Chapter 13

Please Note: Chapters have been posted in their unedited form and do not fully reflect the final work.


“The operation is go. On my mark begin phase one with a fifteen-minute countdown…and mark. MCPD please open negotiations. Fox out,” he said while moving away from the police staging area.  

Using the cars still left in the parking lot as cover Fox made his way as quickly as possible to the east side of the building which was more in shadow. He was on the clock to secure the roof before the MCPD attempted to reopen negotiations so he was going to have to be efficient. 

What he didn’t share with Dani was that he had asked for necessary force authorization which was approved so he was weapons-free. Dani’s operational mandate was to use deadly force only if necessary and that's how she had been trained which was why she was always holding back so as not to hurt anyone, but that fit well with her personality. An idealist at heart who wants to find a way to help others. It's one of the reasons Fox found the girl so endearing, but that was also what gave him the most cause for concern. 

He continued to make his way closer to the building while trying his best to not let his inner thoughts rob him of his focus. It was difficult though because this whole situation felt off and there was definitely more going on here than some kind of hostage situation. Terrorists don’t just take hostages and then not make demands. In contrast to Dani’s idealism, Fox’s pragmatism manifested as a nagging voice in the back of his head that kept telling him that this was going to end up getting messy. 

 He made his way to the foundation of the building by slipping up to a delivery van that provided a good cover angle to make the run to the base of the structure. Toggling the lens in his mask to magnify his view of the roof he confirmed that his approach looked to be unguarded at the moment which was exactly what he was hoping for. There were too few of the occupying force to fully watch all the approach angles. They were going to rely on intimidation and the fact the police generally aren’t equipped to assault a structure of this size in his opinion.  

Resetting his mask he took a deep breath and trigged his silent movement ability and sprinted from cover to the base of the structure. With silent movement active nobody would hear him coming as the ability deadened any sound he made while moving. It came in very handy at times like this and was one of the reasons why he was so good at infiltration. 

The mall was a two-story structure with the main walking areas open from floor to roof with skylights set into the roof for natural lighting. This mall was one where the food court sat at the heart of the building anchoring the different wings. Ultimately he knew that would be the ultimate destination as it was the most logical place to hold the hostages with sightlines on every approach. If this was a professional unit they would have set their defenses in mind to collapse back to that location. 

Reaching the base of the outer wall he found a section of the wall where a tall shrub would obscure him while he affixed his climbing claws to his gloves. Using a decorative pilaster that was part of the architecture to gain hand holds he ascended the roof with quick practiced movements. Once he was at the roof ledge he pulled himself up just enough to peek over and confirm that there wasn’t a hostile in the vicinity. Confirming that he was alone he pulled himself up onto the rooftop and quickly scrambled into the shadow of the closest HVAC unit. 

Staying crouched he put away his climbing claws and unholstered his XM17 before leaning out to locate the next piece of cover he could move to. The roof was way too wide open for his tastes and his black and navy tactical suit would stand out against the light colors of the rooftop. At least there was some cover with the transformer boxes and HVAC units scattered around. He’d have to be wary of the skylights though. It wouldn’t do to get spotted from inside the mall. 

The mall was laid out with three wings that all converged at the food court, after getting his bearings he located the entrance closest to him and began moving toward it skipping from cover to cover when possible. The intel they’d gathered put three hostiles on the roof but it was far from rock solid so he was taking it as more of a guestimate. If this was a professional unit they’d be checking in at regular intervals which would be a problem as it put a timer on how long he had before they realized someone was in the building. 

Putting his thoughts on hold he approached one of the roof accesses. Moving quickly he slipped up to the wall of the access which was just a box with a door that let the stairs come all the way up to the roof. Taking a mini camera from a pouch on his belt he synced it with the screen on his suit and pointed in around the corner. Sure enough, there was a hostile with a sniper rifle and a pair of binoculars scanning out over the parking lot guarding the approach to the doors. 

Suddenly Dani’s voice was in his ear, “Fox the Lieutenant has asked that his attempt at communications be patched through to your communicator. Double click if negative for communication relay.” Grimacing under his mask he sent back a double click through the comm. Dani’s timing was horrible but a running commentary was a distraction he didn’t need right now, so he had to give her credit for having the foresight to make sure he didn’t want an open broadcast running in his ear.

“Roger, that. Updates will be provided based on operational need, otherwise communication will remain limited. Let us know when you are clear to communicate freely. Star out.”

With that settled Fox moved low and quick and approached the hostile from his blind spot and kicked the man viciously behind his knee causing him to flail momentarily as he collapsed backward. A moment was all he needed and Fox smoothly put him in a single-arm chokehold while placing his XM17 into the man’s armpit and pulling the trigger twice. With silent movement activated the gun made the same amount of sound as if he was using a silencer. Dropping the dying man Fox quickly put a bullet in his forehead to end his suffering before quickly dragging him out of sight. That done he set off toward the next wing and his next target. 

Same as before he picked his way across the roof as quickly as he could moving from cover to cover. There was a point where he had to cross closer than he’d like to a skylight to get to the section of roof he needed to begin making his way around the glass roof that enclosed the food court. He had to get low to avoid anyone watching the roof from inside the food court since there was greater visibility with the glass roof but he also needed to minimize exposure in case his adversaries had external spotters. It didn’t seem like that was the case but it wouldn’t hurt to be cautious.

Getting past the center section of the roof he moved a little faster from the cover to cover. He could hear the activity down below which the meant that Lieutenant was doing his part. Finally, he saw the roof access for this wing and sprinted to it. Pulling out the camera he confirmed a sniper covering the approach but something was making him feel uneasy. Pulling back into cover he paused to take a few breaths to center himself and focus on what his senses were telling him. He was missing something. He was about to look out again and see if could get a view with a little more roof when it hit him. 

Smoke. He smelled cigarette smoke but the sniper wasn’t smoking and he didn’t see any cigarette butts by him. There’s a second hostile at this position that he couldn’t see. “Shit,” he muttered in his mask. This was going to be tricky. Putting the camera back into its pouch and holstering his gun Fox leaped up and grabbed the roof of the access and pulled himself up. He was going to have to speed this up as he was starting to feel the edges of mental fatigue creeping in from using his ability for so long. 

He inched himself across the access roof trying to stay as flat as possible until he was right in front of the edge. He was close enough now that he pulled out the camera and pointed over the edge and sure enough there was a hostile positioned right in the access doorway. Running through his options Fox realized there wasn’t going to be a clean option like last time. This was going to be tricky and would require a touch of luck. 

Unholstering his XM17 he used the roof to line up a shot at the sniper. From this angle, he had a nice downward shot at the man's neck. His mask helped give him some telemetry but in reality, this was a rifle shot and not something you’d choose to do with a pistol even at this relatively close range if you could help it. Taking a few breaths to relax into the position he pulled the trigger on the third exhale and put a bullet through the sniper's throat. The man stumbled forward dropping his gun to clutch at his throat.

The hostile guarding the door startled by the sniper's reaction took a few steps forward asking, “What’s wrong man?” He then gasped and fell forward on his hands and knees having been shot twice through the neck. Fox jumped down from the roof, pulled the man's helmet back, and put a bullet in his brain. Looking toward the sniper he found him lying on this side weakly gasping for breath as he futilely tried to put pressure on the wound. He wouldn’t last long as it was but Fox wasn’t inclined to let him suffer. He took no joy as he placed his gloved hand over the man’s mouth and nose and shot him in between the eyes killing the man and ending his suffering. 

He pulled both of the bodies behind a nearby HVAC unit so that they weren’t immediately visible but there was nothing he could do about the blood. If he had time to plan this appropriately he would have done this at night or at least more towards dusk when he could more effectively use his other ability and things would have gone much cleaner. Oh well, you play the cards you’re dealt. Flipping his wrist over he checked the time on his underarm panel. He had about seven minutes left before Dani would be up assuming the hostiles didn’t communicate this time. The extra guard had really slowed him down, so he would have to hurry.  

Moving much quicker this time Fox sprinted across the roof before again navigating carefully past the skylights and glass roof of the food court. Once past the food court roof, he sprinted into cover closest to the area where a sniper should be located. Sure enough, there was a man stationed overlooking the approach to the north entrance just like the others. The way this man was positioned and the lack of relative cover on this section of the roof didn’t lend itself to a good shot or approach. The hostile had positioned himself so that he was able to watch the parking lot and also keep an eye on the roof. Fox quickly ran through his options and decided that speed would be the best option. 

Peeking out of cover to get the position of the man before ducking back and taking a centering breath, Fox made sure his breathing was steady and calm before drawing his knife from its sheath on his left leg. He burst from cover a full speed in the hope of blindsiding the target. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite make it as the man caught the movement in peripheral vision, and unlike the previous enemies, this man showed he was exceptionally trained as he managed to turn at the last second to take the knife strike on the rifle he was holding. Fox didn’t remain still though and moved to fluidly heel stomp the man's foot causing him to move off balance. Fox quickly hooked his arm under the man’s rifle between the man’s hands and slashed at his elbow with his knife hand causing the other man to release the gun and Fox to rip the rifle from his grip. 

Fox may have taken the man’s firearm but he displayed his training by taking the opportunity to spin away from Fox and pull his own knife from a quick draw sheath on his belt.  He launched himself back at Fox not letting Fox pull his sidearm or use the weapon he had just taken against him. His knife was like liquid mercury sliding in and out of Fox’s guard while his offhand probed and defended. Fox was caught a bit off guard by the man’s ferocity and training and was just barely able to block the flurry of strikes.

Slipping back and up to avoid a slash followed by an attempt at a disarming strike by his opponent's open hand, Fox threw a knee at the man’s ribs which forced his opponent to tuck his elbow to take the blow. This gave him a couple of seconds of reprieve to drop his silent movement ability and activate another ability called Mimic. Mimic allows Fox to read and mimic an opponent's unique skills as long as they are within standard human capability for a limited period of time. In this case, he was pretty sure his opponent had been trained in Kali by the way handled his knife. While Fox was trained in many fighting forms, Kali was not one he was fluent in. 

His opponent didn’t waste any time and moved in with a step-in feint that he turned into a kidney strike which Fox blocked by guiding his opponent's arm out and away. The speed at which they traded blows was fantastic but Fox could see a frown on his opponent's face start to form as he couldn’t land a critical strike. Fox considered for a brief second drawing his sword but the range wouldn’t be of much use as his opponent stayed in tight on him. This man was obviously well trained and well disciplined as neither man said a word, instead letting their fighting prowess do the talking. However, as much as Fox respected the skills of the man before him, he needed to be put down.

The next time his opponent advanced Fox used his forearm to block a downward knife strike and spun inside his opponent's guard slapping down the man’s offhand strike as he turned and slammed his own knife into his opponent's eye socket. The man let out a grunt as he reeled back and clutched his face. Fox took the opportunity to reactivate Silent Movement and snapped a kick into his opponent's head knocking him to the ground. Pulling his sidearm from its holster with clinical efficiency, Fox placed two bullets into the man’s head ending the encounter.

Retrieving his knife from the dead man Fox wiped it clean and resheathed it before turning without another thought to locate the roof access and sprinted for it. Fox pulled his sidearm and cracked the door checking that it was clear before moving into the stairwell taking the stairs two at a time. While the mall was two stories in the public area it actually had four floors due to the extra space for all of the mechanicals. Fox decided on the fly to take the door to the fourth floor which was the mechanical area above the shops on the second story of the shopping area.

Easing into the hallway it was exactly as Fox had thought it would be, a mechanical space. Access to electrical boxes, HVAC, and other essential functions were scattered up and down the hallway. He didn’t see anyone and a quick scan didn’t show any kind of obvious sabotage. Moving quickly back into the stairwell he moved down to the third floor. Moving slowly Fox pushed open the door and cleared the immediate vicinity before stepping out fully into the hallway. He found himself in the service corridor behind the second-level shops. 

There was absolutely no cover and he would be at an extreme disadvantage including almost certainly being on camera so he quickly toggled a filter on his helmet to show RF and WiFi hotspots and began moving quickly toward the closest junction. He needed to determine where he was and how to best get to the food court. As he approached the junction his mask indicated there was a camera giving off an RF signal. Most likely it was a wide shot showing all the hallways converging. There was no way he would be able to avoid detection long-term in a place with this many cameras, so with a grunt of frustration for not thinking to grab a uniform off one of the roof guards he put a bullet into the wire that led to the camera and ran up the corridor that looked to be heading into the public section of the mall. 

Another camera greeted Fox at the end of the corridor which he swiftly took out with his sword before exiting into the mall concourse itself. Crouching down to minimize his silhouette he looked around to get his bearings. One of the mall’s anchor stores was on his left so that meant he needed to head to the right which would be toward the interior of the mall. Taking a peek around the wall he noticed there was a guard patrolling by the second-level railway with another guard visible on the other side across the gap. Moving quickly to cover behind a cell phone case stand he got a  look at the storefronts.  He could see that all of the security gates had been pulled down, and he had to give them credit, it was a smart move that would make it easier to secure the mall with limited personnel. 

Suddenly Fox’s comm popped to life with Dani’s voice, “Fox, are you in a position to receive a sit-rep?” 

Gritting his teeth Fox took a quick look out to see where the guard was and seeing that he was still toward the far end of the concourse replied by double-clicking his comm.

“Acknowledged, the MCPD was unsuccessful in making contact. Moving to phase two, I approached to make contact and warning shots were fired from the entrance. I proceeded to inform the gunman at the entrance that we required proof of life for the hostages and gave them five minutes to comply or let us speak with their leader. I could really use some direction.” 

Taking a centering breath Fox checked again to make sure the hostile wasn’t an imminent threat before considering how to respond. He knew getting frustrated with Dani wasn’t fair and for all her training Dani was the very definition of green. Getting his perspective in order he flipped his wrist paned open the typed out a response. Try again and push proof of life request. Do not attack unless danger to self or others. Wait for the signal.

“Acknowledged. Good luck Fox, Star out.” 

He couldn’t help but be worried. Dani was in a tough spot with no real experience and he couldn’t sit there and hold her hand. If they got out of this with their jobs Fox was going to have some strong words for Colonel Morales for not sending a team out. This whole situation was exactly what the STAR Team should be helping with and nothing about this passed the smell test which meant that something worse was going on. Now he just needed to figure out how to get to the food court.

Keeping an eye toward the guards walking the concourse Fox looked around for a solution and realized that he just didn’t have many options. There were too many cameras to stay on the main level and the service floors didn’t look like they were all connected so he would be forced to exit to the main floors. Looking up at the ceiling he noticed that there were steel beams that ran the length of the roof. If he could get up there he might be able to stay undetected. It was that or go back outside to the roof and then try to cut into a skylight and that seemed risky. 

Making up his mind Fox looked around for a way to get up into the ceiling. Behind him was a photo booth tucked into a space by a pillar that might work if he could be quick. Making sure he was still in the clear he moved quickly keeping low and doing his best to make sure the guards didn’t have a clear line of sight. His black tactical suit was a disadvantage with all the bright lights and white interior but he managed to make it to the photo booth undetected and quickly ducked behind it to pull himself up to the roof of the booth. 

Putting on his climbing claws and exposing the climbing spikes built into his boots Fox readed himself to try and climb the pillar. Thankfully that mall had decided to use concrete pillars so he was able to get a purchase on the material and started climbing. With silent movement masking the noise he would be making digging the claws into the concrete he ascended to top of the pillar. Now came the hard part, transitioning off the pillar. Reaching for a device on his belt Fox pulled out a compact filament line launcher. Working carefully with one hand he aimed the line at the closest beam and pushed the button to launch it. The line shot out toward the beam and the hook wrapped around it and set snuggly. Quickly aligning the end of the launcher to the pilar he pushed another button which set an anchor into it. 

It was a cool little compact gadget that R & D had managed to come up with. Not meant for major ascensions but rather for urban situations where it might be necessary to quickly get vertical, they had come up with a compressed gas launcher that used a monofilament type wire that then doubled as an ascender device. It was a one-and-done gadget that I’d helped test and had more than once been thankful to have had at hand. 

Putting some slack into the line Fox attached the ascender to an anchor point on his belt and let go of the pillar. Using his hand he steadied himself and looked to see if the guards were visible. He couldn’t see them from his current angle so he hit the button to ascend. Once the compressed gas was expended it couldn’t be used again and the miniaturized motor was only good for about a hundred feet max but weight and weather conditions affected that number greatly. 

As he was ascending he got a clearer view of the concourse and his adrenaline spiked as walking up to his position was the guard on his side of the mall. Cursing silently and willing the ascender to move faster Fox could only hope that the guard didn’t look up, but he made it to beam and pulled himself up. Disengaging the ascender making sure that nothing was left dangling over the edge he got as flat as he could get. The line was still attached to the pillar and the beam but it would be very hard to see so he wasn’t particularly worried about it. Still being careless would get you killed as fast as anything. 

Fox took a quick look and held his breath as the guard glanced up at the ceiling in his direction before exhaling when the guard continued on without stopping. He waited a couple of minutes to make sure the man was not looking up before he got up into a crouch and began moving down the beam toward the food court keeping an eye out for any guards that may be patrolling. From his vantage point, he was able to ascertain that they had underestimated the number of hostiles as the closer he got to the center of the mall the more patrols he saw. Fortunately, he didn’t see any bodies but that wasn’t necessarily a confirmation of anything. 

Finally making it to the food court, Fox took up a position slightly outside the main seating area to help shield him from detection. Sure enough, all the people who had been in the mall at the time of the takeover were crammed into the food court. There was a man decked out in full tactical gear with a bushy red beard at the center of the space. At his feet was a young man who was blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back. He looked young, probably about Dani’s age, and had blood dripping down his face from a cut above his eye. It looked like he had tried to resist. A few feet away from him was a girl in a dress who kept looking at him and sobbing which earned her more than one scowl from the bearded man. 

While Fox was watching the bearded man suddenly touched his ear in an unconscious gesture that usually signified listening to an earbud. “We’re almost done here. Can you stall her?” he responded shortly to whatever was said. After another minute he followed up iwth, “Fine. I’ll send someone over but if she seems like she’s going to be an issue you put her down. We need to hold just a bit longer.”

Looking around the bearded hostile gestured for someone and another man in the now familiar tactical gear approached where he was standing. “The supernormal out there in the stupid uniform is demanding proof the hostages are still alive and Tyler has said she’s already displayed the ability to fly and what looks like some kind of energy ability. We need to stall her or kill her if she won’t back down. I’m giving you a hostage to exchange. Make sure the Supernormal stays preoccupied. Tyler seems jumpy for some reason so do whatever you need to get the point across. We clear Derrick?” 

“Crystal, boss,” said Derrick back to the man with the beard who was evidently the leader. 

“Great now take the girl in the dress who won’t stop crying and get that Supernormal to back down.”

With that, the man named Derrick walked over grabbed the girl in the dress, and yanked her roughly to her feet before shoving her toward the entrance to the left of Fox’s current position. 

“Please don’t hurt me and what about my boyfriend?” the girl cried as she stumbled forward.  

“Your boyfriend is staying with us and you get to be proof of life, now shut up and walk,” he snarled at her while pointing his weapon at her. 

With a look over her shoulder at her boyfriend, she sobbed and started walking out of Fox’s view. The man with the beard watched them walk away before he leaned down to the young man who was bound and blindfolded and said, “Your pretty little girlfriend is being sent out to show that you’re still alive. I hope you’ll behave better now with this little show of good faith, but then again I don’t really care because I kind of enjoy zapping your stupid ass.” With that, he pressed a button on a device in his hand causing the young man to spasm and scream before collapsing and panting on the floor.

“Yeah, you should just lay there,” he said with a laugh while walking over to lean against a table before casting his gaze over the rest of the assembled hostages who were fearfully looking back at him.  “Remember, shut up and behave, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll live through this.”

Fox was gritting his teeth so hard he was starting to worry he might crack a tooth. Hostages and torture were the coward's way, and he’d put down many a would-be terrorist in his time in special forces. He was looking forward to the opportunity to add this guy to the list. Fox was just starting to formulate a plan when suddenly he heard a commotion and what sounded like a gunshot from where Derrick had taken the girl. 

“What now?” he heard the leader say to himself while putting his hand on his weapon causing Fox to tense up another notch. 

Dani’s voice crackled to life in Fox’s ears as she spoke into the comm, “Civilian hostage killed on transfer by hostiles.”

She sounded raw. There was an edge to her voice he’d never heard before, and a chill crawled its way down his spine. “Engaging hostiles,” came softly over the comm right before a massive blast resounded through the mall