“‘The fuck do I need that for?” That, was a pump action shotgun with a bandolier for shells. The armourer and two assistants were handing them out willy nilly to the cluster of uniformed personnel. Diarmuid O’Sullivan stared at it, distinctly unimpressed. “We’re not the bloody army Vito”. Most of them were in camouflaged fatigues even if none of them were soldiers. They’d been dragged off other duties and pressganged into riot suppression, they wanted every last body they could find. Diarmuid found it ridiculous. He worked the street, he wasn’t a soldier. Ballistic vests and helmets with riot faceshields weren’t his everyday garb. “No but they are” was the retort, Vito gesturing with his arm, “Do your job O’Sullivan”. Diarmuid muttered something under his breath but took it all the same. His gaze went left to where Vito had gestured. A line of APCs were there, soldiers lounging around near them, a hundred or more. “Christ” he said, moving to his own people. A small intersection at the edge of a shanty town was about to become a warzone. They were gearing up calmly and methodical, the result of lots of practice. There was a bustle of conversation and activity, as if this was nothing out of the ordinary. “Well the Lord bless us and save us, is it yourself is it?” came a theatrical voice. Diarmuid’s eyes rolled, the thick Oirish was enough to make his ears bleed “You can fuck off to Iveragh with that McCarthy, save the blarney for the wans en route”. McCarthy just shrugged “Christ you Nordies are dry shites”. He sobered up fast looking at the shotgun. “That bad? I thought we were policing a riot, not storming the fuckin’ Bastille” he said while looking around, “Ye getting ready for the Dusters?” “Unless they decided to move back to Earth and live on Basic, then no. Just keep your eyes out for the locals.” The only ones in blue uniforms were the local cops, an outnumbered and lonely group clustered near the VTOL landing zone. Chainsmoking and shooting nervous glances between the federal cops and each other. “Wouldn’t want to be them after today” McCarthy mused. Some had come off Basic and lived in the very slums they were now dealing with. It wasn’t much of a life when you had to wear a wrongly sized uniform with bloodstains from the previous owner. A lot moved to barracks blocks for safety, choosing that over a knife in the dark at home. Most of them were dirty and on the take but they kept the peace somewhat. ‘Locals’, ‘Indigs’ were common enough nicknames for them if the speaker was feeling polite. Most of the shanty towns in the sector had been bulldozed, those in Blue Zones generally didn’t appreciate their views being marred by those on the lower rungs of society. It was a familiar pattern. They’d tear down the township here, there’d be riots, violence, then they’d set up shop somewhere else and six months later down the line that’d be bulldozed too. Most of the trouble came in the summer months, just in time for the rookies and recruits from the academies to be shoved right in the firing line, cracking skulls and taking names. Everything would simmer down until tensions slowly started to boil again, repeating the whole cycle all over again. “It’s going to be a bad one Diarmuid” McCarthy said, his gaze turning skyward. A police pattern VTOL was droning slowly overhead, sharpshooters sitting by the open side hatches. “You’re telling me, our support is the bloody army. What are they here for?” McCarthy scratched the back of his head, “We need anyone we can get. You rather it was just our company and the local lads? This isn’t the only march happening across the city. Be grateful we have them.” Diarmuid didn’t dignify it with a response. He put his helmet on, massaging a twinge in his shoulder. A whistle sounded and heads went up all round. De Courcey was jogging past the the CP, his arms flailing. “Form a line! The bastards are coming!” Rotors whined as another VTOL came into view. Another sound was becoming audible, the tramp of hundreds of feet, thousands. The rumble of a crowd. “I fuckin’ hate Katowice”. There were two single lines of police strung across the street, the APCs and soldiers waiting in reserve at the intersection. The VTOLs circled menacingly overhead, marksmen staring impassively at the crowd. Diarmuid’s hands tightened on the shotgun. There were just so many. Shouts and chants, Polish, Czech, German, it didn’t matter the language. With that many it became a roar. One of the locals took a last drag of his fag before snubbing it out under his boot. A fly buzzed near Diarmuid and he swatted at it. The chanting was growing louder as the crowd drew nearer, rising in pitch and intensity. It brought up primal feelings inside him. Ancestral memories of war drums and tribal raids. De Courcey was standing on the bonnet of one of the armoured cruisers, his chin mike connected to the external speakers. Even still, he didn’t bother trying to fight the crowd’s roar. Might as well push back the tide. It was primeval, terrifying. There was barely restrained violence there, a whole mass of humanity ready to charge forward and overwhelm the thin lines of “Faceshields down lads”. It was a sergeant from second platoon who’d spoken. Andress, Swiss, a twenty year veteran. Good woman to have in a scrap. Married with two kids. Her gaze didn’t leave the crowd for a second. Diarmuid tugged his down, his shoulders hunching defensively. The crowd were stamping their feet, chanting in response to the call of their leaders. He didn’t understand it but it had the locals itchy. “Don’t fucking take another step back” he heard himself say, stopping the man on his right from scooting back more. You didn’t need to speak the language to be nervous. The power of it was incredible. Then, silence. Diarmuid nearly cried aloud in relief. A murderous silence. De Courcey took advantage of it, his voice amplified. “You are gathered here illegally. Further continuation along this road is forbidden. I hereby order you to disintegrate and disperse”. A loud murmuring following his words. “Heads!” Diarmuid was barely aware of saying it. Stones came vaulting out of the crowd, smashing near the cruiser. Andress swore, “Get the fuckers!”. Four burly officers went forward with shock batons to snatch a couple, a half dozen others fanning out with levelled weapons to disencourage any protest. Most of the stone throwers were lucky or smart enough to melt back into the crowd. One wasn’t so lucky. He was dragged out and beaten to within an inch of his life, the crowd snarling as they watched. The stonethrower’s head was limp when he was dragged past Diarmuid, blood streaming from his face. De Courcey took the chance to repeat his warning. He turned to say something to an officer near him. His arms gestured and two soldiers hurried forward from the intersection. A muffled crump sounded, canisters vaulting high and landing into the crowd. They began to spew white noxious smoke, the crowd moving to try and escape it, coughing and spluttering. “Front rank kneel! Respirators”. Diarmuid dropped to his knees with the others, taking off his helmet. He slotted on the respirator in a matter of seconds before replacing his helmet and rising. The locals were watching with a mixture of envy and resentment. They’d bandanas and shemaghs, a poor substitute. Not everyone scattered from the gas. A protester held a rag to her face, trying to scoop up a spewing canister. It burnt her hand even through the sleeve but she managed to lob it forward. “Coming back!” Heads went up at the warning cry, a smoking canister landing in the midst. Those without respirators coughed and wheezed, cops kicking the canister back towards the crowd. “I repeat” De Courcey was doggedly continuing on “You are to leave this place immediately”. More stones were coming from the crowd, Diarmuid flinching as some landed near him. “Fuckers” he could hear another cop swear. One of the VTOLs came in low and slow. Diarmuid could see the sharpshooter leaning out, rifle steady. A loud crack sounded as they fired. The crowd seemed to part where someone had been shot. A hush had fallen over them. It lasted only a few seconds before they erupted.