internet chatter. No maps of the drain system were 100% accurate, but with their numbers, resources, and apparent competence, he couldn’t trust he’d be able to safely disengage without being followed.

Or mowed down.

He didn’t even know what he’d done to warrant the sudden attack, and honestly if he hadn’t been who he was, able to do what he could do he’d be dead already. But he’d already played the one good trick he kept up his sleeve, and it hadn’t been enough. The attackers had kept coming, in numbers, out in the open, with no apparent concern about retaliation from law enforcement. He was out of his depth.

He needed his own back-up.

He slipped an old-fashioned flip-phone out of a pouch, and popped it open. It had no dialpad, and showed clear signs of modification. It automatially came on and dialed a long, complex tone, which was followed by a series of soft clicks. He rarely used it, and just hoped he wasn’t catching its creator at a bad time…

“Ops.”

The woman’s voice was cool, calm, and firm. It was the sweetest sound Mike-Mike had ever heard.

“Mike-Mike, danger word ‘Bananagram.’ I stepped in it Ops. I’m in trouble.”

“Location?” Her voice remained just as calm.

“Storm drains, under Satan’s Hollow. I went in somewhere between Milton Street and the Piles. I’ve been moving roughly south.”

“Condition?”

Mike-Mike took the time to actually look at his leg, crouching to shine his light directly on it. There was no blood, which was good. However when he gingerly touched it, pain shot through him like a hot poker. Which was bad. His shoulder was nearly as painful, and he could feel more bruises and stiffening muscles as the adrenaline leaked out of his system.

“Pretty badly battered. Nothing critical, but I am not in fighting trim.”

“You loaded?”

Mike-Mike looked at the timer on the inside of his right wrist. It automatically went off when he used his “Boom Blast,” counting down until his AB-human power could be used again. He’d expended it when he had first been jumped, and it was the only reason he’d survived the first moments of the attack.

“I got about forty-five minutes before I can pop off. I’m out of smoke. I still have my G19 and two spare clips, but I’d rather not get into a firefight.”

There was a brief pause. “I’ve got you situation. CyberChat in the area is all over it. Reports of four or more armored trucks, two dozen troops. I have video of two of them. No sign of police. Traffic cams are down. No sign of insignia or nametags. Just ranks, which match what Red Stone Consulting use, though they aren’t in standard Red Stone gear. Looks like they’re spreading out, likely trying to cut off your possible evac routes.”

Mike-Mike closed his eyes, and took three deep breaths. That was all about as bad as it could be.

“Options?” He tried to keep his own voice calm.

“I’m boosting the social media awareness now. Shutting down false stories where I can. Making sure footage gets out. Eventually either state enforcement is going to have to pay attention, or mainstream media will which might force federal intervention or a major hero group to drop whatever else they’re doing and head this way. But that’s going to take time I don’t think you have.”

Mike-Mike’s leg flared in pain again, and his visual briefly blurred. That was extra-bad.

“Agreed,” he said simply.

“I can ping potential allies. Get them to the most public spot you can reach, make sure it’s well-seen, and see if these fuckos are willing to go hot against some well-known masks with the eyes of the world on them.”

“I’ll take it.” Mike-Mike didn’t see any better options. “Who’s on deck?”

“Dvork and Chooper are already en route on their own initiative, Broken Heart is nearby and I expect to have her moving your way shortly. I’m pinging Clunker, but don’t know his location. And Boilerplate just reached out to me. She’s apparently also involved in this, and willing to help with an extraction.”

A wave of relief rolled through Mike-Mike. He’d take any help he could get, but Boilerplate brought both near-invulnerability and legal expertise into the mix. And she was well-liked and respected, making it less likely anyone would try to gaslight the public about her involvement.

“What’s my exit?”

“Can you make it to the Yamatown Market?”

Mike-Mike tried to focus on a mental map of Satan’s Hollow, and what he knew about the storm drains. They would all move roughly south or east, to dump into the river. Yamatown was right on the edge of southeastern Satan’s Hollow, divided from it by the 102nd street viaduct, which had connections to the drains. As long as he kept moving in approximately the same direction…

“Yes. It’ll take me maybe 20 minutes.”

“Go.”

Mike-Mike forced himself back to his feet, gritting his teeth at the pain. He had no idea which of the things he’d been looking into had brought this sudden hellstorm down on him.

But he was now a good deal more convinced he was going to live long enough to find out.

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I have a Patreon. It supports the time I take to do all my blog posts, but especially longer and more experimental ones like this. If you’d like to see more fiction (or more game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

About okcstephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the publisher and lead genius of Rogue Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps.

Posted on October 12, 2020, in Short Fiction and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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