Authors: Nick Kelly
Delilah backed away slowly, as two others circled her. She couldn’t get between them and onto the main road. They would be too quick. The open pavement to her right led to a small, ruined community park. That would only provide more privacy for their attack. To her left, there was an alleyway between the buildings. It was dark, pitch black, except for a flicker of light.
No, not a flicker at all. Delilah’s breath caught as she saw the faint outline of two yellow triangles meet her eyes and then disappear.
She blinked and the vamps picked up on her suddenly focused attention. The blonde turned his gaze to the alley. A brick slammed into his face, shattering his glasses and breaking his nose. He grabbed his face, howling in pain.
The others raged quickly. The one closest to the blonde, a dark-skinned black man, moved to help his fallen leader. The other two, dark-haired and donning the typical leather trench and pants, moved toward the alley. In appearance and action, they could have been clones.
The slight glimmer of metal rolled from the alley, a simple cylinder that looked like a soda can. Three meters past the alley’s edge, it erupted into brilliant white light. Delilah tried to avert her eyes, falling to her hands and knees, facing away from the illumination. Even squeezing her eyes tight, the brilliant light flashed in her brain. She could only imagine its effect on the vampires.
She struggled to make out the shapes. Everything was a blur. Her heart was in her throat. To her right, she saw three figures, heard a scream, and then could find only two. She blinked repeatedly to clear her vision. There was a loud snap and then only a solitary figure remained upright. The other fell, its silhouetted head gone from its body.
The remaining figure leapt in her direction, and she prayed it wasn’t attacking her. She squeezed her eyes tight. Every breath felt like forever. She wanted to scream, but couldn’t. The combination of shock and fear paralyzed her.
She opened her eyes again. The brilliant light was gone. She could make out figures, but her head still shook with fading fireworks. What had happened and was it over?
“This is all your fault, you shocking cunt!”
She swung her attention to her left, getting a foot under her and standing up, disoriented and afraid. Though the stars and flashes still pounded against her skull, she saw the bloodied, angry face of the lead vampire. Fangs bared, he screamed as he approached.
Raising her hands in self-defense, she realized she still had the pepper spray. In a fury, the vampire batted it away. One quick shove and she fell backwards. As she struggled to sit up, the blonde vampire was atop her. He made a sound, half hissing, half growling, his mouth open just a few centimeters away. His face had been punctured by the glasses, the blood filling the creases of his skin.
Suddenly, he was gone. His sound was cut short as he was yanked backward. There was a sickening sound of flesh impacting something solid. It was repeated, with interspersed cries and howls.
Finally, there was silence.
Delilah told herself to breathe. Her chest was tight. She could still smell the foul breath of the vampire on her skin. She had regained her ability to see, but wasn’t certain anymore that she wanted it. Forcing herself to exhale, she turned in the direction of the sounds.
The blonde would-be vampire lay dead in the road, his skull cracked in several places, leaving a mosaic of blood and grey matter to cover his jacket and the pavement. Standing above him was a black and yellow figure. As it turned to face her, she stilled in the glow of its yellow eyes.
These were the eyes of something mechanical and feline all at once. She gulped in the potential fear that she’d just seen the frying pan murdered by the fire. The figure approached, snapping something on its hip loudly.
The figure knelt on one knee so they were face to face. With a flip, the face of the Cat disappeared.
Delilah blinked again, her gaze met by the man who had approached her at the bar, calling himself Catwalk. He smirked slightly. “Bon soir, Madame Dupree.”
Delilah was two cigarettes and a tequila shot in before she remembered to thank him. She was three cigarettes and three shots in before she gathered the courage to start the interrogation. Before that, it was simple, short, nervous sentences about her attackers. She stared at her glass for most of the conversation during the rare moments she opened her eyes.
Cat had witnessed shock countless times before. In the past, he had watched it manifest in the form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, like when one of his fellow officers had to shoot someone, or when answering the occasional domestic dispute that ended in bloody violence. He’d take PTSD over its cybernetic equivalent, Post-Cybernetic Episode Disorder. With the right treatment, a person could be treated for PTSD. PCED was the equivalent of cutting the last chord to humanity and succumbing to the subject’s technological implants. The only cure was permanent incapacitation. That was his career back east, respond to acute incidents of cybernetic psychosis, and terminate the target. Retirement. Termination. Assassination. He shook his head. They were one in the same, and the only end he could imagine for himself.
Delilah brushed a strand of red hair from her forehead, tucking it behind her ear. She began to ask another question, paused, and took another drag from her cigarette. She had asked a dozen questions. Cat’s answers were short and informative, letting her digest everything she’d seen. He had his own questions to ask, but it was too soon.
“Who were they?” Delilah asked for the eighth time he could recall. She had even mouthed his answer along with him the last time, but once again the acknowledgement failed to reach her conscious mind.
Cat exhaled the smoke from his cigarette. “Well, it wasn’t Robin Hood an’ his merry shockin’ men, but it wasn’t anyone who really knew who you were. It was a small, tight-knit group of gamers who want desperately to be the walkin’ dead.” He chuckled internally. He’d granted them half of their wish at least.
She took a swig of vodka, the best that the cheap hotel bar had to offer. It wasn’t the preferred spot for either of them, but it was close, and it was safe. There was one other couple in a booth nearby, an obvious affair with twenty years age difference between the participants. A quiet man sat at the bar, contemplating his life with imported beer as a unit of measure. The bartender was washing glasses, silently praying for an early closing time.
Delilah looked up with an attempt at courage. “You killed them.”
Cat nodded. “Three. I let the other one go to tell his buddies at the Paradigm.”
Her look was a question that didn’t cross her lips.
“In case either of us winds up back there. I want a little rep so we’re left alone.”
“We? Oh no,” she was already shaking her head. “I’m not, not ever.”
Cat grinned. Staying away was the proper decision. It was a shame it took an attempt on her life to crack her bravado enough to realize she was completely out of her element. He saw the small flashing light on his comm. “Excuse me a moment.” He stepped away from the clean vinyl booth they occupied, and Delilah pulled her coat tighter around her shoulders. She was still shivering.
“This is Catwalk.”
Delambre’s voice replied, “I have confirmation of payment to your account. Apparently, there’s one fewer member of Her Majesty’s service walking our streets?”
“Her what? Oh, British! Yeah, I almost skipped on that too, had a side project come ta my attention.” Cat chuckled, thumbing the used detonator in his jacket pocket.
“Ah, well, one fewer limey bastard won’t depress me any. Nice work. Did the armor meet your initial field testing?”
“Got an unscheduled test drive tonight. I’m really likin’ some a’ the extras, the spring-loaded Asp, grenade assortment, etc. If I didn’t thank you fer takin’ the initiative on that, remind me ta do so.”
“It was my pleasure. Actually, my daughter shares some of the credit.”
“Really? Well, tell ya what. Instead a’ the 40 I owe ya for British, take 40 fer you an’ 40 fer yer kid, provided I get ta thank her in person someday.”
A chuckle led Delambre’s reply. “Thank you immensely, Catwalk. I’ll ensure you get to display your gratitude to my daughter, as long as I’m present. Your reputation precedes you.”
“Thanks, man. Get some rest.”
“You as well.” The link flashed dead, and Cat returned to the table. Delilah had regained more of her composure than he’d expected.
She was gone.
Jesse tried to breathe. Fear squeezed his lungs. He clenched his eyes shut, feeling the others in the room, though the bag over his head kept him from seeing them. He sobbed, clenched his teeth, and tried to take in a full breath. He froze completely when he heard the man’s deep voice.
“You have something for me?”
The woman’s response ran chills down Jesse’s spine. It was her, the one who had taken him off of the train. “I’ve got a gift for my king.”
Footsteps echoed around Jesse. Someone paced slowly around him. The steps were soft. The floor pressed against his side. The stone was cold and wet. Jesus, what was he lying in?
The man spoke again, scaring Jesse back to the moment. “You always come through for me, dear Silver. When will you accept my generous offer and join me? I have use for someone with your unique talents.”
The woman was quick to answer. “My sword is my own, my king. I will serve you. I simply put a little more value in free will than your offer outlines.”
The man tsk’ed in reply. “My offer stands. In the meantime, you will be rewarded for your efforts. Fifty thousand, as promised.”
The woman replied with something other than words. Jesse heard her steps echo in the distance, followed by the closing of a door. The familiar click of the lock scared him as never before. The bag was suddenly pulled from his head. He squinted against the light. He blinked the stars from his eyes.
A man stood over him, staring down. Jesse blinked several more times. The light played tricks on him. The stranger looked like he was made of gold.
“You recently spent a rather memorable evening with one of the members of my organization, son. Tonight, you’re going to recount every memory of that night, no matter how painful.” With the last word, the man struck. Jesse screamed as the knife went through his hand, pinning him to the floor.
Golden eyes stared down at him.
“Now, where shall we begin?”
Cat had intended to take a ride south, across the open expanse of desert and debris. Maybe he’d even head out toward the armored religious settlement of Mission Viejo, one of the few remaining centers of ‘Holy ground’.
He’d barely escaped the confines of Downtown when they were on him.
There were four in the pack. Each displayed similar skin jobs, a mix of green and chrome, blatantly synthetic, and well armored. They sported neon green hair in different fashions ranging from double Mohawks to straight dreadlocks. Their uniforms were tight fitting and silver, providing another lair of inhuman appearance. If the description was accurate, Cat had wandered into the Sirens territory.
Everyone on this side of Downtown knew about them. The heads-up display on the H-S beeped warnings about the road ahead. The Sirens had destroyed most of it. His only options were to try to jump some gap he couldn’t measure, or to ditch the motorcycle. He spit out a string of profanity. Then, he cut the handlebars hard to the left, kicking out the back tire with his weight. The motorcycle skidded along the road, digging a trench through the asphalt.
He finally stopped. Planting a foot in the ruined pavement, he used the strength of his cybernetic legs to push the armored bike off of him. He looked behind him. Broken asphalt tumbled into a deep gorge. Rebar jutted through the walls of the deep chasm. A few more meters and he and his bike would be buried in an unmarked grave.
The roar of engines resonated in his ears. Company. Cat crouched, snapping the baton to its full extension in his left hand. His right hand gripped the 11mm H&K pistol. His eyes flashed yellow, and a deep, electronic sound resonated from somewhere within.
Two attacked him immediately. One brandished a pair of sai, the other a glowing katana. Cat managed to parry and evade with the baton and his armored forearms. Their blows were coordinated and precise, and he had to admit that if he was still in the old jumpsuit instead of the new armor, he’d be sliced to pieces by now. Thankfully, if his attackers had done their homework, they’d been misinformed.
They stayed too close for him to raise the pistol. He countered with a series of baton strikes and a flurry of kicks. The Sirens managed to evade him, timing each attack in perfect coordination. One attacker struck his side as he was late on a parry, but failed to cut through his new Kevlar underbody. Instead of puncturing his lower ribs, the sai clattered uselessly away. Delambre and his daughter had certainly earned their paychecks tonight. Had he been more stubborn and Delambre less persuasive, Cat’s internal organs would resemble a well-used corkboard by now.
As the sword-wielding foe went for a thrust, Cat flipped over its head. The other warrior trapped the blade with the hilt of his sai. They turned and met his gaze, one fully extended with a sword thrust, the other cross-armed in defense. Cat unloaded with the pistol, 11mm bullets tore through the Sirens’ skulls. Cat snarled a grin as their bodies dropped.
Two Sirens down, he spun, seeking the others. He heard the clank of a canister nearby and leapt without looking. The fragmentation grenade exploded, sending the remains of an abandoned supply truck erupted skyward. One extra moment of contemplation and he would have been a mist of flesh and bone. Instead, he shrugged off the dust and debris that struck him in the aftermath. He switched through his cybernetics’ visual filters until he made out the movement of his enemy.
He caught the single pair of green glowing eyes on the far side of the attack and opened fire. Unfortunately, his marksmanship was as well versed as his handwriting, and he succeeded only in forcing the assailant to duck for cover. Before he could locate the fourth enemy, it tackled him. The Siren slammed his side, forcing the breath from his lungs.