HOLLOW CITY: Chapter One

An excerpt from Hollow City by Kai Wai Cheah

Do Unto Others


How do you take down someone who always hits what he shoots at?

Take him before he gets his hands on a weapon.

And if he does grab a gun, do unto him before he does unto you.

I felt those thoughts percolating in the team’s heads. They were all quiet, coiled tight as springs, bunched up against each other on the narrow benches, carefully checking and re-checking their gear. No one said a word. The only sound was the humming of the engine and the occasional radio call emanating from the cab.

They were getting their heads in the game.

I ran my hands down my head and chest, confirming that everything was where it needed to be. Helmet with rifle-grade ballistic applique. Soft armor inserts and joint pads integrated into my tactical uniform. Tactical vest, laden with trauma plates and pouches filled with ammo and gear.

Sergeant Jose Oliveira had insisted that everyone run heavy today. No one objected. When facing a rogue gifted with supernatural accuracy, there was no such thing as running light.

Carbine pointed at the floor, finger safely off the trigger, I rotated the selector lever through safe, semi, auto, and back again. The weapon was a SIG MCX Virtus, one of the many incarnations and evolutions of Eugene Stoner’s timeless AR-15 design.

The Virtus was an old friend. I’d used one just like it in another life, on similar missions. This Virtus was configured as an SBR, a short-barreled rifle, with an eleven and a half inch barrel mated to a compact suppressor. An EOTech holosight rode atop the upper receiver, and the handguard sported a flashlight at the 3 o’clock rail, a laser right in front of the holosight, and a hand stop at 6 o’clock.

“Amp, you playing with your gun?” Oliveira asked.

“Just a function check,” I replied.

“Don’t put a hole in the floor, ya hear?”

“Finger off the trigger, Sarge.”

“If you put a hole in the BearCat, it’s coming out of your salary.”

“Aye, aye, Sergeant.”

More...

Not that that would happen. The BearCat’s armor would stop .50 BMG rounds and resist explosions. Not too long ago it would have been overkill for a simple search warrant. Today, in an age of superheroes and supervillains, it was merely the minimum level of protection necessary to serve a warrant on a Prime.

The team smiled grimly around me and continued inspecting their kit. There’s no margin for error for this op, but too much tension would slow them down. Oliveira was just lightening the mood, keeping everyone from worrying too much about the reaper lurking around the block.

Today’s customer was Emmanuel Ruiz. An El Trece heavy hitter, he had his fingers in many pies: smuggling, robbery, home invasion, but his true calling was murder for hire.

Most homeboys couldn’t aim worth a damn, but Ruiz always hit what he shot. With at least a dozen bodies to his name, his gift allowed him to command premium prices within the criminal underworld. His father, Ricardo Ruiz, a shot-caller in his own right, brokered hits within the gang and Emmanuel faithfully executed them.

According to the Special Investigation Section, Emmanuel was one of the rarest of American criminals, a gunfighter gangster, a darksider who walked the way of the gun. His favorite weapon was an AK-47 rifle, with .45 pistols in second place. In his clique, he was the leader and the trigger-puller, with the rest of his crew running backup and support.

Unknown to young Emmanuel, SIS had tapped his phone. They knew he and his clique were throwing a party tonight at his house. But the gangsters didn’t know we were coming for them.

Too bad.

There was a time when if the police wanted to take down a Prime, they commissioned another Prime to hunt him down. The Halo City Police Department didn’t do that anymore, and they won’t make exceptions for Emmanuel Ruiz.

The last time a Prime tried to arrest Ruiz, the alleged hero made the rookie mistake of announcing on the Internet that he had spotted a rogue and live-streamed his approach. Ruiz’s buddy tipped him off, and Ruiz suckered the Prime into an ambush and put three rounds in his face.

Most so-called heroes were amateurs and glory hounds. Nine in ten heroes were so focused on chasing sponsorships and crowdfunding, if they ran up against a hardcore killer, they would be chewed up and spat out. There was no room for amateurs today. Today, the professionals came out to play.

There were eight other officers in the BearCat, plus one more up front in the driver’s seat. Standard size for an HCPD Special Tactics and Rescue team. But I was the only Prime among us, and we were expecting six subjects today. Ruiz, his five carnales, and his girlfriend, Sophia Vega. Ruiz and his buddies were in the Life, SIS had confirmed that, but Vega was an unknown.

We would have been much more comfortable if there was a second team with us. Never engage an entrenched enemy with anything less than a three-to-one numerical advantage. But all the other STAR teams were out serving other warrants and responding to supervillain incidents. With so few officers, if the subjects tried something…

Do unto others before they do unto you.

The BearCat rolled to a halt. Oliveira threw the doors open.

“Every day is a holiday and every meal a feast!” he shouted. “Let’s go!”

 We jumped out of the BearCat in pairs, gear held close to hand. Stepping up on the running board, I grabbed the roof-mounted grab handle with my left hand, hoisted myself up and turned on my helmet-mounted camera.

In front of me, Shane O’Neil took her place. The designated shield officer, today she was running the Reaper, an exoskeleton with a swinging arm that mounted a ballistic shield. The heavy shield would stop even armor-piercing rifle rounds, but it was so large it threatened to dwarf the petite redhead.

Shane and I were the bunker team. She went in first to soak up fire, I took down whoever dared to resist us. I’d only been on the team for a little over a year, but we’d grown tight. I could read the tension in her muscles, the tightness of her jaws, the stiffness in her neck.

“Hey, Shane, relax,” I said. “We’ll be fine.”

She sighed and nodded, still looking dead ahead. “Easy day, huh?”

“Easy day.”

A heavy hand slapped my shoulder. I patted Shane’s.

“Port side ready!” Oliveira yelled.

“Starboard ready!” Shane reported.

“Let’s go!”

The BearCat rumbled down the road and turned a sharp bend. Scanning, I saw the two other cars in the convoy. Behind us was an unmarked car from Gangs and Narcotics, carrying the detectives who would handle the post-search investigation. The tail-end Charlie was a K-9 team in a black-and-white. STAR would make entry first, the ones behind us would come in after the scene was secure.

Hand on my Virtus, I sized up the street. A long row of brown two-story houses stared back at me, all of them in varying states of disrepair. More than a few had bullet holes in the walls. All of them had security gates and window grilles.

The last rays of the sun streaked across the sky, but the streetlights were dark. They had all been shot out long ago. It was much cheaper, not to mention safer, to blast streetlights with BB guns than to replace them. Eventually the utilities department gave up.

Youths sauntered down the street. They were all young Hispanic men, many of them with crude tattoos and empty eyes, flying the green bandannas that marked them as El Trece carnales. As we drove past, most of them stuffed their gang flags into their pockets and studiously looked away. A few stared defiantly at us, as though daring us to take them down.

Today was their lucky day.

But one of them locked eyes on us, on me, nodded ever so slightly to himself, and raised his phone to his ear.

Spotter.

Syria, Mindanao, Mexico, in hellholes the world over, spotters were everywhere. Whenever bad guys were prepping an ambush, doing business, or just meeting up, there would always be someone ready to sound the alarm or call the trigger. This close, even from a moving vehicle, it was so easy to take a shot, and my arm—

No.

This was Halo City. This was America. The rules were different.

Instead, I yelled, “Halcón! Three o’clock!”

“Copy!” Oliveira replied. “Speed it up!”

We barreled down the street, eating up the last few yards to the target. As we approached, a chill washed down my spine, and a void invaded my mind.

Danger.

I looked around. No signs of threats. Yet. I gripped my weapon and steadied myself.

The BearCat screeched to a halt right outside the target block. I jumped off the running board, taking the carbine in both hands. Shane sprinted for the front door, orienting her shield to the door. The inhabitants had drawn curtains across the glass, but I could hear faint music. Sugary high-energy electronic trash melded to a female voice.

And just over the music, I heard a faint pattering sound.

A dark brown blur blasted out from around the corner of the house. A Doberman. Barking and growling, it charged at us. At Shane.

She hit the shield’s light switch. Six hundred lumens glared into the dog’s eyes. Undeterred, it leapt at her. She swung the shield just so, and it bounced off the heavy ceramic. Growling, it shook its head, moved to circle around her—

And a noose dropped over its head.

“Here boy!” Ray Monteiro called.

Ray was running the animal capture pole. The dog barked and scratched and yelped, to no avail. He tightened the noose and dragged it away to a waiting cage.

Carl Duncan and Tom Rodriguez sprinted around the corner where the dog came from. As Shane and I stacked on the door, Miguel Herrera stepped up on the other side, hefting his sledgehammer. Eric Williams dashed to the door, assault hook in hand, and fastened the hook to the heavy-duty security gate. A bright yellow sling connected the hook to the BearCat’s front bumper.

All of us took a step back.

“Pull!” Oliveira commanded.

The BearCat reversed explosively. Metal shrieked for a single, terrible, instant, and the gate went flying.

Miguel wound up his sledge. I grabbed a flash-bang from my pouch and pulled the pin. With a mighty swing, Miguel smashed the door in. I tossed the stun grenade into the room beyond.

The banger erupted in thick smoke and blinding light and thunderous sound. My ear protection kicked in, muting the noise. A split second later, another flash-bang detonated around the back of the house. Shane charged through the smoke, through the open door, and headed right. I was right behind her.

“POLICE! SEARCH WARRANT!” I shouted.

We were in the living room. Five subjects, scattered across sofas and couches. Three huge pizzas and cans of soda covered the table. A barely-clad woman gyrated on the enormous TV screen. They were all reeling, covering their ears and screaming, disoriented from the shock of entry.

At the far right corner, halfway up the stairs, there was a sixth subject.

Emmanuel Ruiz.

“POLICE! FREEZE!” Shane yelled.

Ruiz’s face contorted in fury. He held a small dark object in his right hand. A phone.

Twisting around, Ruiz brought the phone up to his ear. His eyes narrowed, his muscles contracted, and as he wound up, I saw the trajectory of his throw. I ducked and slipped right, and instead of slamming into my throat the phone merely bounced off my helmet.

Ruiz turned and ran upstairs.

“Suspect headed to level two!” Shane called. “Amp! On me!”

I followed her, flowing around the room and following the walls. The rest of the team surged in, converging on the subjects.

Shane halted at the foot of the stairs, aiming her carbine up the stairs. I patted her shoulder.

“On you!” I called.

We headed upstairs. Heavy footsteps pounded the floor, Ruiz cursing as he ran. A woman yelled something in Spanish. Staying behind the shield, we sliced the pie as we ascended, leaning out and sidestepping to minimize our exposure.

No sign of Ruiz on the upper floor. There were four doors, all open. Bedroom to my right and front, bathroom next to the room before me, another bedroom to my left.

“Where’d he go?” Shane whispered.

“Emmanuel Ruiz!” I yelled. “Come out with your hands up!”

No response.

I Amped.

Electric fire surged through my ears, supercharging my hearing. Men yelled and complained on the lower floor, every word and obscenity amplified and articulate. Heavy boots pounded up the steps, the rest of the team following us. Fabric rustled, metal clanked, men inhaled and exhaled deeply.

I shut them all out and focused on the sounds on this floor.

To my right, I heard hands scrabbling against wood, plastic crackling, metal clashing on metal.

And breathing.

“Go right,” I whispered, stepping down my power. “Two subjects.”

“Copy,” she said.

She swung the shield to cover her right, shifted her carbine to her left shoulder, and pushed on the door. I was right behind her, peeking over her right arm, studying the room beyond—

My spine tingled again.

DANGER DANGER DANGER

Lowering my left hand to my other grenade pouch, I whispered, “Wait.”

Shane stepped through the door.

I Amped again.

Power roared through my belly, filling my hands and feet and head. I concentrated the energies, focusing them on my nerves.

The world slowed and sharpened into crystal clarity. I saw every strand of auburn hair peeking out from under Shane’s helmet, every crease on her uniform, every scuff mark on the edges and back of the shield. She rested her carbine on the shield’s left-hand cut-out and took one step. A second step. A third. And went right.

I blew past her, following the wall to the far corner of the room, pivoting as I went, carbine rising to dominate the room.

Next to the door, Ruiz and Sophia Vega rummaged through a massive closet. The bed stood in between them and me. The closet doors were flung wide open, right in Shane’s face. She wouldn’t be able to see them.

But they saw me.

And Ruiz had an AK-47 in his hands.

He turned, slowly, slowly, trying to track me. I mashed the laser pressure switch, training the bright green dot on his chest. I didn’t need it, but it was his final warning that he was one trigger pull away from the point of no return.

“POLICE!” I roared. “FREEZE!”

He kept turning, turning, his left foot stepping back, his torso blading towards me, arms swinging up the AK to greet me.

I snapped my carbine to the shoulder, cheek welding itself to the unyielding buttstock, found the blazing green dot-in-circle of the holosight centered on his chest and the smaller green laser dot just beside it, rotated the selector lever down with my thumb.

Fired.

Once, twice, the classic controlled pair. He shuddered, his lips drawing back in an involuntary grimace. I lifted the carbine a touch, found his face framed in the holosight window, stroked the trigger twice more.

He dropped.

Lowering the Virtus to the compressed ready, I saw Ruiz crashing to the floor in slow motion. His hands sprang open and the AK clattered under the bed.

“NOOOOOOOOO!” Vega screamed.

Shane bashed the door out of her way.

“POLICE! HANDS UP!” she yelled.

Vega ignored her, diving to the body on the floor, to the AK under the bed. The alarm in my head screamed again.

I aimed at her.

“HANDS IN THE AIR! BACK UP NOW!” I yelled.

Vega looked up at me, face twisted in hate. She rose from the floor, her arms shifting with her, her hands still out of sight. My eyes trained on her collarbone, with my peripheral vision I hunted for her hands, where are her hands—

Wood.

Metal.

I fired.

One round to the upper chest, second to the throat, third to the mouth and forth between the eyes and down she went, arms splaying out, head haloed in blood.

Her hands were empty.

I stepped my power down. The world accelerated, snapping back to regular time.

“Shots fired! Shots fired!” Shane called.

“Roger on the shots fired,” Oliveira radioed. “Who fired? Everyone okay?”

There was still one more room to clear. The attached bathroom. Shane moved to the corpses. I burst into the bathroom, peeled back the shower curtains, peeked into the tub.

“Amp fired the shots,” Shane replied. “Wait one.”

“Bathroom clear!” I yelled.

“Room clear!” she called back.

“Coming out!”

“Come out!”

Stepping out, I saw Shane kneeling over Ruiz, her fingers pressed to his neck. I took a deep, stabilizing breath and hit my push-to-talk switch.

“This is Amp. I fired the shots. Two suspects down in main bedroom, GSWs to the chest and head. Room is clear.”

Shane scooted over to Vega and felt for signs of life.

“Copy that. Is everyone okay?”

I patted myself down. “Shane? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine!” she replied.

“Shane and I are okay,” I reported. “No injuries.”

“Copy that,” Oliveira replied. “Entry team, secure the house and lock it down. Shane, Amp, check in on the suspects. EMTs inbound.”

Shane looked up at me, a mask of dread on her face.

“They’re dead,” she said.

“I know,” I replied.


Hollow City
By Kai wai Cheah

SIX KILLS IN SIX YEARS.

Super powered cop Adam Song has dedicated his life to the law. In the military and the police force, Adam ruthlessly protects the innocent.

But this time he’s killed the wrong bad guy. Now the local drug lord’s son is dead, and the boss is out for Adam’s blood. Even his secret identity won’t keep him safe. The police department hangs him out to dry, his years of exemplary service forgotten. Adam must take justice into his own hands to keep his family safe.

Because Adam is a Song. And Songs take care of their own. No matter the cost.

When does justice become murder? And just how far will he go to protect his clan?

Dragon and Hugo Award nominated author Kai Wai Cheah steps onto the superhero scene with his debut Heroes Unleashed novel. His characteristic fast-paced action and attention to detail brings Adam Song and the Chinatown of Hollow City vividly to life.

What makes a straight-laced hero cop go rogue? Buy the book or read it in Kindle Unlimited today to find out!

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