The Dawn Patrol

0545hrs.

"Did I tell you what happened yesterday?"
Joh ignored him, enjoying the quiet as the bike slid through the air, with only the rumble of the engine and the faint hiss of air passing over the canopy.
"Hey, I said.-"
"I heard you." Joh gave in. "And no, you didn't mention it.  Thrill me."
"Enough of the sarcasm.  You're a Rationalist, right?"
"Right." Joh turned the controls smoothly, easing the hoverbike into a wide turn.
"We went to church."
"What? Sirius?" Joh turned his head and frowned at his gunner.
"No, a real church."
"Don't let the buggers hear you say that."
"Very funny.  Anyway, we had lunch there, and they only served salads.  They don't eat meat on Fridays."
"Why not?"
DeSoto shrugged, looking back to his console. "How should I know?  But they don't.  They don't even eat soy with blood sauce."
Joh frowned. "But don't they do that thing?"
"Could you be any more vague?" DeSoto rarely got one in, and relished it.
"That thing.  Body of Christ.  Transubstantiation."
"You mean Communion?"
"Yeah." Joh replied vaguely, increasing throttle a little, eyes constantly moving from console to the view around him. "Surely that's eating meat, right?  I mean, technically that's cannibalism too, but we're talking about religion here.  Don't sweat the small stuff."
"Ah, I don't know.  The wife's more into it than I am." DeSoto shrugged. "Speaking of buggers, I have a pair liv-"
"Charlie Alpha, X-ray Bravo."
"X-ray Bravo, Charlie Alpha."
"Disturbance at Mieville Apartments.  Possible Cultist activity, MegaPol in attendance."
"Attending, X-ray Bravo." Joh grinned at DeSoto. "Sounds like our number's up."

Joh landed right outside the front entrance, allowing the engine to die and flaring the antigrav at the last second, settling them neatly onto the lawn.
"You can't park on the grass." DeSoto informed him, already shutting his console down.
Joh leaned back, sitting up straight as the canopy split and hissed down into the bike chassis.  He shut the bike down, made sure the comms were set to relay and jumped off onto the grass.  The commpost at the entrance to the apartment block bleated at him stupidly.
"You are breaking Regulation 558, no vehicle-"
"X-Com.  Fuck off."
The commpost went quiet.
"Now that's the maturity I like to see in an elite soldier." DeSoto said, levering himself out of the sidecar.
"Fuck off." Joh repeated, drawing his gun.
The Lawpistol hummed, holographic sights blinking to life, laser painting a vivid green dot onto the lacquered concrete pavement.  He checked the chamber loaded indicator, made sure the manual safety was off, glanced through the transparent panel in the side of the gun's magazine and counted the rounds there. "Let's go."
-no body armour, only pistols-
DeSoto, still checking his own gun, followed him to the front door.  Joh walked quickly, gun in both hands but aimed down, there was no need to move tactically yet.  The commpost buzzed a welcome as they mounted the steps to the entrance. "State your business, please."
"Fucking X-Com." Joh snarled. "Disturbance?"
"Third floor.  MegaPol in attendance.  Rescue Transport en route."
Joh reached for the handle, but the door swung open and he staggered inside, kicking the commpost in passing.
"Doesn't do any good to get angry at them." DeSoto said, bumping into him as the door swung shut  a little too quickly.
"Machines." Joh spat, and headed for the escalator.
The lobby was a polished cavern of black, red and chrome, a swollen oval of comfort and relaxation.  Joh smelled the fresh air piped in direct from a recyclotorium, and soft chiming sounds tinkled from furniture-integrated speakers.  A man was on duty, back to the wall but stood up straight, halfway between the relaxed curve of a bar and the escalators.
"We've had a-" One hand rose to point upwards.
"We know." Joh ignored him, hurrying across the soft polished floor.
"It's up on the-"
"We know." Joh reached the escalator and stepped on, swaying slightly.
A small speaker in the handrail switched on automatically, spilling bright, happy music as the escalator carried them upwards.
Joh ground his teeth.

The body was sprawled face-down in the middle of the corridor, arms flung out, legs splayed, diving for cover it would never find.  There wasn't much blood, a small slick of it around the torso and one long spurt that had arced over a wall.  A ragged mass of dark holes between the shoulder blades had clotted.
"Help you?" Someone called.
Joh looked up, raising his gun automatically.
A MegaPol officer, Lawpistol in hand but not aimed.  Like most, this one eschewed full body armour, preferring to wear just the torso cover.  The fat plates of dull ceramisteel bulked the officer's appearance considerably.  He approached slowly, neither threatening nor welcoming.
"X-Com.  What have we got?" Joh holstered up.
DeSoto pushed past him, skirting around the corpse and viewing it from the other side.
"Cold at your feet lies Andy Holms, Catholic, married, hardtech and sometime Osiron associate." The officer scratched his head thoughtfully. "Cause of death looks like nine or ten slugs in the back, wrecked the heart, lungs and spine.  And in room three-twelve we have Martina Jane, single and up until about ten minutes ago, an informant and Osiron front runner.  Go and have a look."
Joh stepped around the body and hurried along the corridor, DeSoto falling in behind him.  The officer called station as they passed. "X-Com in attendance, liasing as ordered."
Joh spotted the careless spray of spent casings around the door well before he reached it, and knew what he would find when he looked in.
The apartment was expensively furnished, a little too expensively, even for such a rich block.  There were actual paintings on some of the walls, at least four of the six chairs were made of  wood, and Joh thought the rug might even be real animal skin.
But the centrepiece of the room was Martina Jane herself.
She had died sitting against the wall to the left of the door, not two metres away.  A great sweeping smear of blood led from the doorway to where her body now rested, stinking, in a mixed puddle of her own blood, piss, and shit.  Legs trailing in front of her, slathered in crimson, head tilted back, eyes and mouth open idiotically wide.  Blood had bubbled up out of her insides, and the drying remnants stained her chin and the corners of her mouth.  A gory nipple peeked obscenely through a hole in her robe.
"I think I've worked it out." The officer, young face shiny with sweat. "Holms and two others turn up, getting access to the building through Holms' job.  They come up here, knock on the door.  When Jane comes to answer it, they shoot through the door."
The officer leaned into the apartment, and swung the door shut.  Tight clusters of holes patterned the cracked plastic.  Joh glimpsed blood and a limp hand through them.  DeSoto came closer, crowding Joh.
"Holms, for some reason, makes a run for it, and the other two shoot him." The officer turned, and drew his Lawpistol, aiming it down the corridor. "Not even five metres.  Easy shot.  They blaze Holms, then go back to Jane."
Joh noticed the handle of the door was gone, blasted away, scorch marks and melted plastic all around where it should have been.  The officer noted his look. "Breaching rounds.  They reloaded at least once, judging from the number of casings.  Blew her door open, shot her some more, just to make sure, and exited out the back."
Joh knelt, taking a closer look. "Lawpistol rounds." He picked a casing up, and examined the rear end.
MGPL - 73 - 11mm.
"MegaPol issue." Joh handed the casing to DeSoto, who gave it a glance and tossed it. "Well, this is all very nice, but we were told this was possible Cultist activity." He stood, waving a hand at the bodies. "This looks like straightforward ganger stuff, so it's all yours."
The officer ran a hand through his sweat-damp hair and nodded towards Holms' body. "Check the sole of her left foot."
Joh stared at him.  The officer stared back, undisturbed.
Joh shrugged, and stepped into the apartment.  He took care to avoid the swath of drying gore, stepping across it and sidestepping around its thick curve before kneeling down.
The colour of her toenails matched the drying crusts of blood on her soles.  He lifted up the left foot
-still warm- and looked closely.
There was a tattoo, on the ball of her foot, small, almost hidden by a crease of skin and some streaks of blood.  Taking her foot in both hands, he bent her toes back, stretching the skin taut, and rubbed the blood away with his thumbs.
-foot-rubbing a corpse, that's got to be a new fetish-
The blood came away in crumbs and drops, sticky.  The tattoo looked like a cartoonish representation of a fish skeleton, a horizontal line with vertical spines parallel on both sides, and an arrowhead tail.  But with an X for a head.  It meant nothing to him. "Ganger tat?"
"Nope.  Not that I know of."
Joh looked up at him. "No offence-"
"But I'm a rookie?" The officer grinned. "I cold-exed the ganger sigs course.  Did you?"
"That's MegaPol business.  X-Com handles more important orgs." Joh looked back at the tattoo.
It wasn't fancy, nothing like the intricate, colourful designs used by the gangs.  It was simple and precise, done in thick black ink.  It wasn't meant for display.
"Hold her foot while I get a scan." The officer pulled a cam from behind the stun grapple on his belt and aimed.
Joh leaned back, holding the foot higher.  The officer took two shots, checked the image display on the side of the cam and nodded. "Good.  I'll scan it and see what the nets sick up."
"I still don't see what this has to do with the Cult." Joh set the foot down gently.
The warm, rich stink of shit and the ammoniac whiff of piss combined to make him dizzy, and he rose and stepped away from the body.
DeSoto leaned into the apartment. "Osiron don't hit their own people.  They use other gangs for enforcement.  They've got a code, they always do it that way." His gaze slid over the body. "This looks like the Diablos to me."
"It does, does it?" The officer smirked.
"It does." DeSoto eyed him. "Eight years in the slums.  Not six months guarding a communal, like you."
The officer stopped smirking. "I'll go run this tat." He pushed past DeSoto.
"Kids." DeSoto murmured, moving into the room. "Unusual, though.  If Osiron hired the Diabs to carry out the whack, the Diabs sent idiots.  They did a noisy, public job."
"Making an example?" Joh sat down in the nearest chair, relishing the subtle flex of the wood, the faint creaks.
"Osiron don't make examples.  They're respectable businessmen," DeSoto winced at the corpse, "and women.  You rip them, you go to the recyc.  They don't blaze you in half at home.  And there are never any Osiron gangers involved."
"Holms was only an associate."
DeSoto shook his head. "There are never any links to the gang.  Never."
Joh shrugged, resting his elbows on his thighs as he leaned forward. "So maybe Osiron wanted them both cold.  I don't know what we're doing here."
"It's unusual.  Unusual means us." DeSoto pointed to the body. "Look at the shot placement.  All torso hits.  That's not pro.  You shoot centre mass, they go down, you want to put them out.  What do you shoot?"
"Head, double tap."
"Exactly.  Two in the vault." DeSoto moved closer and leaned over the corpse. "No head wounds in either.  If Holms or Jane had been wearing a beepeevee, they'd be alive."
Joh rested his chin on his fists. "So?"
"So say Osiron did hire the Diabs.  The Diabs either sent a pair of joeys, or they subcontracted a pair of joeys.  Neither makes sense." DeSoto rubbed his forehead. "What kind of front did she operate?"
Joh shrugged. "Ask the blue boys."
"Well, whatever it was, it got her cold." DeSoto's turn to shrug.
The officer reappeared in the doorway. "Slabwagon is here."
DeSoto's gaze didn't move from the corpse. "We need the profiles for both of them.  Bounce it to Charlie Alpha."
"Will do." Coldly professional, the officer nodded and disappeared back down the corridor.
"Kids." DeSoto said again, and crossed his arms.

0605hrs.

The voice was muted, synthetic, asexual. "It is safe to proceed."
Ten sweating men turned to face the screen.  Wired lopsidedly into the wall of the autotrans, it remained dark, but the audio was unhindered.
"It is safe to proceed."
They looked at each other, faces gleaming wetly in the dim red safety light.  Crowded close, with the humid vapours of hot food and bodily wastes thick in the stifling interior, they rubbed and nudged, bumped and shoved, struggling around each other into readiness.  Two buckets were shoved to the front, supposedly airtight lids leaking the mixed stench of spicy Nepalese food and sour vomit, the twin reek of alcohol and piss.
Strange, fleshy weapons were uncovered, checked, and covered again, concealed under rough robes of thick hemp.  Eyes blinked rapidly, pupils dilated with drugs.  Nostrils flared and smelled nothing but sweat.  Chests heaved, struggling for air in the claustrophobic squeeze of bodies.  Shaven heads shone with perspiration.
"It is safe to proceed." The voice said again, and channel clicked over to the hum of an open line.
The cargo door rolled up, and the men spilled out into the icy air.  They shuddered, shivering and steaming, their armament twitching and dripping strange, sweet fluids that tingled on their skin.  One moved out from the pack and turned to face the others. "The Sefirot.  From nefesh to yehidah." He intoned, and the gun bulged tumescently under his robe.
The remaining nine chanted back. "From nefesh to yehidah."
The weapons seemed to sense their intent, and became muscularly rigid, taut with shared arousal, pulsing.
The Sefirot split up, and went their separate ways into the sub-level of the Gentle Tower Mall.