We were jogging out of the noodle house toward the bus, our package in the duffle bag slung over my shoulder, the FN at low ready, Mouse slightly behind and to my right, the MP5 pulled to her shoulder and sweeping, when I heard glass breaking and the bounce-clatter of metal. Spotted it skittering under the length of the bus.
Spun and bolted back toward the noodle house, Mouse half a second behind me, managed to cross the shattered doorway.
The bus exploded.
Shockwave shoved me forward and I twisted enough to land on my side, keep from going sprawling.
Saw a sleek shape flash past the noodle house, eastbound.
Then heard it.
"Company," I said, rolling up to one knee, pulling the FN to my shoulder.
"Goddammit," said Mouse.
Another crotch rocket flew past and I caught a glimpse of colors. Red and black.
"Howlers," I said, crouch-walking forward, FN sweeping.
"Since when did joyboys pack grenades?"
"Devil's Night," I said.
"Fucking Devil's Night."
Stepped out onto the street, angling myself away from the crackling flames of the burning bus, and looked to my left, the FN following suit.
Three Howlers sat side-by-side in half-shadow at the intersection of Ellicott and Truxton to the east, their headlamps off. Around us, grotesque dancing shadows from the bus fire flitted between the sides of the surrounding buildings.
"Mouse," I said.
"Three more just beyond the bus," she said.
"Halfway down the block on Truxton. West of us."
"Should've brought the M4 for you."
"You weren't planning on a long firefight, were you?"
"Not on foot at least."
"Kat and Mouse!" a voice called out, singsong and echoing. "Come out and plaaaay!"
Mouse and I exchanged looks.
She quirked at eyebrow at me. "How'd they know our names?"
"No idea," I said.
"Fuckin set up," said Mouse
We watched the Howlers at the intersection, FN and MP trained on them. Then Mouse glanced over her shoulder at the Howlers in the other direction.
No one moved.
"Dammit," said Mouse. "Just go already."
"I hate waiting."
Then the middle Howler at the intersection raised a closed fist over his head.
And the two on either side gunned their engines and raced toward us with a squeal of tires.
Took a bead on one, then caught sight of it first.
Subvocal. World into slo-mo.
The Howler on the left had whipped out a subgun from behind his back and started to unload on me in a wide arc, the weapon's barrel flashing.
Half a second too slow.
Side-stepped right, the FN on target and chattering a pair of three-round bursts.
His shots sparked off the pavement, walking toward me.
My shot slammed into his torso and folded him in half.
Howler and rocket went down and skidded to one side in a long squeal of metal.
Pivoted right to take the next Howler and another subgun, already flashing.
Felt three hard slaps against the side of my right thigh, then two more in my gut, the impacts rocking me back a step.
Thank god for dermal armor.
Fought back the discomfort, got him back in my sights, and squeezed off another pair of bursts.
One burst ripped through the front of his rocket, blowing apart his wheel, forks, and headlamp. The second burst punched through his upper torso and took out the the lower half of his helmet. Rider and rocket pitched forward and the bike's back end flipped up and over and crunched the joyboy into the street.
Swung the FN back to the last Howler.
He drew a katana from a back scabbard, held it high, the nearby lamplight glinting off the polished blade, then levelled it, point-first at me.
Centered the front sight at the Howler's helmeted head, let out a breath, and waited.
He gunned his engine and rocketed toward me.
Flap of leather, and a shape flashed past me and bolted toward the oncoming joyboy, saw metal flash outward.
Dropped the rifle to low-ready.
Mouse, wakizashis trailing at angles to either side of her, black trenchcoat billowing like a comet's tail as she sprinted head-on toward the joyboy.
The Howler extended his right arm sideways, the katana blade flashing as he sped forward.
Mouse veered left, and hurled her wakizashi, then angled back, head-on toward the Howler.
Quick glimpse of the Howler's right arm missing a hand and katana, blood spray arcing out.
Then Mouse went airborne, cannonballing over the rocket's front wheel, trenchcoat tails flapping, smashed into the Howler, and both of then flew off the rocket. The bike flopped left, right, left, right, then roll-bounced twice before going sprawling toward the sidewalk.
Mouse and rider hit the pavement, the Howler tumbling, limbs flailing, Mouse in a tuck and roll. She came up in a low crouch, a Bowie held out to one side in a kind of graceful dancer's pose.
The Howler lay on his back, head to one side, a wakizashi jammed through the base of his neck and sticking out the back.
Mouse flashed me a feral grin.
And the ground around me exploded with gunfire, pavement geysering concrete chips, air buzzing with a hail of bullets.
(to be continued...)