By Max Fauth

This occurs on 1 January 2034

As far as Alan was concerned, this had to be one of the worst nights of his life. The new year was only a day old, and here he was on bridge duty, his most hated assignment. His head still pounded with the aftershocks from last night's partying but as far as he was concerned, his biggest headaches were here with him. He stood in the driving rain and freezing cold between Karen McMillan and Tatsuna Yokozana, two of his three least favorite officers on the force. The third, his immediate senior Crayse was nice and warm in the control booth off to his left. Alan muttered under his breath as he watched Crayse chatting leisurely on the phone, helmet off and tasting a steaming cup of coffee.

Karen nudged him from the right and brought his attention back to the scene in front of him. The three of them stared across the long expanse of the Williamsburg bridge into the zero zone. They could barely make out the lights of the Edge of Night, a popular club just across the bridge that offered a taste of Zone life without the risk - or so it claimed. Alan personally found it to be an awfully tame and boring place, even compared to the city's night life. Beyond that was blackness, swallowing up the world in front of him.

He surreptitiously checked his watch. Almost ten PM. Crayse had insisted on taking "his best men" out tonight, convinced there would be a sudden rush of crazies trying to return to the city. Alan had scoffed, saying that no-one would be out in this rain, not even zone scum. No-one except them, of course.

The slamming of the control booth door suddenly interrupted his dark thoughts. As one, the three officers on duty turned to see their commander, still without his helmet and still holding his coffee cup striding across the bridge to greet them. "Good news!" Crayse called cheerfully over the driving rain. "Our shift has been canceled!"

Alan glanced quickly at Karen, then to Tatsuna. The former was yet to register any reaction, but the latter clearly showed her surprise. "But what about the rush from the Zone?" she called back to Crayse. Alan could tell she was just disappointed that she wouldn't shoot anyone tonight.

"New orders," Crayse replied as he stepped up to the trio. "Zone detail has been canceled permanently, effective immediately." He took a sip from his overflowing cup, glanced at it, then dumped the contents on the road.

It was music to Alan's ears. He didn't care how this happened. He didn't care why. All he cared about was that he would never, ever have to stand in the freezing cold with a psychotic, a madman and a pedantic maniac again. And all he had to do was stay quiet and it would be over.

"But why? Who's going to guard the bridge?" Karen asked, virtually screaming in righteous fury. Alan screwed up his face. It was going so well, and now Karen had to make it so complicated.

"Another company's taken up the duty, to ease of NYPD Inc.'s resources," Crayse said. "Awfully nice of them. They should be along right about." Crayse trailed off as he raised his watch, fixating on it.

The four of them stood in silence for a few uncomfortable seconds before a rumbling sound interrupted them. Looking back towards the city, Alan could barely make out four human silhouettes, walking in front of a titanic truck. As they approached, he could begin to make out details. The humans were in heavy, black, curved clamshell armor, with domed helmets and gas masks completely hiding their faces. The one in front carried what had to be a machine-gun cradled in his hands, whereas the three behind him carried assault rifles. Alan knew them by reputation alone - the trademarked domed helmet and oversized shoulder guards denoted the armor as Jinsei Protect Gear.

"Nnnow," Crayse finished and looked up. He took in his three officers standing in shock as the soldiers approached them. "Well, don't just stand there!" he barked out. "Get out of the way!" They quickly darted out of the way as the truck approached.

Alan watched the procession from the side of the bridge with a sick fascination. The soldiers and the truck were just the vanguard of a long column of heavy vehicles moving across the bridge. Several oversized trucks followed, as well as two enormous vehicles with a variety of complex arms, scoops and the like scattered across them. Behind those were a number of smaller, army-styled trucks which Alan could only imagine as troop transports. A final oversized truck followed those, escorted by another four armored soldiers.

"What do you think they're doing?" Karen asked as she watched the procession vanish into the darkness.

"Cleaning it all up," Tatsuna replied energetically. "About time someone did," she added with firm resolve.

Karen frowned as she considered her words. "Do you really think Jinsei is the one to do it?"

"Who cares?" Alan said. "C'mon runt. We've got better things to do."

"Alan's right," Crayse said, rubbing his hands with enthusiasm. "The night is still young. And don't worry, Karen," he said, looking back into the zone. "I'm sure they're doing the right thing."

Fuse knew his orders. For the past month he and his squad had been practicing in simulators back in Japan. They had long ago been trained in urban combat, had honed their skills in mockups of zone terrain, had practiced against a dazzling variety of unlikely opponents, ranging from hordes of cybernetic gangers to stone-throwing vagabonds, and they were finally here.

Decked out in his protect gear, he felt almost invincible. Despite its heavy, anachronistic appearance, it was made of ultra-strong, lightweight materials. He trusted the armor to absorb shots from all manner of small arms fire, even up to the power of the light machine-gun he carried. His backpack however was heavy; it contained a generous supply of ammunition, equipment and backup weapons to keep him and his squad active no matter what.

With his faceplate's optics engaged, Fuse could see the surrounding terrain as clearly as day. The club across from the entrance was the only intact building nearby, with others in sight in various states of disrepair. However, as this was the "entrance" to the zone, it was rather more "presentable" than much of the terrain he had studied in training. The streets were clear and, while cracked and rough, still fairly level and passable. All the better for Jinsei's plans, after all.

He nodded to his three squad members, and strode purposefully towards the Edge of night, his soldiers falling in formation behind him. As he approached he saw the security men by the entrance straighten up. In this rain, they were sheltering under the overhanging roof. He could see their fear, tell they were shaking in terror as he approached. One reached slowly down for a gun at his belt. Fuse immediately raised his machine-gun, and the man jerked his hand away. They cringed back against the door, seemingly unable to run or even scream. Fuse simply stepped up to them and said "Move aside." They parted immediately, granting him entrance. He nodded to one of his soldiers who stepped back to cover the two guards; the others followed him inside.

As soon as he entered, silence washed over the edge of night. All conversation immediately stopped; the band in the corner trailed off in amazement and barmen ceased in dumbfounded surprise at the three soldiers in the doorway. Fuse looked over the patrons. To a man, they looked like city folk, many inexpertly dressed as zone dwellers. Though he had never been here before, Fuse knew more through his training and study of the zone and its inhabitants than these people who lived next to it did. He raised his machine-gun across his body, causing a gasp of fear to spread throughout the crowd as they immediately surged away from him.

"Jinsei controls this area," Fuse stated in a loud, clear voice. "Move to the back of the club and remain quiet."

Many of the patrons edged away from him and started for the back of the club. The bartender ushered his staff out from behind the bar, sparing him a filthy look. Fuse's eyes caught on one man amongst the crowd who looked somehow rougher, more weathered than the rest. He suspected the man to be a local instead of a city patron, but almost immediately he was distracted. An overweight, balding man pushed through the crowd towards him.

"Let me go!" he commanded in a firm voice as he stepped up to Fuse. "I'm not like these riffraff. I'm from the city," he said, straightening his jacket and fixing the armor's goggles with a steely gaze.

"Move to the back of the club and remain quiet," Fuse repeated, looking straight at him.

The man stepped back, trying to hide his fear. "N-now, let's be reasonable about this," he said. He yanked his wallet from his pocket and proffered it to Fuse. "I'm a wealthy man. If you let me go back to my-"

"No-one enters or leaves the zero zone," Fuse stated loudly. A murmur spread throughout the crowd, and the man stood away from him. "From now on, Jinsei controls all entrances and exits to the zone."

The overweight man stumbled back, falling on his backside as he gaped in terror. Behind him, Fuse spotted the same rough-looking man from before as he surged through the crowd. "Fuck this!" he yelled, drawing a pistol from his jacket and firing. The rounds bounced off Fuse's armor without leaving so much as a scratch. He lowered his machine-gun and opened fire. The rounds tore through his body, accompanied by yells of pain and panic throughout the crowd.

Fuse watched impassively as the man's shredded body dropped to the floor. His two soldiers raised their rifles, quickly bringing the crowd under control. Outside, he could hear the distinctive sound of mechanical footsteps. By their plans, that would be the hunter-killer boomers being deployed on their mission. "Jinsei controls this area," Fuse stated again in a loud and clear voice. "No-one enters or leaves the zone."

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