The siren wailed, and the TCTF headquarters mobilized

Two years previously, Jii-yo would probably have smiled at the rising mechanical shriek, glad to be sent out for some exercise. Anarchist rioting on the HV2 highway intersection, or maybe a hopelessly under-equipped heist team trying to rob one of Tokyo's less heavily-guarded banks. The scenarios were familiar, the criminals had some sense of self-preservation and no-one ever got their hands on weaponry with enough punch to penetrate the average tactical vest with one shot. Life had been easy enough, with the field-lieutenant position… the paycheck, doubtless, was fairly meager, but one could live on it.

Yes, two years ago, back with the ASWAT crowd. Electromagnetic stun-shells and riot gear had been the order of the day. Nowadays, one was counted lucky if the bad guys were just packing assault-rifles and no cybernetic enhancement.

Tech Crime was relatively unheard of two years prior, and with it came a very small anti-Tech Crime bureau. Then something happened, some drastic change of agenda in the underworld or something, and all of a sudden the police departments were rushing from one obscure crime scene to another. A cyberneticist kidnapped in London. Biomedical data seized in Munich. A massacre in a particle-physics laboratory in Osaka. It seemed that organized crime had become… well, organized again, under someone who knew exactly what he or she was doing. Obviously, someone had said 'if we get our hands on some useful technologies, we'll have a chance against those cop bastards…'

And so they had. And now they did have a chance, more of a chance, even. Jii-yo was only one of a host of able policemen drawn from dozens of branches to form the basis of the new, extended Tech Crimes bureau. Commanders, field veterans, communications experts, counterintelligence agents… a diverse body of resourceful individuals were needed to even have a chance against the escalating, rapidly-altering threat that was the Syndicate.

Funded, ruthless and entrenched within every major city of the world; the Syndicate was seemingly everywhere at once and as untraceable and anonymous as its name. They had uniforms, armor, guns of every imaginable mechanism and caliber and an information network that the regular police forces could never hope to follow. So the Tech Crimes bureau was reshaped into the Technological Crimes Task Force, and the battle for control began.

The past few weeks in particular had seen monstrous amounts of Syndicate activity. At least a dozen raids on various firms and institutions had occurred, each violent and highly damaging in nature. Gun-battles were almost daily. Casualties had become a given. Once, Jii-yo would have genuinely smiled at the opportunity. Now he simply sighed, pushed the mound of affidavits on his desk aside and reached for the drawer that held his pistol.

But what else could he do? The siren wailed, and the TCTF headquarters mobilized.

--

"Enough frowning, Hiraki… Time for some fun."

Jii-yo gave a condescending snort at the older policeman's words, slanted eyes watching his own stark reflection in the armor-cabinet before him. He rounded out his shoulders absently, forcing the matte-grey flak vest over his torso to sit more comfortably. "This is your idea of fun, then, Captain?"

"Of course it is," The image of another figure appeared beside Jii-yo's reflection in concert with the measured, yet positively-intoned words. Rather taller than his own slight frame, with features as sharp as Jii-yo's, but eerily refined. Raven-black hair that brushed the shoulder-clasps of his armor-vest. Deep-blue eyes that watched Jii-yo with a questioning amusement. A familiar sight for Jii-yo. "What's the point in fighting an enemy that's outgunned and outnumbered against us? The Syndicate has proven to be a challenge ever since we took notice of them."

"Huh," Jii-yo stepped back a pace, the friction-soles of his boots scraping against the armory's floor. He lifted the TCTF-inscribed ballistics helmet in his hands, looking into its mirrored gold visor. A convex, distorted Jii-yo stared back appraisingly. He didn't take his eyes off the visor as he spoke. "Maybe I'd have a chance of arguing against that if you were one of the desk-tied, no-field-experience commander types…"

Clack. A fresh clip of .45 ammunition bolted up into the black-haired man's pistol, his dark-gloved hands cradling the weapon with experienced respect. Turning the weapon in his hands, Jii-yo only guessed that he was checking the safety, before he neatly holstered the bulky handgun. "Yes, but I'm not, am I?"

"Yeah, Captain Faust Reikart, frontline officer, leads by example… I get it already," The glare of the armory's LED lighting softened, as Jii-yo slipped the half-helmet over his head, the halo-like central headpiece pressing some of his hair flat. Most of the hair between his crown and his fringe was allowed to poke through the open top of the helm, letting it sit snow-white and shortly-spiked as it always did Setting his jaw for a moment, he clipped the headgear securely around his chin, and then gave an eyeless, gold-banded glance to his superior. A grin broke across his thin lips. "It still doesn't make enjoying this sort of thing as crazy as hell."

"You'll understand some time, Lieutenant," Faust said with a low, barely audible chuckle. Without taking a helmet for himself, the taller man stepped around the armor cabinet and shouldered his way past a half-dozen other TCTF footmen, his path seeming to center on the far corner of the room. The restricted-access weapons cabinet.

Jii-yo shook his head with a smile that showed refusal to understand, stepping towards the more general-purpose armament-rack to his left. With his shortish build and wearing only scout-class riot gear, he felt rather small as he reached past a pair of fully armoured, lower-ranked troopers and plucked an assault-rifle from the well-stocked rack. When he turned back to head for the door, Faust was already standing waiting for him, the long-barreled body of a Mercury Bow casually shouldered. In his other hand, the captain loosely gripped a silver keycard.

"You see, Hiraki, you don't need to be on the ground floor of a lobby gunfight or crouching behind a bullet-riddled squad car like the grunts," Faust walked alongside Jii-yo to the door, continuing the conversation as if there hadn't been a pause. "You have enough skill to put some fear into the Syndicate shock troops… something they are not used to."

"This isn't war, Captain," Jii-yo murmured, slightly disconcerted by now. He paused, breaking step for a moment to let Faust through the door first. "I just want to stop these guys from taking total control."

"Indeed. You speak like the ideal cop, but then why were you with ASWAT before you were transferred to TCTF?" Faust glanced over his shoulder, raising a raven-black eyebrow. "Face it; ASWAT are the ones who are called in when standard police tactics fail. You were entrusted with the license to kill back then… why not now?"

"This is gonna sound like a major cliché, but I never thought that having impunity to kill was right."

"Even so," Faust shrugged, Kevlar shoulder-pieces rubbing against his armor vest. The two picked up their pace slightly, crossing over a railed walkway that spanned the lobby area of the TCTF headquarters. Three floors below, in the reception zone, a throng of troopers had gathered, as squad leaders coordinated their plans of action. "The Syndicate is merciless. Whenever their Striker-class henchmen are deployed, which is damn near always, there's always a civilian body-count. Sometimes one needs to fight fire with fire."

"Hmph. Maybe," Jii-yo admitted, accepting defeat at his superior's argument. Fingers left exposed by the fingerless gloves of his suit, he was able to press his thumb on the elevator panel's bio-ID scanner and summon it to them.

"Look, when we're deployed at the scene, just follow me," Faust offered, watching the polyglass elevator doors part. Lowering the Mercury Bow to prevent it getting caught in the doorway, he walked in and turned, waiting for Jii-yo. "It'll still be a fight for your life, but it won't feel as pointless as heading in with the main clump of troopers. Fortune favours the brave, after all."

Jii-yo raised his eyebrows acknowledgingly, repeating Faust's words. "Yeah. Fortune favours the brave…"

And Mercy ignores the innocent.