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“What are they doing?”

“Nothing… just… talking. Are we sure we're in the right place? How do we know these aren't just random people waiting for a ride or something?”

Agent Four grinned, his lean face masked by a massive set of binoculars. “Oh no, it's them. See the one with the stack of books wrapped in a belt? We've seen him before.”

"What do you suppose is in those books anyway?"

"Not sure. But one of them we recovered was the complete works of Samuel Coleridge, including the full version of 'Kubla Khan.' All three hundred lines."

"Is that a big deal?"

Four sighed. "Just keep your eye on the targets."

Agent Grims squinted, shifting. He'd been staring down a scope roughly the size of a two-liter, attached to a high-powered, accurate, and very heavy rifle for nearly a hour now. He exhaled loudly, wiping his dark brow and re-fitting it to the eye cup. “Why are we on lookout? Why isn't the rest of the team moving in?”

“Because we need to see what happens first, Grims. Otherwise I'd have you smoke the lot of them and go get a damn beer. They're not supposed to be here, and we just got the info from Scud yesterday. If this pans out, we can figure out what the hell the Serpent's Hand is suddenly on the move for the first time in a year. Now shut up and watch.”

Grims grumbled under his breath, finger twitching a bit on the trigger. He was sick and tired of being attached to this damn squad. Since the attack, everyone had been shuffled, teams expanded and re-manned, to allow for instant autonomy in case of another communication blackout. Or some such bullshit. All he knew is that he hated working with these damn spooks. At least on the MTF squads, he could joke around, these people-

“Movement… movement on the librarian…”

Grims snapped to instantly, sighting in on the target. The man with the books had risen, moving from the sidewalk and down to a small side-alley. The other three people followed close behind, looking very nervous, checking up and down the street.

“Four, the guy in the blue shirt looks like he's on a phone… what sho-”

“Forget it, Smith already has an intercept…” Agent Four paused, touching his finger to the tiny earbud in his right ear. “…sounds like… someone's late. They had to change the meeting spot, because they'd been exposed too long… bah, he hung up." Four frowned. "This is odd."

"How so?"

"Well, the Hand normally uses their mumbo jumbo to arrange stuff. Cell phones and back alleys seem… cheesy.”

Grims ignored Four as he mused, eyes locked on the tiny group. The rooflines were at least out of the way, he could keep plain-sight contact with them. They were nervous, fidgeting, and it was traveling up the scope to him. Groups like this bolted, he'd seen it a hundred times, and taking pot-shots at a fleeing group on a city sidewalk was not his idea of a good time. Not that he minded, but it was the principle of the thing. He had a certain reputation to ke-

“What the fuck is that?”

Grims silently shifted his hand a fraction, scanning the alleyway. He scoped the back wall of the alley, and froze, blinking quickly to make sure his vision was clear. A huge man stood in the shadows at the end of the alley. Had to be 7 feet tall, at least. Old suit, gloves… and a burlap bag pulled tight over his head. There was blood on his tie.

“Four, what in the hell am I looking at?”

Four ignored him, touching his earbud again. He nodded once, eyes going wide, and nudged Grims with his foot. “Shit, keep eyes on him. He was there when Site Seventeen got attacked. They think he might have stolen some stuff, or even been part of the attack…” he trailed off, looking through the binoculars again.

Grims watched as the big man walked up to the group. They calmed down instantly, nervousness replaced by what looked like fear. The "librarian" pulled one of the other group members forward, practically shoving him at the stranger. The kid couldn't have been more then fourteen… he could almost hear him stuttering from here. Whatever was going on, this kid sure as hell wanted no part of it.

Four chattered in to his earbud, one hand still on his binoculars. “Smith, do we have ears on them? …what? Say again… well, fix it!” he hissed, gritting his teeth. “Goddammit, what the hell is going on?”

Grims ignored him, eyes wide and staring. The big guy had grabbed the kid around the back of the neck, and the kid looked… wrong, now. His arms were slack, his eyes glassy… he was talking, but his body looked asleep… or dead.

“Grims, do you have a shot?”

He paused, blinking and focusing on the big man. “Yes, sir.”

“Smith is blind, the equipment is fogged out.”


“Take it.”

Grims breathed deep, eye wide, pinning the razor-thin black cross on the brown bag. The kid was still talking in that drugged daze. He squeezed slow, exhaling in a controlled stream-

The bag turned, it was tilted, it-

It could see him.

The finger squeezed on its own, even as Grims croaked a strangled yelp of surprise and horror. The big man pulled the kid up like he was a doll, shifting to the side as the high-velocity round turned the kid's brain to jelly, splattering it on to the alley. It'd taken less then a tenth of a second. Grims panicked, throwing training down a well and started firing wild. Somewhere, someone was screaming at him, hitting him, but it didn't matter. The running shapes didn't matter.

He had to make that thing die.

He'd seen some shit, SCP monsters and massacres, torture and moral black areas, but he'd never felt so… observed. It had looked down that scope, and… handled him. Like a nasty little boy with sticky, grimy fingers handling a mildly amusing trinket. Whatever the hell that was, it needed to die right the hell now. He kept firing, even as the sirens started and Four abandoned the roof to recover his team, even as his bolt locked back on an empty chamber, he just kept pulling the trigger.

“Grims cracked, the Hand is in the wind, we have a possible skip on the way, bag it NOW!”

Smith didn't even unplug anything, just pressed a switch that fired a electromagnet the size of a mini fridge, frying every single computer in a fifty yard radius. He grabbed up the baseball bat labeled "The Last Resort," and started smashing everything they didn't want the civilians seeing. Howard and Sickle threw down their cards and unslung rifles, moving quickly to the doors. Eighteen started closing up cases and getting the essentials packed. Four was barking orders at any back he saw. The Hand agents were tipped and hauling, and some big bastard had just crossed a busy street and barreled through the boarded up doorway like a bomb.

Four guessed they had maybe two minutes until whatever the hell the big guy was got up to them on the third floor. Most of the stairs were under construction, so it should slow him down a bit. Howard and Sickle were covering the only two ways in to the room. Smith was getting his gear broken down, and Eighteen was ready to book with the remaining gear the second shit started going down. He thought about trying to recover Grims again. Fuck him, he was fried anyway.

He was smiling with self-righteous warmth when the wall behind him exploded out around a huge, dark-suited form.

The big man fell on Four like a thrown couch. As they fell in a heap, two of the Hand agents scrambled through the hole, crying and screaming as they launched at Howard and Sickle. Sickle caught the worst of it, still shocked by the monster who'd blown through the wall, and caught a sharp point of rebar in the neck. Howard had time to fire, but in the hazy plaster dust his shot went wild and buried itself in the other Hand agent's leg.

The big man held Four by the throat, rising to a crouch and throwing him over to the rebar-armed agent. Four tried to scream, or move, but his neck felt like a numb, dead thing, and he couldn't make his arms work. He was still trying to make a fist when the rebar suddenly intruded in to his brain. Smith and Eighteen were huddled behind Howard, trying to edge out a doorway as the big man stood, plaster and dust turning him in to a towering ghost.

Howard started firing and screaming with equal intensity, shoving Smith and Eighteen out the doorway. The big man dropped like a shot, only to rise with the still-moaning body of the wounded Hand agent held one-handed like a shield. Howard paused a moment, mental gears clicking as he considered, then fired, peppering the agent with slugs as the big man charged. The other Hand agent, still crying pitifully, rose from his bloody work and followed close behind.

Smith and Eighteen were already nearly halfway down the partial stairs, heading for the presumed safety of the open streets when the gunfire stopped. They looked at each other for a second, exchanging a mutual look of “fuck.” before thundering down the stairs double-time. Smith kept running even when Eighteen screamed, but was forced to turn around when he heard the wet, fleshy thud. Howard's body had hit Eighteen like a nightmare snowball, smashing him in to the wall in a bloody heap, leaving him moaning and broken.

Smith grabbed Eighteen's cases and ran, ran like a squirrel, ran like the bitch the kids in school had called him, and did so with no qualms at all.

He hit the ruined doorway to find a clutch of police and gawkers assembled outside. He froze, trying to think of… something, anything, some story to use, even as the police aimed guns, screaming for him to freeze, drop what he had. But he had to keep the cases safe, that was his job, his whole reason for being here.

He only realized that he had his pistol in hand still when they shot him, and by then it didn't really matter.

Grims sat on the roof, watching Smith get turned to burger. He'd heard the team get chewed up…now the cops were swarming on Smith's body and his cases. Hopefully he'd armed the detonator inside. Probably not.

Grims rubbed his face, sighing. For some reason, he'd stayed, just put down the gun after firing it empty, and put his face in his hands. Something was stuck in him, like a glassy little fishbone in his brain. It'd been when that… thing… had looked at him. It'd done something. That goddamn “M” word thing they always hammered home in training, he was sure of it.

The rooftop door slammed open, the big bag-headed horror stomping out in a haze of white dust. Behind him trailed one of the Hand kids, dragging a length of rebar and wheezing “letmestopletmestop” like a broken recording. Blood was dripping from his eyes.

Grims leaned back, looking up as the big thing loomed up over him. “So now what. Tear out my heart, dance around?” he snickered, jerking his chin at the bloody kid. “What they hell did they do? Eh? Tell me that, where do they figure?”

The big man stayed still, looking down at Grims. He couldn't feel that… touching. Just a kind of slow curiosity in that blank face, like a spider watching you from across the room. He leaned over slowly as Grims stiffened, expecting… well, something bad. But it never came. The big man reached out, and patted his cheek, the way you would a child when they made some small accomplishment. The gloved hand smelled like blood, machine oil and spices, the leather dry and hard.

Grims looked up at him, confused, trying to think of a question, but the big man turned and grabbed the Hand kid like a toy and started running, hitting the edge of the roof and launching himself to the next one, landing in a roll and discarding the kid, who started to slowly follow behind. He heard the big man bash in to the other roof's access door the same time the police came thundering up the stairs to his, pointing guns, screaming at him to get down, get away from the weapon.

When they told him he had a right to remain silent, he laughed, saying it was more of a obligation.


Thanks Tom. As you can see behind me, police are still sifting through what has become one of the worst and most senseless acts of violence in recent memory. Several men, as yet unidentified, broke in to this apartment building, and used it as a “sniper's roost” for picking off innocent people. In addition, it appears they killed a work crew who was in one of the remodeled apartments. In total, eight people are dead, with three more injured. One of the shooters, in a bid to escape, attempted to shoot his way through the police blockade and was shot and killed by officers. A second is in custody, found on the roof next to what is presumed to be the murder weapon.

It's unclear at this point what the goal of the shooters was, or whether it relates to the recent terrorist attacks, however the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have been working closely with police. We'll have more on this story as it develops. Back to you, Tom.

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