Gunfire echoed in the cavernous warehouse, Calico exchanging fire with the police from behind an empty shipping container. Bullets pinged off the steel container as the squad advanced, sheltered behind a hardlight riot shield. Ivan hadn’t seen those back in Nocturnov, at least not in the hands of the common politski. It seemed the Hegemony had a higher budget for its police force than the Necropolitan Federation did.
The shield was actually an arm-mounted magitech device that projected a flat, translucent barrier around itself, wide enough to cover the shieldbearer as well as the two officers flanking him. They wore shining white military-style uniforms, pristine despite the heat of battle, and held their weapons at the ready, smaller-caliber pistols compared to Calico’s. Ballistics rather than energetics, which made sense for a police force - more stopping power, less lethality and potential for collateral damage.
Calico and Tabby were pinned down behind the container, while Woon seemed to have vanished with his bag of drugs. Ivan counted four police officers, three advancing on the thugs, one waiting in reserve outside, next to their car. If there were more cops coming, he didn’t hear them. Everything was in place. Time to make his move.
He lit the bundle of firecrackers he’d brought with him and threw it underhand into the middle of the warehouse. They weren’t dangerous, just loud, bright, and smoky, which was exactly what he needed right now. The bundle detonated, scattering its payload everywhere and filling the warehouse with explosions and smoke. As both sides exclaimed in confusion, he leapt to the warehouse floor, tumbling to break his fall, and approached the container.
Tabby’s hands were covering his ears and his eyes were screwed shut, his Animus senses overwhelmed by the explosions so close to him. Before he could open them, Ivan leapt on him from behind and got him in a chokehold, constricting the man’s windpipe between his arms and chest and driving him down to the ground so that his face hit the floor with Ivan’s full weight behind it. His head hit concrete with a resonant thud only Ivan could hear, and he went limp. Still breathing, and his neck didn’t look broken. So far so good.
“What the fuck is going on, Beng?” Calico’s face was a grimace of pain, his eyes wrinkled shut even as he kept a white-knuckled grip on his gun - his senses would be just as overwhelmed as Tabby’s. “You hit?”
“I’m fine! Cops are closing in, man! Give me the gun, I’ll hold them off!” Ivan mimicked Tabby’s - or Beng’s - voice perfectly, gutter Halcyonite accent, nasal inflection, and all. Calico obligingly handed him the gun and stumbled behind cover, rubbing his eyes. By the time he opened them again, Ivan was gone out the back door, gun and backpack in tow.
Ivan sprinted down the asphalt, tightening the backpack’s straps across his back as he ran. He’d stuck the gun in one of its outer pockets, with nowhere convenient to stash it on his body. He needed both hands free now. The street outside the warehouse was boxed in on both sides by construction sites and factories, its sides cluttered with crates and old industrial equipment. Using his running start, Ivan vaulted over a rusty metal container, thankful he was wearing gloves for this.
“Stop! Police!” A cop shouted from behind him, probably the one he’d seen standing by the car. “Stop or I’ll shoot!”
He didn’t break stride. As he came down on the container, he tensed and sprung, grabbing onto a drainpipe and kicking off the factory’s wall with both feet to flip himself onto its roof. He hit the corrugated steel roof just as the first gunshot sounded. Momentum spun him sideways, and he rolled with it, though the awkward bulk of the backpack made it difficult to get very far. Two more gunshots followed, bullets ricocheting off the roof. When he was satisfied that he was too far from the alley for the cop to get a clear shot at him, he got up and ran for the other side of the roof.
This part of Emperor Drive consisted mainly of factories, warehouses, and industrial estates, packed just close enough for Ivan to jump from one to the next. He ran, leapt, and tumbled, a familiar rhythm in an unfamiliar setting. After a lifetime in the vast underground network of cities that was the Necropolitan Federation, he still wasn’t used to seeing the sky above him. And what a sky to behold.
Halcyon soared overhead, the cityscape defying the horizon to arc ineffably upwards, sideways, even back onto itself. He couldn’t help but marvel each time he took it all in - it was beautiful and bewildering in equal measure, a traceur’s fever dream. He leapt off what seemed to be a sheer drop over the corner of a factory’s roof, then snapped his view upwards, to the street that ran parallel to the building’s side. This was one of Halcyon’s quirks - gravity was determined by your frame of reference, which was why the people in the building weren’t falling out the windows onto the street, and how the city wasn’t a mess of floating debris.
He stopped thinking of himself as falling off the side of a building, and instead fixed his eyes on the street just a few feet above him, visualizing himself falling towards it. As he did, gravity seemed to bend gently until it was perpendicular to the plane he’d just been on, and he landed lightly on the sidewalk below.
He was pretty sure he’d lost the cop. He wasn’t even in Emperor Drive any more - he’d made it almost all the way to the central business district. Spires of glass and steel emblazoned with the names of banks and businesses stretched skyward, encircling the inward curve of the bay. The touch of the Conflux - the nexus of space-warping magic that Halcyon was built around - was most evident here, at the heart of commerce and tourism in the city-state.
Through the Conflux, Halcyon drew its skyline into recursive spirals and nested fractals, streets and buildings stretching from one plane to another, seemingly heedless of gravity or structural integrity. Even the bay was crafted into a freestanding water feature, the natural ebb and flow of the tide contorted into a series of cascading waterfalls that soared over the entire waterfront.
Despite the Hegemony being an authoritarian dictatorship with a good paint job, Ivan had to admit that it had made some inspired design decisions with the Conflux here. Of course, the central business district had been painstakingly sculpted to evoke this reaction in tourists. He was staying down in Leigang, Halcyon’s red-light district, and it was nowhere near as glamorous as this. Down there, the Conflux warped back alleys and side roads into a labyrinthine mess - every time he tried to head back to the cheap hotel he’d booked himself into, he got hopelessly turned around. If he’d been staying at the Intercontinental or the Albion Arms, he wouldn’t have had that problem.
Catching his breath atop an office building, he unslung the backpack and checked to make sure the money was accounted for. He sighed in relief as he saw the stacks of cash, but his breath caught in his chest as he noticed the tote bag stuffed into the backpack. It seemed Woon had ditched the evidence of his involvement in the drug deal. Smart. Even if cops caught him near the scene, he could claim to have nothing to do with it.
Woon’s loss was his gain, he supposed. He’d made a tidy profit from this escapade, forty thousand dollars in cash and what felt like a kilogram of pure icebreak. Fencing the drugs would be a challenge, but that was a problem for another day. For now, he had a meeting to prepare for. He put the backpack back on, making to leave, but froze in his tracks as the sound of creaking concrete came from behind him.
A half-formed figure rose from the floor, just human enough to be profoundly disturbing. He remembered reading about fossils, and how time and pressure could replace the particles of a once-living being with minerals. If someone were entombed in the detritus of a city for millenia, they might look like the Enforcer.
Tinted glass eyes glared at him from a polished concrete face as the Enforcer melded seamlessly out of the floor, like a swimmer emerging from a pool. Its limbs were a mishmash of brick and concrete, held together by metal cables interwoven to approximate muscle fibres. Parts of it were see-through, its skin made up of countless glass segments held in place by intricate metal framery, veins of glowing arclight pulsing within.
He’d seen Automata before. They bore as much resemblance to the monstrosity before him as a man resembled a gorilla. Automata were crafted with painstaking care, either by themselves or their bygone creators, and their beauty was difficult to overstate. By contrast, the Enforcer looked wrong on some fundamental level, setting off instinctive alarm bells the moment you set eyes on it. Nobody he’d spoken to in Halcyon really understood what Enforcers were, but the informal consensus was that they were the Hegemony’s handiwork, parts of Halcyon itself animated into policing constructs.
Enforcers could grab you from inside a locked room, drag you through the walls and straight into police custody, or single you out in the middle of a crowd and sink you into the concrete for the cops to pick you up at their leisure. Rumours of their powers abounded, but given the degree of fear and superstition they were treated with in the circles he moved in, he took these with a grain of salt. He’d never seen what they could do in person.
Time to find out.