if [tribe] =

Chapter 2

MARCH 6, 2029
9:14 P.M.

The air exploded with the sounds of automatic weaponry, the burping spit of bullets fired in rapid light show parades of orange laser beams spearing the night, the patter of shells chipping divots in the brick wall behind Bridge. He hit the ground with force, the air slammed from his lungs as he rolled over Stonewall. The Mexican footballer was already pulling a weapon from his jacket as he rolled, coming up in a crouch to aim the cannon at their assailants. Bridge caught a glimpse of an injured bystander, her face a rictus of screaming pain, a single rivulet of blood dripping from her mouth to pool on the dirty sidewalk. Aristotle’s enormous form sheltered Bridge from above, and Bridge could smell the telltale scent of gin.

Stonewall had a bead on the assailants, but he hesitated with his finger on the trigger. A slight shimmer in the air told Bridge why. Mu had finally come into play, the technomancer casting a shield spell - a translucent force field made of air or electricity or something. Bridge didn’t know or care what it was. He could barely suppress a smile as he watched bullets flatten on the shield and fall to the ground. He got to his knees and scanned the street for the attackers.

“ARTIE! Answer me, Artie!” Bridge became aware of Angela’s plaintive cries in his head.

“It’s cool, baby, relax. Somebody’s shooting at us. Mu’s got it covered.”

“Goddamnit, you scared the shit out of me!”

“No picnic for me either,” Bridge grumbled.

The would-be assassins were doing a drive-by. Two gunmen leaned from the passenger side windows of a black late-teens model sedan, military-grade sub-machine guns roaring in vain bursts. The rear gunmen ran out of rounds first, cursing his weapon as he tried to change the magazine awkwardly. His partner realized the futility and began screaming at the driver to take off. “MU! GO OFFENSE!” Bridge screamed. To Angela, he said, “Baby, record this. Get as much sensory info as you can. I want to know whose car that is.”

The young Chinese wizard stood to his full five foot eight height and casually flipped his raven bangs back from his eyes, a cocky smile tilting the left corner of his mouth. He shook the loose sleeves of his black shirt and gestured, his fingers dancing in the air swathed in tingling sparkles. The rear gunmen had finally gotten his gun reloaded. The driver threw off his aim, tires squealing in the night, the gunmen’s shots going wildly into the air as the spell went off.

The night erupted with sickly orange light from the small space in front of Mu’s fingers. A fireball about the size of a basketball shot across the street trailing wisps of flame behind it. It struck the car dead center with fire and force, the explosion flipping the vehicle over like a child’s toy. Engulfed in flame, it spun once, twice, a flaming body flying from the back and landing on the opposite curb in a heap. Coming to a jarring stop, the sedan wrapped around a light pole and exploded again, gouts of fire thrown off in all directions. Nothing escaped from the wreckage. The unfortunate gunner that had been thrown clear did not stir. Mu smiled, held up his thumb and index finger in the shape of a gun and blew across his finger. A tiny puff of smoke dissipated from his hand.

“Did you see that, Bridge? That’s some serious wizard shit!” Bridge scowled, but the dour expression did nothing to diminish the wizard’s exuberance.

Bridge surveyed the scene. At least five bystanders had been hit, and two lay silent and unmoving. Most of the bullets had flown over the area behind Bridge and Stonewall. Bridge couldn’t be sure whether the intended target had been his friend or himself.

Stonewall had sprung into action as soon as the shield dropped, dashing across the street towards the gunmen lying on the street. He kept his weapon trained on the attacker the whole time, but such caution wasn’t necessary. Stonewall kicked the man’s leg and got no reaction. Satisfied the danger was past, the ex-footballer holstered the weapon under his jacket and flipped the dead man over on his back. Patting out the last vestiges of flames, Stonewall searched the dead man’s empty pockets.

“Are you unharmed?” Aristotle asked. He seemed unsteady on his feet.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m good,” Bridge replied. Mu walked up to the pair with that shit-eating grin still plastered on his face.

“Good work, you two,” Bridge began. “Could you have been any later there, Aristotle? You were supposed to be here almost an hour ago. Sober.” Bridge fixed the man with a hard stare, and the bodyguard stood with an embarrassed, hangdog pout. Mu grinned from ear to ear, but Bridge had his share of criticism for the technomancer as well.

“And you… don’t you go looking all pleased with yourself. You think you could have made any more of a fucking light show? I don’t think they saw it out in Van Nuys.” Mu waved a dismissive hand at his boss and harrumphed. “CLED’s going to be up our ass in minutes with spelunking helmets and a shitload of rubber gloves. We need to motorvate. Stoney!”

Stonewall had been staring at the dead man’s face with a sour grimace. Hearing his name, he perked up and motioned for Bridge to join him. “Come on, let’s go.” Bridge gathered his companions and crossed the street hurriedly. “We need to book it, brother,” Bridge began.

“I know. Just wanted you to look at this and see if you saw the same shit I did.” He pointed to the dead man. The right side of the attacker’s face was a char-grilled black mess. Bridge could see what Stonewall had noticed in an instant. The left side of the man’s face was covered with a tattoo, a stylized devil with a pitchfork stretching from the slack cheek to the hairline.

Diablos. FUCK! Do you know this assgoblin?”

Stonewall nodded. “Si. He’s actually an ex-girlfriend’s cousin. Flaco. He used to be Los Magos. Low-level muscle, no real ambition. He had some beef when El Diablos split off, something about somebody fucking his sister or mother or some shit. Nothing with me, though.”

Diablos been out for Magos for a while though, right?” Stonewall nodded. “But isn’t going after you kind of punching above their weight class? You don’t attack the number two guy unless you want a damn war.”

The Mexican nodded again, running his fingers over the tight blond curls on his head. His dark brown skin shone with sweat and his cheek twitched in anger as he stood. “Exactly. What the fuck kind of play is this? Worst possible time to be causing this level of drama.”

Bridge noticed the absence of police sirens. “Where are the cops?” he asked. “I know they don’t give much of a shit about the Warehouse District, but they should be in earshot by now.”

Stonewall frowned. “I doubt it,” he grumbled without elaboration. “But yeah, we need to move it, in case there’s a second try.”

“What about the wounded?” Aristotle asked.

“They got money. Bunch of slumming art collectors. You can bet at least one’s got a combat-ready triage service on speed dial. Come on, let’s book it. Station’s about two blocks over.” He broke into a hurried jog north towards the subway station. Bridge cursed under his breath and fell into a matching pace.

Two blocks later, Bridge was panting and damp with sweat. Stonewall stopped short across the street from the station, his eyes scanning the entrance for guards while he hid in the alley.  “Hold up. Don’t know who’s got patrol tonight.” He fished into a jacket pocket and brought out an ancient cell phone. He placed a call and began talking in low tones to someone on the other end.

“Yeah, who’s got station duty on 7th? It’s not Diablos? AsiaTown? All right good. Well, I’m coming in now, get Pedro to the Barn. What do you mean? WHAT?” He paused for a full minute, his brow furrowed deep in thought. “Ok, get as many of the looies as you can and meet up at the Barn.” He slammed the phone shut and cursed under his breath.

“What’s the matter?”

“We gotta get moving. Diablos just ganked Pedro.”

The subway station was guarded by soldiers of the AsiaTown set, one of the Five Families made up of the Korean, Japanese and Chinese gangs and their allies. AsiaTown had civil relations with Los Magos. The soldiers seemed completely indifferent to the passengers they let pass through the station. Stonewall spoke in short bursts to them, and they responded with the same curtness. Bridge, Aristotle, Stonewall and Mu boarded the empty train, which took off towards the Barn.

The Barn wasn’t a specific location. It was the name of the train where the Shotcallers of the Los Magoswould meet when necessary. Bridge had never been on the Barn. “Stoney, where are we going?”

“The Barn, brother.”

“Yeah, I know that. Why are you taking us? Isn’t that some secret gangster shit we ain’t privy to?”

“Normally yeah. But if Pedro is dead, I need some support. They’re going to look to me for ideas, and I’ve only got two.”

Bride knew what those ideas were but he asked anyway. “And what ideas is that?”

“Revenge or submission.” He slumped back into the seat and sighed. “I know what Pedro would want. Shit, even you know what he would want and you only met him what, once? Twice?” Bridge nodded.

Pedro was famous among the Families and people who did business with them. Los Reyes Magos, the Wise King, as he had been known, Pedro did business a different way. He had taken over Los Magos during the riots, leading them to make surgical strikes against the police precincts that had done the most damage to the Hispanic neighborhoods in their zeal to quell the riots. Once the riots had ended, he had helped establish the Five Families and had preached a doctrine of peaceful cohabitation. Many of the Families had taken that approach as a sign of weakness, a predilection for submission. But they misunderstood Pedro. He would not hesitate to use violence when he felt cornered, when there was no other course. Brutal when pushed, those who underestimated his willingness to fight back often did not live to regret their decisions. Pedro had been the steady hand that had prevented a war when the gangs now known as El Diablos had decided to split with Los Magos. And now he was dead.

Magos is going to want blood for blood,” Bridge admitted. Stonewall nodded. “And what do you think? You’re his second. Unless the other Shotcallers want to take the reins, they are going to look to you to make the call.”

“I think war is the last thing Pedro wanted,” Stonewall sighed. He stood and stared out the window into the uncaring darkness. The city sparkled, a brilliant tapestry of twinkling lights on a field of nothing. “We can’t hit back. The Families cannot afford a war, no matter how much that pendejo Nacho deserves retribution.” Nacho was the nickname of the current El Diablos leader. Bridge had tried to work with him on a few jobs, but his friendship with Stonewall had eighty-sixed any negotiation before it could begin. “I told you before that those Chronosoft pricks have been pushing, right? Well, it’s gotten worse since Boulder. They are tossing people out of their homes left and right, on the flimsiest of excuses. Every family is getting refugees out the yin yang. They ain’t moving the crime figures around anymore, they are inventing crimes and putting people out on the street. All it would take is one big blowup, and the CLED fuckers will come down on all the Families. They’d take the subways back first, then start pushing us into the Warehouse District.”

“Yeah, but the Families fought off the cops before during the riots.”

“That was then, and that was LAPD. The cops we fought during the riots had shit for ammo, no fuel for patrol cars, nothing. CLED’s got fucking tanks, man. You seen those goddamn Gunheds they run around in? Those things can take on a whole gang on their own.”

Stonewall seemed to spot something on the horizon, and he became more agitated. He moved towards the door. “No, we get in a war now, and the big boys are gonna come into our neighborhoods and put the hammer down. It’s going to be the excuse that traidor Soto has been begging for. You boys better get ready.”

“Ready for what?” Mu asked.

“We’re changing trains.” Bridge stumbled as the train jerked in deceleration. He gripped the handhold. “We can’t risk stopping completely, so you’re going to need to jump. Me and Bridge will take the first door, you and Aristotle take the second one.”

“Jump?” Bridge squeaked. “Are you fucking nuts?”

Stonewall grinned with an insane glee. “How you think the Barn stays safe? It don’t stop for no man.” He pounded the release button next to the door, which opened with a shrieking whoosh. “Ready?”

The wind stung Bridge’s eyes. Both trains had slowed significantly, but they still were moving at a dizzying pace. Stonewall chuckled. “Don’t look down, it’ll look like you’re moving much faster.” He pulled Bridge over to stand on the opposite side of the door from himself, and motioned Aristotle and Mu to the back door.

“How am I supposed to do this?”

“Don’t miss.” With that, Stonewall grabbed Bridge’s right arm and leapt out of the moving train.

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