When we got within a block of the slums, Sumerset pulled into a parking lot and started setting up his gear.
The Tank had tinted windows, which made it hard to see what was going on inside. It was a good thing too, because within a few minutes, Sumerset had two laptop monitors set up on the dashboard and passenger seat.
I crawled into the backseat, shifting and putting on the rest of the gear. The 'splat-gun' snapped into place along my forearm; the helmet snapped on with a click.
"You know," I said, "the whole 'no-neck-turning' thing might be a problem in the immediate future."
"More of a problem than the whole 'getting your throat slit' thing?"
He tested the radio, setting the frequency. Showed me how to send a signal to him--then gave me a crash course in radio jargon.
"Kinda goes without saying, but never say anyone's name. Call me big bird and I'll call you starling."
"Seriously? You had all day and that's the best callsign you can think of?"
"Keep complaining and I'll change your callsign to 'Scrappy-Do'. Also, Sharkface is 'the worm'."
"Tom Clancy called. He wants his dumb-ass military jargon back."
Sumerset glared, but didn't follow up. We tested a few more things. Once he was satisfied, he told me to do a quick thermal sweep of the parking lot--a button on the side of the helmet switched the view over--and when we were sure there was no one watching, I opened the door and slipped out into the night.
Walking out on the street in full battle regelia seemed like a silly idea, but neither of us could think of a better solution--the equipment I'd need to make a more subtle entrance required too much time and training to bring to bear. For about three minutes, I'd be visible--with Sumerset listening to the police scanners. If so much as a squeak about a cape on the streets came up, I'd pull back to the Tank and we'd high-tail it out of there. Otherwise, the mission was simple: Get into the slum. Get back the screecher. Beat the snot out of anyone who tried to stop me. Run and call the police, letting them mop up whatever was left.
The armor didn't clank, thankfully--it hardly made a sound at all. But somehow, it still felt loud--it was hard to make my movements subtle and quick. I felt like a block of metal lumbering my way down the street. A few people caught sight of me, but didn't pay much attention--from a distance, I looked big and weird. Most people around here would just mind their own business.
The slum was a four story apartment complex that had been left behind by a community strangled by drugs and crime. Graffiti was slathered over the walls in layers thicker than paint; refuse littered the outer stairs. The door had been smashed open long ago by a police raid.
I finished the job with my foot. Just to get a feel for the suit. The door promptly buckled inward, slamming to the ground.
"Try to be a little more subtle," Sumerset said, his voice humming in my helmet.
"Right," I replied. Even when I whispered, the helmet picked up the sound and turned it into a mechanical purr.
I started heading up the stairs, fiddling with the thermal scanner again. As I was rising up to the top, I started to get a reading--a big red blotch just over the ridge. Hunkering low, I stepped forward and peered into the darkness.
Sharkface was waiting for me, wearing huge headphones and standing behind a pair of enormous loudspeakers. Both of them were turned to face the stairs--aimed straight at me. A length of wire connected both amps to a small black object in his hand. It took me a moment to realize what it was.
"Oh Christ," Sumerset said.
"Let's turn this shit up to eleven," Sharkface said, and then he hit play.