Authors: Nick Kelly
As he backed up, the attacker entered the screen, her figure obviously female, and (just ask Midas) homicidal. With several slow clicks, her aerial form filled the view, growing closer. The video feed paused. Cat stared at an outlined and detailed shot of her face.
Staring back at him from the screen was an artificial image of Delambre’s daughter.
Cat had kicked through two doors, unhinging one of them completely. He pounded on the third, demanding some answers from Angela but receiving nothing. He pushed back from the door far enough to line up a sidekick. The door crashed open from the force of his cybernetic leg. His blood was boiling at his new endangerment and the result of the recent discovery. Angela wasn’t a masochist and had stashed herself away far too well to be the real assassin on the case. Instead, she was ripped apart from within that the murderer wore her face. She simply wasn’t prepared to discuss that fact with a violent and self-important business partner on the outskirts of the law.
Cat’s calls for her had gone unheard or ignored. His best guess was that Delambre’s quiet daughter had ducked out of another exit and was long gone. If she had anything to contribute to the fact that her look-a-like had murdered Midas and nearly added Catwalk as a side dish, she wasn’t prepared to volunteer that information. Deciding against chasing her or searching her private quarters, Cat instead clicked on Delambre’s ID on his comm, summoning the medtech.
“Please tell me this is urgent, and you’re missing at least two limbs, Catwalk.”
“No such luck, D. Close, though. You seen my upload that yer daughter scoped out yet?”
Delambre’s voice changed so suddenly the comm might have developed whiplash. “Where are you?”
“Relax, doc, your daughter ran outta here after tossin’ me the remote. I’m guessin’ she’s not very cool with somethin’ she saw on the feed.”
“What are you talking about?”
Cat paused a moment for effect, long enough to draw in a breath and resist the temptation to verbally badger his new partner. “Get yer ass down here to yer own lab, an’ let’s talk.”
Delambre was silent.
“An’ pick up a bottle a’ better booze. Yer cheap whiskey is like formaldehyde with food coloring.” Cat clicked the comm dead, picturing Delambre’s mind jump-starting into high gear. He wanted answers and forcing the medic to switch from scientific genius to concerned father provided him with a better angle for an interrogation. He tossed the comm into the air, at first willing to let it drop, but before it was past his face, he swung a roundhouse kick, shattering the small device into pieces. He caught himself gritting his teeth as he stared at the broken device.
Cat blew out the air in his lungs as if it was responsible for the frustration and hatred he bottled up inside. As he released the tension, clarity returned. Delambre’s daughter couldn’t be the winged assassin, and if she was, why would she reveal that to him? That was either stupidity or a challenge, and Cat had no reason to believe the prim and proper technician would suddenly take flight and behead crime lords.
He pressed his fingers against his temples, going over what else had changed. He had hired Delambre, and apparently Angela, worked out the kinks in his new armor, had a run-in with the fake Sirens, and what else? There was that little matter of killing Hitch. Offing Hitch had caused a reaction in Midas, but it also had to be related to whoever killed the golden-skinned pimp. So, what was the connection?
Cat tapped into his cop days and began drawing up motive scenarios. Midas kept Hitch around as an example, but didn’t approve or finance the sidekick’s underage habit. Cat had learned that from the source who sent him the recording. Hitch was paying for innocent flesh on the side, and when those payments dried up, his source went right after Midas. It was a desperate move, the kind committed by panicked amateurs or raving lunatics. Of course, Hitch was both.
Cat knew insanity like a boyhood chum. He’d fought it at arms’ length since his surgery, countered it with booze, chemicals and violence during his police years, and distanced himself from it since going freelance. In the end, it would find him, but for now, he maintained control and separation. Still, the signs were as legible as the neon advertisements that graced Nitro City’s skyline.
He picked up the desk line and dialed a number from memory.
“Will’s Meats, you can beat our prices but you can’t beat our…”
“Will, I need a favor,” he said calmly. “Get yer boys, an’ do a search on the followin’ account.” Without another word, he uploaded Hitch’s account number. He’d followed it secretly for so long he could recite it in his sleep. “If you see any trends, lemme know…an’ if you see anythin’ more than four times, poison it.”
Will’s chuckle on the other end was an acceptance and an invoice all wrapped into one. Cat didn’t have the disposable income to pay the coroner’s highly talented phreaks. Then again, tearing at the foundation of the pederast’s trustees was enough to make him take up a few extracurricular jobs to pay for their services. He shook his head in an effort to focus again, and to break from the tempting picture of tracking and disemboweling Hitch’s business partners. Instead, Cat slipped from the precipice of reason, if only for the slightest moment, as the past, present and projected future overcame him.
10 May 2022
The dark-haired girl who enters his plain room is a bundle of cheerfulness. Her smile is wide, and there is a bounce to her step despite her simple shoes in the dusty doorway. She holds a metal tray in her hands. Each compartment bares a serving of something claiming to resemble an edible material, smoked or steamed. Leon looks up from the rainbow of synthetic chow and catches the girl’s eyes. She is Asian, with straight, eclipse-black hair that touches her collar. Her eyes are bright, matching her smile.
“Morning, rookie. Here’s breakfast!”
Leon sits up, feeling the muscle soreness and a resistance he’d never been accustomed to. It’s as if his legs had been replaced by those of a statue, cold, stone limbs as dead as his ancestors. The wave of reality rises above him, crashing down with more than enough gravity to crush his hope. He hadn’t dreamed of his accident at all. The Security Force Hovertank really had flown so closely overhead that he’d felt the heat. He really had ducked under the overturned car. The stone building that had once been Tank’s Armory really was destroyed in the crossfire.
His legs were crushed and mangled as a result of some rich stranger needing his own emergency rescue. He went through the hours and hours of surgery. He watched the doctors banter about his future. With no money, cybernetics are not an option. Human organ replacement, natural or synthetic, is expensive. It requires wealth, money he’s never had. He has been fixed up, healed to the minimum requirements set forth by the government. He has been wheeled into St. Patrick’s Orphanage. The drugs and disorientation have expired.
He is a paraplegic, with a pair of useless extremities currently buried beneath a neatly quilted blanket. His response is torn between two combating forces inside his head. One voice wants to reach to the dark-haired angel, beg her to hold him and allow him to show his vulnerability and grief at suddenly realizing what he’s become. That voice, the passive one, loses out. Instead, the aggressor takes hold. Anger at the world, hatred of his physical condition and venom at having no one else to blame combines, reaching his lips in the most chaotic and violent manner he can gather.
Leon isn’t even certain of the words he screams. He doesn’t know the exact vocabulary he spits at the girl. By the third or fourth sentence, he is short of breath, coughing and struggling for air. He collapses backward, the victim of his own hatred. He struggles to draw oxygen back into his lungs.
With an unchanged smile, the girl approaches, reaching Leon’s gaze, blurred through the tears he is unaware he’s shed. She touches his cheek softly, her hand warm and soft. “It’s okay, rookie. I understand.”
Leon’s field of vision decreases, disappearing entirely. The last thing he remembers is the warm touch on his cheek, and the feeling that hope is not entirely gone after all.
“Alright, Catwalk, let’s have it. What’s the sudden shocking development?”
Delambre’s frozen words sliced through the solace of Cat’s inviting memory. The combination of exhaustion and cheap liquor had steered him directly to his first encounter with Mi-Young, just another instance where he wished he’d behaved differently. Time was up on remorse. Now came the time for a much more direct type of interaction.
Cat didn’t even open his cybernetic eyes. “What did you bring me?”
“I didn’t. Sobriety should be a welcome change for you.”
“That would mark the third time this week you said that, Catwalk. Now, let’s get to business.” Delambre spoke with an edge, a clear ‘tell’ that his concern for his daughter overcame the more objective path of scientific reasoning.
Cat smiled. That was exactly his goal. With an exaggerated motion, he clicked the digital feed onto the screen.
The image was a still shot, pristine and perfect. The face in the screen was a light-skinned African-American woman with high cheekbones and slightly pursed lips. Her black hair framed her face with ideal symmetry, drawing out the best of her features. Her eyes would have been normal if not for the slight glow to her blood-red iris. The face was a very similar, yet obviously imperfect, portrait of Angela.
There was an audible ‘clunk’ as Delambre dropped the bottle in his hand. Protected by the store’s budget paper sack, the bottle survived the fall and rolled in Cat’s direction. With a smirk, the hitman leaned down and lifted it, removing the paper. His face widened in a sudden, overstated gratitude. “Blevins’ Blend…12 years….this musta’ cost you.”
Delambre didn’t answer. For all Cat knew, the medtech was no longer aware he was even in the room. He’d expected as much. If his newfound partner was faking, he’d know exactly how to act. Instead, the concerned father was magnifying every pixel on the screen. The hitman released the hammer on the pistol he held in his right hand under a synthetic goose-down pillow, holstering it again.
Cat stared a few extra moments before stretching and flipping backward out of the comfortable chair. His gaze returned instantly to Delambre. “I’m gonna get a glass before I explain what it is yer seein’.”
The geneticist turned his gaze, meeting Catwalk’s artificial eyes. The pale light from the screen made him appear older and more fragile than any other time Cat had seen him, exaggerating every wrinkle and crease in the process.
Delambre’s voiced cracked slightly when he spoke. “Better make that two.”
The bottle was drained past the name on the label by the time Delambre gathered the strength to explain. “Have you ever witnessed a person driven past reasoning and moral comprehension? Someone driven to the point where all they comprehend is madness?”
His eyes weren’t on Catwalk at all. Instead, he stared at the inhuman image burning in the monitor.
Cat chuckled into his glass, wondering if Delambre had completely forgotten his background. Before his freelance work, Cat was a detective in the DCPD, on the unit responsible for putting down any being who became so obsessed with cybernetics that it effectively burned out empathic reasoning. He had spent nearly half a decade retiring formerly human individuals or robotic creations gone wrong. He was accustomed to the exact type of threat Delambre referenced. It was his bread-and-butter before his contract expired, and he headed west.
Some might say he’d become one himself. They were wrong…so far. “Try me,” he replied.
“I’ve had many colleagues in the field of bio-genetics and MetaHuman development in my time, Catwalk. There have been dozens, hundreds, who have attended my classes and lectures or have worked by my side in developing cybernetic enhancements. I’ve mentored students who displayed every level of aptitude. I’ve shared offices with professors willing to offer their own opinion, distant or devoted. I’ve resided over test subjects, prognosticators, even those outside of the education field who have felt they had greater expertise on a subject. In truth, MetaHumans remain a recently developed and somewhat undecipherable field of research. They, you, are a young science.”
Delambre continued, entranced in his own words, without the need for recognition or acknowledgement. “I was younger then, just graying at my temples when my path crossed with a man who, at the time, I considered a visionary. That is not to say he saw the empowerment of mankind, the expansion of technology as the means to the greater good. Instead, he wove two very separate theologies to work for his own intent. MetaHumans exist outside of the realm of traditional human beliefs, wouldn’t you agree? Men combined with machine have no place in the doctrine of our past generations?”
“Meta’s are uncharted waters when it comes ta prophecy, I’ll give ya that.” Cat tipped his glass in agreement. Religion meant as much to him as fanaticism. In his experience, they were often one in the same.
“Suppose then that the very inhuman creations borne of our testing and experimentation became the deliverers of religious penance.”
“Um...sorry, D, ya lost me.” Cat slugged the rest of the Scotch, eyeing the bottle for a refill.
For the first time, Delambre leveled his gaze to the artificial eyes of the hitman. “Suppose that form you’d just escaped was designed by her maker to serve a single purpose. A single role defines her creation.”
Cat blinked again. The pale light from the vid feed enhanced every crease of age and worry on Delambre’s face as he stared down his partner.
“Imagine you just escaped the Angel of Death.”
Cat escaped the congestion of Downtown and headed northwest on I5 under the welcome acceptance of moonlight. Meditation was one way he fought off the chaotic and violent tendencies, which resulted from his cybersurgery. The other was to find open road. The feel of the engine beneath him and the twist of his wrist brought him a sense of peace. Instead of a microscopic introspection, riding provided a greater focus on everything around him. It was as if he could drink in every detail, in light or darkness, while every other being on the planet moved in slow motion.