Authors: Nick Kelly
When he was living on the streets as a teenager, he’d never found a place he could call home. Once he was dumped in St. Patrick’s, it became his shelter and center of care for years, but it was a home, which had been forced upon him. Even the loft he occupied now was more functional than personal. If Cat knew anything he’d call home, it was here, the pure adrenaline and addictive feeling of absolute peace.
His comm sounded demanding his attention and shattering his tenuous peace.
“How’s it feel to be one of the city’s leading, uncredited civil servants, m’man?” Will’s voice bit through the comm so strongly Cat could practically taste the black coffee and smell the formalin.
“Other than that part where I don’t get paid, it ain’t bad. What’s the good word from the morgue?”
“Pick a number.”
“You bein’ all mysterious fer a reason, Will?”
“Pick a number.”
“What are you askin’, Will?”
“Ok, Cat, the number of missing kids cases you just solved by runnin’ old pegleg into an airline hangar.”
Cat questioned himself. He’d issued the inspection on Hitch’s account to find one particular supplier. He wasn’t thinking about the total number of interactions the pederast had in a week, or a month, or ever. He had no idea how deep or for how long Hitch had been preying upon children in Nitro City, protected under the watchful, golden gaze of his recently beheaded master.
“Shockit, Will, I dunno. Ten?” He asked.
“Eighteen and countin’, cleaner.”
The number caught Cat off guard. If he’d still been able to consider hope an asset he could muster at Will, that number would have surpassed his optimism. He wouldn’t have imagined closing six cases. Closing eighteen brought a bittersweet image of murdered children. At least this might bring closure to their concerned parents. To hope for a higher count was to extend optimism and misery equally. Cat fell mute while he digested the situation.
Will brought him back to the present by clearing his throat loudly. “So, before you getting’ all guilty or heroic, dependin’ on your mood, let me drop the following on you.”
“So much for my award ceremony.”
“You weren’t celebrating, Cat, you were killing yourself. You haven’t seen a silver lining in your entire life.”
“Back on topic, Will. Before I make it personal and add a few more blowholes to your skull.”
Cat’s slight insult succeeded in anchoring the mortician to the matter at hand. “Here’s the story in a nutshell, Cat. There were 24 total transactions recorded by my network from Hitch to the same account. So far, eighteen have matched up within 24 hours of a missing child report through the NCPD. You want to wait for the results on the last six, you can, but I think you’re just as willing to play the numbers as I am.”
Cat nearly broiled on the newfound information. “What can you tell me on the destination accounts?”
“What are you sayin’?”
“The first pass indicates the other six payments were all to the same account.”
Cat hissed between his teeth. “Can you get me info on that account?”
“Not without a deposit.”
Cat nearly choked on the sudden collar back to business-as-usual that Will implied. If the mortician and his network knew anything else, they expected payment, big payment, for the delivery of that information. He nodded to himself, upping the ante’ again as he spoke.
“Confirm the last six transactions for me to that destination account. Then, block all transactions from that account to anything from Hitch’s last known digits, and those from Midas. If I can cut this maniac off from getting’ into ol’ golden’ boy’s dollar bills, it might be enough ta draw him out. God knows there are enough other sources goin’ after Midas’ coffers.”
Cat could practically hear Will smile across the comm. “Bill you the usual?”
“Yeah, the usual.”
The comm went dead, and Cat allowed himself a slight smile. The person in charge of killing Midas might not have the courage to challenge him face-to-face, but he would at least send his latest and greatest MetaHuman. That would mean a chance at redemption, and one more slap in the face of his adversary. It may also mean another excursion to the brink of death, and most likely one that wouldn’t pay him a dime. He was going to need to raise some funds and to do so quickly if he was going to keep the trail as hot as Will’s network had made it.
Cat pulled up the positioning interface and programmed a route to the next exit from the freeway. He’d need to check his motorcycle, armor and weapons. Things were about to ramp up, exactly as he wanted.
4 June 2022
‘I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if anyone adds to them, may God add to him the plagues which are written in this book.
‘If anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, may God take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book.
‘He who testifies these things says, "Yes, I come quickly." Amen! Yes, come, Lord Jesus.
‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with all the saints. Amen.’
Sister Mary Cassandra turns to her class, finding the universal response of disinterest. “Questions, class?”
No hands are raised, only eyes to the clock. “Angie, can you tell the class the fate of the false prophet?”
The blonde responds with a practice of feigned innocence. “Umm, I’m sorry, Mother, I left my notes in my room.”
The nun shakes her head in disapproval. “Do you at least remember how many horsemen there were?”
“Yes, dear. Though I imagine you’d be hard pressed to name them.”
Angie’s eyes drop to her desk with the admonishing statement. Sister Cassandra moves across the orphans before speaking, “How about you, Leon?”
The dark-haired, wheelchair-bound orphan never even faces the orphanage matriarch. His eyes stare out across the rain, through the courtyard outside. “Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death, in no particular order.”
His last comment gets a chuckle from his classmates. The nun manages to smile slightly. “Correct. And since the group has provided such disinterest in what may very well mean the end of all mankind, there will be an essay assignment.”
The class groans as one as she turns and begins to write on the board. The children aren’t interested in the potential entities that may descend from the heavens and destroy all humanity. They’re interested in the weather outside, and when a hopeful set of parents might come for them. Instead, they get a writing assignment.
Leon is no different. His thoughts are far away from the classroom, back to the computer. He’s long since killed any hopes of being adopted. He simply wants to load up the motorcycle simulator again and fall in love with the feeling of riding fast and hard on the open road.
The chime of the comm was alien and unfamiliar, a piercing siren’s scream that flashed a white light inside of his eyes to nearly drive Cat off of the road. He gripped the handlebars tighter than he’d intended, leaning in counter-position to the sudden turn in the freeway. With the motorcycle nearly parallel to the asphalt, he managed to regain control, even as sparks from the pegs, and the exterior of his armored kneecap, erupted behind him. Within seconds he was upright. It took several more for him to exhale.
By the time he realized he was holding his breath, Cat had slowed from his pace of 180 kmph to under 80. After another few rings, and a number of profanities, Cat answered the comm.
“We have a situation.” Delambre’s voice was curt.
“You’re late for your cycle?”
The geneticist brushed aside Cat’s sarcasm with practiced efficiency. “There is a MetaHuman on the loose, melting tourists and local security forces from the inside out.”
“Where?” He asked.
“Slightly south of San Fernando. I shall forward coordinates.”
The news was a curse, save for the location. San Fernando was north of Downtown, between Cat and the congestion of the city. He might even beat the media to the scene. “How long till CS is engaged?”
“Not long. I’m guessing with their collective hard-on following the last incident, you’ve got under ten minutes.”
The sparks erupted once again as Cat slammed the H-S into a power slide, changing direction. He opened the throttle, pressed his chest against the tank and exhaled. When he found a familiar stretch of straightaway, he switched on the Nitrous to increase his pace. Every second meant the possibility of being the first on the scene. That meant exposure to the media, and more importantly, answers. If this incident was related at all to the oversized Meta he’d seen on the slab at Will’s morgue, he needed every millisecond of advantage.
Catwalk raced to the heart of danger, shrugging off his own safety in the name of fortune and closure.
“I trust that brief static was an indication you’re on your way, then?”
“Don’t get yer hopes up, D, I didn’t scrape my entire leg off changin’ directions.”
“From what I’ve seen from the pirated feeds, I’d worry more about the human portions of your anatomy than the technological additions.”
“You holdin’ out, Delambre?”
“I told you what I know, Catwalk. From the feeds, and they’re not the best I’ve seen, this MH appears to be fond of barbecuing civilians while they’re still alive. It’s rather reminiscent of tossing a live lobster into a pot of boiling water.”
“Whoa, you’ve seen lobsters? You
“With age comes wisdom. Try to learn enough to keep your heart from erupting out of your chest. My expertise is in cybernetic organ adaptation, not organic organ replacement.”
Cat couldn’t help but grin under his helmet. “Alright, so how many pieces can I be in for you to slap me back together?”
“Keep your vital organs intact, and I should be able to handle the rest.” Delambre paused a moment then added smugly, “though, if this particular Meta has a setting for neutering sociopath hit men with overactive sex drives, I may switch affiliations.”
Cat laughed loudly at the older man’s tongue-in-cheek warning regarding his daughter. “Really, D, I’m shocked. I’m not a sociopath. I’ve got people skills.”
“Stay alive long enough to pay me, Catwalk. I’m certain I’ll see your efforts on the news soon enough.”
“Yeah, ‘don’t touch that dial’.”
The comm went silent. Cat was tightrope walking between a scientific genius and a protective father. When he got back, he’d have to talk to Delambre about giving his daughter a professional moniker. Using her real name was a grave mistake, the kind that usually resulted in an actual grave.
Cat slid the Honda-Suzuki around other vehicles, drifting by some, drafting by others. He counted the exits and the km markers, while savoring the adrenaline of the ride. The comm rang, and he debated answering it. Figuring Delambre had an update, he tapped the communication channel to life. “What’s the latest on our bad guy, doc?”
“Uh…I..I…is this Catwalk?”
The voice on the other end was less technical and far less masculine than his business partner. Cat tried to reposition himself in the conversation without changing his position on the bike. “Yeah, yeah, this is me. Catwalk. Who’s this?”
“It’s…It’s Delilah. Is this a bad time?”
“No, no,” Cat replied before he considered the correct response, “We’re good. I mean, I’m good. I didn’t expect you to call.”
“You told me to call.”
“Yeah, right, yes, I did. How can I assist you?” Cat voice hitched with an unexpected key change as he forced the bike between two delivery trucks.
“Are you sure this is a good time?” She asked.
“Hell, yeah. Never better.”
Delilah paused for a few seconds. Cat wondered if he hadn’t convinced her through his banter that he was getting a lap dance, tied up in an S&M club, or torturing some innocent soul in a crawl space. “I’d like to see you, Mr. Catwalk, about, well, about a few things. Can I ask you to meet with me tomorrow night?”
Cat considered pinching himself, but doing so would result in wrecking his trusted, expensive motorcycle. “You can ask, an’ I’ll be there. Shoot me the time an’ place, an’ I’ll be there ta answer anything you wanna ask.”
“Anything,” Cat replied, feeling a grin cross the comm.
“Hmm, how intriguing. I look forward to our next meeting. Au revoir, Catwalk.”
Cat never returned the farewell wishes. He darted to the emergency lane and back instead, narrowly missing an oversized family van and a construction barrel. He centered once he found the fast lane and engaged the Nitrous again. Delilah had called him, while he’d been fidgeting with pimps, gangers and MetaHuman threats. At least now he had a real focus on surviving the fight with the mysterious enemy Delambre had described. Cat tried to force logic into his encounters and eventually shrugged it off. First things first.
The cleaner concentrated on his next threat. Hell, heaven, and even the arms of a beautiful redhead had to wait. This headline stealing thing had to be returned to its maker before he would gain a shot at rest, and maybe a payday.
He caught a glimpse of the scene mere moments after he’d split the route between San Fernando and Mission Hills. After the first visual, he needed no further clarification. Smoke obscured the stars, moon and neon of the night sky. When the acrid smell of burning flesh reached his filters, it was more than he needed to verify the situation. Delambre was right, as usual. Someone, human or otherwise, was burning people alive.
There was notoriety and, more importantly, information at stake if Cat could bring in the perpetrator before some Corporate Security force did the same, backed by a staff of professional public relations. In the grand scheme, he was a one-man show trying to outpace a well-organized and overly paid task force of goons intent on the same goal.
San Fernando hadn’t embraced architectural development with the hunger of Nitro City. Instead, the citizens unleashed a huge backlash at the thought of destroying historical buildings to advance industry and high tech. The city, which was home to the original San Fernando Mission, as well as Los Encinos Rancho, the Andre Picos Adobe and Bolton Hall, had far more indispensable history to defend than its celebrity-obsessed sister city.