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Part 1 of 9
Shades of Gray
Author: Brian Kay

The rain fell hard. It descended from the slate gray sky with an almost divine purpose. Its inexorable intent was not only to cleanse the filth and disease of the physical manifestations that were its inevitable targets below the angry heavens, but also to cleanse the souls of those creatures who were caught in its righteous flood. For Sgt. Eddie Gray of the NYPD's fugitive/warrant squad, the rain had more of a darker purpose.

It sounded like nails being hammered on the lid of a metal coffin.

The metal coffin was a NYC Dept. of Structures and Retrofitting maintenance ground van that was parked in front of an ancient warehouse that had been taken over by squatters and assorted denizens of the city's underclass. Sgt. Gray and three other members of his team sat hunched together in the small confines of the van making the final preparations for the assault on the occupants of the third floor of the defunct warehouse. Here it would be determined the fate of not only his career, but those of the men he had assembled for this operation. He stroked his thick black mustache, lost in thought, oblivious, for the moment, of the incessant pounding of the rain on the van roof.

In the warehouse before them was a cell of the U.R.F.F., The United Replicant Freedom Front. The U.R.F.F. was a loosely organized group of cells that were independently commanded and operated by those who believed that Replicants had the same inalienable rights as their human creators. Most of the cells advocated their beliefs by staging relatively non-violent protests and spreading their manifesto by NetLinks and by other forms of electronic and print resources. However, a significant percentage of these cells were becoming increasingly violent and armed not only with rocks and bottles, but with more lethal weaponry.

This cell now holed up in the antiquated building had been involved in a protest at an ancillary Replicant facility that produced internal components that were to be shipped off-world. It started out as a small, but vocal gathering that grew as the ranks swelled with protesters and the mob mentality swelled as well, resulting in violent clashes with U.R.F.F. members and the facilities security staff, leaving scores injured, including two security personnel, who remain hospitalized and in grave condition a week after the riot. Dozens were arrested and the local cells split up and went underground.

One member of this particular cell was the daughter of a high-ranking U.N. diplomat and was actively recruited from her college campus. Her father claimed she was forcibly coerced into this radical organization, but others claim she voluntarily joined and frequently espoused the U.R.F.F.'s dogma on the college campus she attended. Sgt. Gray saw the Net pictures of her in revolutionary pose, fist in air, holding a low-tech shotgun at her side. He knew that she was fully immersed in the political culture of the U.R.F.F. She was present at the protest and was photographed hurling a Molotov cocktail type incendiary device at the security guards.

A warrant was issued for her arrest and she was to be apprehended just like any other criminal. However she was no ordinary criminal. Her father had serious juice and made it perfectly clear to the NYPD brass that his daughter was being brainwashed and therefore, not to be held accountable for her actions. Sgt. Gray figured that if she was apprehended and delivered to daddy in one piece, his career would take off in new directions and that of his team members as well. The other side of the equation was also obvious to Sgt. Gray and his fellow cops, if things went south and daddy's little girl was taken out in a hail of police gunfire or otherwise NOT delivered to daddy in one lovely piece, then the bowels of hell would open up and swallow them whole.

A brilliant flash of lighting startled Sgt. Gray back into reality. The flash briefly illuminated the faces of his team members. To Sgt. Eddie Gray, their faces, for an instant, looked chillingly like that of the living dead. He shuddered visibly and began to adjust his body armor. Det. Victor Ryez broke the long silence by yawning extravagantly and stretching his short arms. "Hey, Boss, why the hell would these jack heads decide to protest at a glorified spare parts store?" "Why not jump up and down in front of one of the big corporations that crank out the full-blown skin jobs?" Sgt. Gray studied the small, compact detective and replied "Vic, your guess is as good as mine. More than likely, the security staff at those major corps have a sophisticated security system and staff who aren't afraid to bang heads. And then some." Det. Ryez nodded in agreement and began to shift uncomfortably in the passenger seat of the van.

Det. Bill Scott drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, whistling tunelessly, scanning the street for any unusual activity, hoping their little surveillance gig would not be compromised. He hated waiting and wanted to start this machine rolling. His right-hand trailed down to the butt of his holstered weapon, his fingers gently caressing the pistol's magazine well. He saw himself as a man of action and secretly despised all of this sitting and waiting and planning crap. These U.R.F.F. jack heads were here, Sgt. Gray's C.I. confirmed it and that was good enough for him. Det. Scott was on the job long enough to cultivate his own cadre of confidential informants and weed out the good from the bad. He trusted Eddie Gray's experience and that little snitch of his had a proven track record. The little bastard wasn't a registered C.I., but sometimes you had to circumvent the parameters of procedure to get to where you want to go.

Det. Graham Marks, his long frame painfully bent over a small laptop comnet, worked the comnet's keypad with grim determination. He wanted to make sure all of the information he had gathered on the U.R.F.F. and its many scattered cells was accurate and that this particular cell's net info was properly distributed in hard data form. He had printed out the last page of data and began to work on setting up links to the various units of the NYPD that they might have to contact if things here went bad. He was a methodical man and left very little to chance. He felt out of place among these grizzled street cops. He was a tech guy and cared little for the bravado and posturing that sometimes went along with the job of specialized units like this. When push came to shove, Det. Marks would do what he had to do and that was it. He knew the team members gave only a cursory glance at his information that he labored so intently to provide to them, but they were not complete cowboys, and he felt they did appreciate most of his efforts.

Sgt. Gray finished adjusting his body armor and shot a glance at Det. Marks. He knew Marks was worried. His long fingers drummed on the laptop in a somber, ominous beat. "Speak." That was all Eddie Gray had to say to the lanky Detective, who responded to the Sgt. with a litany of complaints.

"Well Boss, if this operation gets hot and heavy, we are by ourselves for a while. Emergency service units are all on assignments. EMS is in backlog with calls for service, and just about every sector in the surrounding area is out on some kind of job. Most likely due to this horrendous rain." Det. Marks fell silent, looking down at his laptop screen, trying to find some solace in the data that dotted the screen. Sgt. Gray sighed and began to scratch his head. He knew that this was a bad sign, that he should call off this gig and reschedule another time. Problem was, he didn't want to. They were all ready to go; even the reluctant Det. Marks could feel the charged energy in the air. It was now or never. There was an uncomfortable silence in the ground van. It was a heavy silence, like an invisible wet blanket that had descended from the ceiling and enveloped everyone in the van.

It was hard to breathe.

Sgt. Gray broke the oppressive quiet and announced in a hoarse, but commanding voice, "Okay people, lets do it." There was a sudden burst of activity inside the van, as if Eddie Gray's spoken words were a direct order from the mouth of God. The noise of men preparing for what could be described as war, was almost deafening inside the confines of the ground van.

Det. Ryez was barely audible over the din of automatic weapons being charged and rounds being forced fed into hungry magazines. "Hey, fellas, I think we have some unexpected company." He peered through his microbinocs and grimaced. "I think we have some party crashers. Looks like a spinner is attempting to land on the damn roof in this mess. I can't be sure, but I bet it's some BR's cutting in on our action."

Everyone in the van froze for a second, digesting the kernel of information Ryez provided them. Sgt. Gray cursed under his breath and barked at Det. Marks," What the hell is going on? I thought there were no friggin' Blade Runner ops going on?" "Nothing popped up on your little toy?"

Det. Marks shot back, equally annoyed," Negative, Boss, I pulled up all the data that was available to me, only a supervisor can get access to certain restricted information."

Eddie gray cursed again. And again. He made only a half-hearted attempt to contact the Blade Runner unit to see if there was some kind of investigation or operation going down in this forsaken part of the city. He assumed that they would be the only game in town. Sgt. Gray gritted his teeth and could not shake the sense of dread that was slowly creeping up on him. He pulled his service pistol from its holster, clicking off the safety. He studied the faces of his cops and simply said, "Let's go."

From the front of the van, Det. Bill Scott was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

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