Chapter the Second; In Which Urban Amazon Tells Her Tale.
It was nearly three o’clock and a sullen, warm rain was falling and pooling into rivulets that ran down every hard surface, making them treacherous. Aboard the boat, just putting in at a private mooring on the Hudson, the inexperienced crew were having a hard time on deck.
A miracle, or more likely, a large sum of money had gotten them past the coastguards stationed at the boat locks in the New York and New Jersey Oceanic Wall. The Wall, as it was simply called by, was a colossal ceramic levee built across the Narrows to help protect the harbor from rising ocean levels that, thanks to better regulations and technology weren’t going to come. The shortsighted, many of whom lived in the first places that would have flooded, were already calling it a waste of money.
Money had to be involved. The way the crew stumbled around without a sea-leg between them, grasping desperately for anything to keep themselves steady, anyone could tell these weren’t sailors. And a bunch of very-much-not-sailors manning a boat that was supposed to have come in all the way from the Bahamas was completely laughable.
Over the rain, their shouts, a mixture of Mandarin, French and English certain gangs used as a modern day thief’s cant could be heard, immediately placing them as one of the gangs that did the dirty work of the Tongs when they didn’t feel like getting involved themselves.
The din reached all the way to the roof of the boat rental service the mooring serviced when its owners weren’t using it to bring in illegal goods. Even if one of the faux sailors had looked up, they wouldn’t have noticed anything.
She was that good. Concealment, tracking, observation; long, less than enjoyable summers as the only child of two zealous biologists who never tired of field work had taught her much even before nature gave her the strength, agility and nearly supernatural senses to back it up. A few years on her own had taught the Urban Ranger that the tactics needed to track and record the territory of a gray wolf did just as well in doing the same when the animals went about on two legs.
Her cloak had been an off the shelf ‘instant tent’, the kind that was a single, folded sheet when showed in a pack, but became foldable into proper shape when subjected to an electrical current. A date with some pinking shears and spray paint had turned it into the means by which, to the casual observer, a lurking vigilante became one more regular shape atop a building crowded with them.
Through her binoculars, she watched as one of the men slipped, arms pinwheeling comically as he sought purchase. He found It, temporarily, on the edge of a tarp covering a container in the process of being unloaded.
The tarp gave way, hissing beneath the last of the lines holding it to the deck. It laid bear the hard plastic shell of the four foot tall cargo container. The identifying marks had been hastily spray-painted over.
The paint was still wet, probably having been applied at sea when the gang members took over the boat from whoever brought it up the coast. Whoever their boss was, he was smart at least; they weren’t taking chances in letting strangers see where they offloaded.
Not smart enough though, she mused. If they had been, they would have hired smarter mooks; ones that would have done a better job painting over the manufacturer’s insignia. Thanks to the rain, she could make out the first few letters: M-O-R…
“Morton Defense Works.” I guessed. Urban nodded.
“Damn.” Owl said, “Their security is about two steps below ‘national emergency’. Everyone’s got their hands on their hardware: Tongs, Maras, Families… Even broke thugs like Clubs and Diamonds, or The Bronx Hammers.”
“Their security sucks, or they’re dirty.” Urban said with a scowl.
“Who?” Stunner had been paying only enough attention to the story as possible. It served her well though; she’d won the last two hands. “The company or their security?”
“Either/Or.” Urban had the deck and was shuffling. “Doesn’t matter, because we can’t very well go down South and straighten them out.”
Improv sighed heavily, a sound like a slight breeze through a fog horn. “Never cure the disease.” He intoned. “Just treat the cure.”
For a long moment, we were all quiet, even Stunner. It was a hard lesson each one of us had come to understand, usually around the time the tenth or fiftieth (depending on relative optimism and faith in the system) crook or hood we sent to jail got out thanks to a slick lawyer with a huge retainer.
Those of us that did actual crime fighting did that fighting on the streets and when we won, we took criminals off the street. But those were just mooks and minions. The big bosses weren’t on the street. They were in the penthouses and if they were really good at playing their game by their rules, the boardroom. Places we couldn’t get to them. Only foil their plots and put their soldiers away for a bit.
Evidently feeling guilty for bringing down the room, Improv grunted and gestured at Urban. “Continue.” She nodded and obliged him.
The Urban Ranger snapped a few pictures of the exposed container through her binoculars’ night-vision filter while the men on deck struggled to get it covered again. After far too much time scuffling with the lines, they had the thing untethered from the deck and under wraps.
A forklift was brought up the gangplanks to collect it while half the crew moved on to get a second container ready to move. The rest disappeared below decks.
That was her cue to go into action. Once the guns were off the boat and onto a truck, they could go anywhere in the city. And form there, they could be used in any number of crimes, causing untold harm.
Backing away from the edge of the roof, she checked her gear and made sure her blasting caps and remote detonators were secure. Her first plan would be to subdue every man there and then call the harbormaster, of course. But if she couldn’t a few blasting caps would be enough to breech the power cells of an energy weapon, or ignite ammunition boxes, setting off a chain reaction that would destroy the shipment and possibly the ship.
“You’re pretty damn hardcore.” Owl looked at Urban from over his cards. I think he developed a crush right then and there. Stunner had better step up her game.
Urban didn’t seem phased. “It’s a last resort. I’m not going around blowing things up all the time, you know?”
“Only four times, if I’ve been giving the right people credit when I read the news.” I mused. Thereafter, I flipped a couple of chips into the kitty. “Call.”
Improv and Stunner called as well while Urban counted mentally. “I think that’s about right.” She finally admitted. “But if I hadn’t…”
“One of us might be catchin’ bullets from one of those guns.” Improv finished for her. He then took another swallow of beer, bringing the can down on the table hard enough to make the chips jump while ducking his head in her direction. “Thank ya, Urban.”
Urban started at him for a second, confused. “Oh. Well you didn’t have to say it. You’re welcome though. I guess.” She looks disdainfully at her cards a moment more, then set them down face down. “Fold.”
Owl nodded and turned over his cards, followed by the rest of us. Stunner won with a pair of Jacks. For whatever reason, she decided to mouth off. “You know, a story about an untrained amateur carrying explosives around isn’t really convincing me that non-sanctioned heroics is a good idea.”
The look Urban shot her made even Improv, who was preparing to deal the next hand, shift uncomfortably I his chair. That’d be because he has basic simian common sense, whereas Stunner? Not so much. At least not that she puts on display.
“I can assure you…” She said in even words through clenched teeth. “That I’m licensed for every piece of equipment I carry.” Each card she picked up made a kind of snap sound as they were drawn violently across the table. If they were matches, they’d have lit.
I let my own cards pile up in front of me before picking them up. “That was a stupid assumption to make, Stun. There’s people that do this who’ve got all kinds of day jobs, hobbies and training. Acting like we’re all dumb asses in capes will make you exactly no friends.”
Urban nodded. “Can I continue now? The guns were just an appetizer, I haven’t gotten to the big threat.”
“By all means,” I said with a grandiose gesture.
Getting to ground level wasn’t a problem after that, and with the rain and darkness providing cover, it was child’s play for her to edge around to the dock.
Besides the forklift driver, there were two sentries stationed at the gangplank. Someone was probably with the truck, but by the time he noticed, it would be too late to do anything but report to their boss.
Staying low, she approached from the side, testing the familiar weight of the sap glove on her right hand. Already, the steps of the dance were forming. One punch to the side of near sentry’s head and he’d be out of it for all intents and purposes. She’d strip him of his gun and drive its butt into the other man’s bread basket, driving him off the dock and into the water if she had to. Then she’d jump aboard the forklift, knocking the driver off as it crossed the gangplank so he’d go into the water to. The lift would give her some cover while…
There were shouts from somewhere below decks and the grinding sound of the cargo hatch opening. She didn’t understand all of the cant, but they were angry and some of them were talking betrayal.
Gunfire followed, it sounded like all ricochets off metal or similar. The sentries looked up the ramp, and then ran up it, guns raised.
The Urban Ranger was about to risk standing up to get a look when someone cut lose with a much heavier gun. Anti-vehicle rounds punched through the rail around the entry port and went on the gouge fist sized holes in the building further ashore. Worse were the wet thumps of the same finding living targets and the screams of the sentries.
Everything was focused toward the bow, Urban observed, while she’d been trying to sneak up on the gangplank from the stern. She took the chance and stood up, fully exposing herself to anyone watching, to see what was killing those men.
It was vaguely man-shaped, in that it had two parts that looked vaguely like arms, two legs, and something that could pass for a head after a few drinks. The ‘arms’ were hydraulic joints on swivels, each plated over with armor and mounted with high caliber guns. The ‘head’ was a cone shaped black sensor cluster atop an egg-shaped, armored center that split open on whisper hinges to reveal the pilot’s cabin.
There was a young man in the cabin, west European and possibly as young as seventeen by her estimation. She could see him because, without anyone to ‘button up’ the machine, the upper hatch that should cover his head and shoulders, and the two side plates that should cover from his chest to his waist, were left hanging open.
“Fous le camps et morte, connard! The Corbins say thanks for delivering our guns and armor!” He taunted in a mangled Western European accent. Either he was many generations removed from his immigrating ancestors, or he was trying to emulate his bosses.
“Corbins?” Owl asked. “Shit.”
Obviously, he knew the Corbins well. I only knew what the news said, having had the good fortune never to have crossed paths with them. They were an eclectic gang of francophiles out of Canada. Between them and the Haitian gangs down south, they’d combined to wipe the ‘French surrender’ stereotype off the map.
They tended to run the quiet kind of crime; protection rackets, underground crime and fencing. But God help any neighborhood where they decided to go to war. They were big fans of shock and awe; as portrayed here by big-ass explosions.
“Those maniacs got their hands on military hardware?” I guessed at the military part. Construction crews, police, and firefighters also used powered armor, but few of those guys packed street sweepers the size Urban was describing.
I offered her the deck, asking in shorthand if she wanted any new cards.
“You would have heard if that was the case.” Urban took two cards. “But I took care of it.”
It didn’t take long to weight her options. In terms of fire power, it had two massive guns that she saw, probably more that she didn’t, and she had weighted pair of gloves. And in the strength department, she might be able to lift the thing up off the ground, but it could crush her bones in the same instant. That left the one advantage that she often held over powered foes…
The thought found her fingers caressing the rings of her smoke grenades. They were from a police supplies catalog, but not the standard issue. They dispersed faster than normal, but their selling point was that they had no scent to mask things from her sensitive nose.
Two of the three she normally carried came off her belt. Slipping her thumb through the ring of the first one and tugged the pin out. A well aimed throw landed it directly between the armor’s legs just as it started spewing mildly luminescent white smoke.
Alerted by the sound, the Corbin thug wheeled the armor around, but Urban had already ducked out of sight, moving low toward the gangplank. As she did, she adjusted her mask so her eyes were covered completely. No sense in letting the smoke confuse her senses as well.
To her sensitive ears, the aural world was almost as good as sight. Even while the guns rattled off a report into the stern rail where she’d thrown the smoke bomb from, she could hear panicked men leaping over the rail, the whir of servos and creak of armor. On that alone, she found the target of her second smoke bomb: the armor’s cabin.
The second plume of smoke was met with a curse. As she’d suspected, the pilot had tried to bring up the feeds from the armor’s sensors. Now, the smoke in the cabin itself made reading those equally as impossible as getting a visual fix on anything.
Left with no way of seeing who was attacking him, the pilot backed the armor up. A hollow noise told Urban he’d backed into the container with the guns. That and the fact that she no longer heard anyone else on the boat gave her and idea.
She checked her blasting caps one more time and charged the war machine. Ducking under its flailing guns, she got a hand on the closed bottom hatch on the armor’s torso and pulled herself up.
The Corbin gang member barely had time to register that he wasn’t alone in the cabin before a weighted fist slammed first into his gut, then into his chin. He groaned and fell back with his hands still in the control braces, causing the armor to step back and trip over the cargo container behind it.
The next thing he knew, a hand was reaching through the fog and slapping him lightly about the face. “Are you awake?” A female voice demanded. He managed only a few syllables before she interrupted. “Good.” The hand grasped the safety harness around him and ripped it away with frightening ease.
Urban hauled him free of the control braces and into the swirling smoke cloud. In his place, she attached the last of her blasting caps to the rear interior of the armor, near where she hoped the power source was situated.
“You…” The punch-drunk Corbin mumbled, trying to get a good look at her.
Urban grunted and threw him into a fireman’s carry. Hardly laboring under his weight, she jogged to the rail and leapt up on it. “Tell your friends… that the Urban Ranger says no one gets these weapons.” She threw them both over the side while at the same time tripping her detonator.
There were a handful of small pops, followed by a building thunder as two blasting caps touched off the armor’s gun magazines. The magazines in turn breached the containers and the power cells in the weapons inside.
Debris were pelting down almost from the second they hit the water. Urban checked to see if the Corbin gangster was fit to swim on his own and found him to still be a wobbly mess. Muttering under her breath, she started the swim to shore with one arm across his chest to keep his head out of the water.
Through his sodden clothes, she could feel that whatever the Corbins lacked in brains for the hired help, they made up for it with gym benefits.
“Excuse me?” I was startled out of my own excitement over being dealt three Queens by this.
Urban shrugged, completely unabashed. “He had nice abs. Very defined.”
“You just said he’d just murdered men on that boat.” Stunner looked disgusted.
“I wasn’t looking to date him.” Urban shot back. “And I wasn’t just trying to feel the guy up, I was saving the guy’s life.”
“You don’t date much, do you?” I teased.
“Who has the time?” She raised owl’s bet fifty cents. “Being the Urban Amazon is like working triple shifts. The only reason I’m in on this game is because I can justify it with the information we share.”