Submitted to Inkkitt Beyond Time contest 23rd July 2015 Link to entry here.
Updated 25th September 2015
Francis Yale, a decommissioned Cyber-soldier from the British Army’s Augmented-Enhanced programme, with many of his ‘enhancements’ removed or disabled, is having a hard time readjusting to civilian life. Until help comes from an unexpected quarter. This tale belongs firmly in the Paul Calvin collection of Sci-Fi detective stories
Man that hurt! In the inadequate street light, blood and rain mixed, dripping onto cracked paving, each diluting the other, tendrils of red mingling, washing down the gutter into rapidly flooding storm drains. Yale stumbled down the empty street, panting with the pain, catching disobedient toes on the ground, shouldering into streaming walls. Soaked to the skin and shambling like some junkie in withdrawal.
Behind him two twitching bodies leaked the last vestiges of their miserable lives into the downpour. He’d tried to talk them off, but they’d been too amped up on the mega amphetamine ‘Rage’ to listen. Good job they hadn’t known how to really fight or he wouldn’t have stood a chance.
After all this time he thought he’d have learned he wasn’t the superman he used to be. The skin had split to the bone on the edge of his left arm and his knuckles were raw and bloody. The little finger on his right hand hurt like hell and it was agony to try and straighten. Dislocated right shoulder and elbow. Big ragged rip on his right forearm and two stab wounds, fortunately superficial, in his left thigh. It would hurt way more when the adrenaline rush wore off. But then something always hurt. Every so often his back locked up with muscle spasm, meaning agony, near paralysis and a week on pain meds. There was the old right shoulder injury that had never healed properly as well as his troublesome right knee and a horde of other combat injuries, bullet and shrapnel scars from a war that hadn’t really been a war. Just a series of superfast hand to hand skirmishes in back rooms and alleyways.
The medics had warned him of course, but in the heat of a balls-out fight those worthy cautions always got lost. Still, good reflexes for a man of thirty seven. Way quicker than any vanilla human had any right to be. Quicker than the dead.
The remnants of Augment-E technology would always heal him faster, make him faster, but didn’t suppress the pain any more. He shouldn’t really have been drinking either, that always led to trouble. But booze took the edge off the other kind of pain. The kind that made a man drink. Deep down in the soul, where other drugs couldn’t go.
Right now there was only one place to go. Pete’s. Pete always helped. Any time, night or day. And Pete had real know-how of leftover weapons-grade augmentation which Hospitals so often didn’t.
An hour of stumbling down near deserted streets later, outside Pete’s small Cyber-Tattoo shop with security lights glowing a steady pale blue. Pete was home. If they were cycling through pastels, she was out. He stumbled round to the side door before knocking.
“Yeah?” A familiar voice drawled out of the door speakercam.
“Aw she-it Yale. You messed up again?”
“What was it over this time? Deal go bad on you?”
“Still arguing over women?”
“You dumb bastard.”
“Door’s open.” There was a click and Yale stumbled in. The door clicked locked behind him and the air in the short entranceway began to warm before the inner door opened into a small waiting room lined with armless black padded bench seats. Two other doorways led in and out. One to the public entrance, the other to Pete’s quasi-legal body mod and tattoo shop. Yale stood in the middle, swaying a little, dripping rainwater and watery blood onto the plain stone tile floor. In the plain pastel light he waited unsteadily for Pete to make his usual appearance.
Platinum blonde haired Pete swept into the room in a glittering kaftan, eyeshadow and lipstick black as sin, glossy as a Starlings wing. “Oh, you poor baby.” She breathed. “What have you been doing?”
“I got into it with a couple of Rage-heads.”
“How many times have I told you not to hang around those places?”
She took his damaged hands in hers, deftly turning them over. “I can clean that up.” She took his hurts in with a professional glance. “Have to let it natural though or it’ll scar too much.” A delicate sniff at his breath curled her face at him. “Sobriety tab.” She insisted. “I’m not treating you until you do something about your booze breath.” Delving into the folds of her kaftan she produced a small thin strip, placing it delicately between his swollen lips. Yale sucked it in, attenuated taste buds prickling as the alcohol metaboliser got to work. “Better.” Pete raised her hand to pat his cheek affectionately, then thought better of it. Yale breathed in deeply and shuddered a little as his head began to clear.
“What really happened?” She peeled back his rain soaked jacket with a little motherly hiss.
“I was minding my own business.”
“Well, kind of. I was on my way home.”
“A couple of guys wanted my Comm.”
“Wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
“And they were on Rage?” She cocked an eyebrow questioningly.
“Pinpoint pupils. Bad skin. Reflexes like greased cats on hot glass. Stank of ammonia like scented cat piss.” Yale’s hypertrophied leftover lexicon included an enhanced sense of smell.
“You could’ve run.”
“Not fast enough.” Yale shook his head. He bent a cartilage poor right knee, feeling the slight crunching sensation as uneven joint surfaces rubbed their protective coating. Pete heard and nodded.
“So?” Again, she hissed softly at yet another seeping wound.
“They didn’t give me much option.”
“I take it those two ‘Heads won’t be troubling the world any more?” She motioned him toward the lab door, which slid open with a hiss of positive pressurisation. Yale entered into the brightly lit room and the door closed behind them. She took his silence as affirmative. The ‘Heads’ wouldn’t have left him alive, ergo they weren’t.
“Strip off my darling and let me see what those nasty men have done to you. Clothing in the disposal hopper. On the table when you’re ready.”
“I know.” They’d done this before. Far too often. During his army days and after. Yale painfully stripping out of his rain soaked rags, unevenly cropped dark brown hair sticking up in tufts where the rain hadn’t slicked it to his scalp. Pete dumping his clothing into the replicator hopper for recycling. Carefully watching Yales outdoor tanned face heavily lined with the stretch marks of pain. Under his clothing was a patchwork of scars and graft marks, some more expertly healed than others. Except for a little wiriness above his groin, he was completely devoid of body hair. His left nipple was missing and his ears were notched and scarred.
“They broke your nose.” Pete commented, slipping out of her Kaftan and into a biohazard suit. She was a skinny transgender, almost completely androgynous when naked, dark olive skin with no visible tan lines giving her an almost artificial appearance. “Again.”
“I’m getting old.” Yale swung effortlessly onto the examination table.
“Too old for combat.” She sealed her biohazard suit with a flourish, flipping the facemask down.
“It’s why we are who we are.” He said sourly.
Fifteen years on anti-terrorism ops then dropped like roadside garbage. Not even able to get a club doormans licence. Nightclubs liked their customers, even the drunk and aggressively stupid, to get home intact and alive.
He shuddered as she laid a cool, surgical gloved hand on a bloody shoulder wound. “Soldiers nerves, dear.” Pete commented. “We all have them.” A fine line of green scanning laser ran over one ragged cut. “Superficial.”
“Hurts.” Yale said.
“As much as what drove you to pick a fight with not one, but two Rage-heads?” Pete observed, watching him with hooded eyes.
“That’s a different hurt. Can’t seem to do much about it.”
“Have you seen Witherspoon? He’s often online, asking after you.”
“The duty trick cyclist? So last year. Wasn’t doing me much good so I bailed.”
“You go on at this rate love, and you’ll be jailed, dead or in a cyber assist inside a year.”
“I can fix most things, but Yale my darling boy, you have got some growing up to do.”
“Or what?” He grunted as she began to swab up the worst of the damage, using a flesh welder as she went.
“Like I said. I give you a year.”
“Yeah, yeah, a year, yeah.” He grimaced as she sealed ruptured muscle ends together.
“Probably less.” Pete said with a sly smile. Yale had always been one of those blaze of glory characters, so wired by the need that he’d explode if he didn’t do something. She’d known him since school, then during their army days on field ops, hotwiring other adrenaline junkies just like him. Augmenting their nervous systems, feeding the hormone hungry healing processes that could make Cyber-soldiers like Yale almost impossible to stop or kill. Latterly she’d seen people like him die trying to climb down the mountain, return to civilian life. Then she thought about herself and her own internal journey before shutting that particular door. La-la-la, not listening to the darkness no more.
Before it had ended in the mass E-Plague pandemic, the climax of the war on terror had damaged them all beyond redemption, turning all who touched it into addicts. Maybe it was just one of lifes inevitabilities.
“Pete?” Yale winced as she began cleaning out yet another wound, ensuring no infectious material remained. “I remember them all you know.”
“All?” She said abstractedly.
“Everyone I’ve ever killed. Every face, name and file.”
“You shouldn’t dwell on it Yale.”
“Keeps me awake. Sometimes I’m too scared to sleep.”
“So you drink.”
“You need a good woman, or man. Someone to love. Someone to heal with.”
“Like you?” That raised an ironic smile. Pete was notoriously celibate.
“Touché. This may sting a little.”
“Ah! You got that right.”
“I am. Clench your right fist.” She rudely twisted his shoulder back into place with a muffled crack, repeating the process with his elbow.
“Ah. That feels better.”
“You need help, Yale.” She said, checking her workmanship.
“You can’t just take the pain on your own forever.”
“Yeah me no yeah’s Yale. You need help.”
“Nice work.” He tried to change the subject, examining her repairs with a critical eye. Pete was still one of the best.
“Now try not to break it for a week.” She’d finished on the right arm. Now for the rest. A quick spray hypo to hold the pain at bay while fixing a the rest of the superficial damage. A nasty slash mark, possibly fingernail induced, needed extra cleaning. Skin sealant. No major bone damage, well there wouldn’t be. Not for a modified human like Yale. Even after the Army had taken back all their nano-implants. Some things could not be surgically removed. So those muscle and bone enhancements were with him for life.
“There’s always Calvin.” She tried to sound artless, but he wasn’t fooled.
“He’s still a copper.”
“He still owes you.” Pete pointed out.
“Maybe he doesn’t owe me enough.”
“You could ask.”
“He’d see it all in my head. Whether I wanted him to or not. He’d have to turn me in for tonight’s little bust-up. And a few others.”
“You’re an Oggie, Yale. An augmented human. Different, a permanent outsider. So is he.”
“He’d still have to call it in. I don’t want to go to jail.”
“Mind reading doesn’t count as admissible evidence. Where was the fight and when?”
“Towpath.” She knew where he meant. It was still pouring with rain so no-one would be out this time of night. Besides, that was right on the edge of quarantined area, down where only the stupidly desperate went. Not even the rats would go anywhere near it. Come to think of it, he’d never seen any of the many packs of stray dogs down there. Not alive anyhow. After all the decontamination and demolition, everything still died.
Not that there were any decent people around any more. The final and most fatal E-Plague had seen to that, filling up plague pits and the air with the smoke of burning corpses. Annihilating the population like a modern day Black Death. Yale curled a lip. He remembered his first post army job, filling cremation pits with a backhoe loader, spraying them with napalm, setting them alight and waiting for infected bodies to be reduced to sterile bones and ash. Cover with acidified sand, repeat until full. Spraying the burial yard equipment with toxic levels of disinfectant before the surreal plastic tunnel journey through flash decon and the promise of a warm bunk for the night. Good credit. Pity he’d drunk it all. But the booze took the edge off his pain, so it wasn’t all wasted.
“Yale.” Pete nudged him to roll onto his right side.
“You got to straighten up. Detox. If not, you’re dead in a year.”
“Sure. You know, that’s why you do it. Mister Death Wish.”
“Maybe.” He conceded.
“Others have made the transition.” She pointed out.
“You?” He teased.
“Hurrens, Javek, Powell.” Pete said distractedly, a red line of reflected laser light flickering on her visor. Enhanced flesh steaming as the nano sealants within it were heated to operating temperature. The smell of not-quite cooking pork tainted the air. “Steady civilian jobs, girl and boyfriends. Homes, lives. Hurrens even has two kids.”
“So you keep in touch? Ouch. That stung.”
“Done.” She stood up to her full diminutive height. “I keep up with their link stuff.” She flipped up her visor and eyed her work critically. “I could do better if you weren’t such a fidget.”
“How are your folks? I know your Dad’s still alive. He’s helping organise that new refugee area over on the West side near Avonmouth.”
“We haven’t talked since I signed up for the Special Ops program. My Mum, well, you know about her.” Yale shrugged.
“I know.” Pete said a little sadly. “Yale, you still got to talk to someone. Apart from me when you come in here all busted up. Face and hands looking like they’ve been in a war. You got to remember you’re not Aug-E any more. Not an Oggie. You’re just plain vanilla human.”
“Yale!” Pete chided. “Wise up.”
“Why?” Yale snapped bitterly.
“Because there are people who want you to.” Pete said slowly after a long pause.
“Aw come on Pete, you of all people?”
“Do you want to end up in jail, or worse, face down in the street?” Pete turned away so Yale couldn’t read her face. She busied herself putting her toolkit back in order.
Hell it was sweet of her, he knew it. It was sort of nice that someone cared whether you were breathing or not, but Pete; well, she was as much a freak as he was. Another oddity the Army didn’t need any more. A broken weapon, cast aside.
“All right.” Yale relented. “I’ll go see someone. But if my ass gets thrown in the hole…” He left the sentence unfinished.
“Talk to a counsellor at least.”
“I’ve talked to them. None of them understand. All they’ve got is that touchy feely BS.”
“So you need someone to what?”
“I need to talk to someone who can.” Yale said. “Understand.” He lowered his head, a great feeling of numb deadness spreading from his gut. “Someone who can listen. Who’s been there.”
“Anyone can listen.” Pete replied.
“But how can they know what I’m talking about?”
“Maybe that’s not important.” Pete handed him some clean clothing from the workshops replication unit.
“It is to me.” Yale replied grimly, slipping into the proffered clothing. She followed him out of her lab. He went over to the front entrance, picked up his ragged, rain sodden coat and gave it a shake.
“There’s a spare bed out back.” Pete stood in the middle of her workshop, arms folded. “Sleep on it.”
“Can’t sleep. That’s half the problem.”
“Booze will just make it worse.” She warned.
“Yeah.” Then the door was closing behind him.
He thought he heard Pete’s aggrieved shout; “Oh, for fucks sake, Yale!” As the door clicked shut. Hunching into his coat against the incessant drizzle, he told himself he’d pay the favour back, he always did, but this wasn’t a time to be around people. Any people. Even Pete.
Half way down the street, feet splashing through puddles, he almost stopped, hypertrophied combat senses tingling. There was someone, watching. Not far away.
Keep moving, make an opportunity to get eyes-on without being obvious. Converting the pause into a mis-step he lurched towards the empty left hand kerb, left arm flailing slightly in the anaemic streetlight, like a drunk looking for support. Reach the edge of the road, drop down on one knee, one hand on the kerb as though ready to empty his guts into the gutter. In reality wound like a spring, dynamically poised to bounce back and take down his observer.
“Cut the drama Yale.” Shit! It was that Mindfucker Calvin! “Pete called.”
“You were quick.” Yale stayed exactly where he was, but his body screamed at him to react, to attack. He gritted his teeth and took a deep breath, trying to relax. Calvin’s shadowy form was leaning on a corroded but very solid stanchion across the rain slick street. He wore a long Drovers coat with the hood up, face a deeper shadow within shadows.
“She called me ten seconds after you rolled in through her door all tattered and torn.” Paul Calvin continued in that quiet but carrying tone he used when he wanted your full attention. “I’ve been waiting half an hour.” He added, knowing full well there was no one but ghosts within earshot.
How far away was he? Eight metres? One quick backwards kick off and a mid air twist….
“Yale, you never were a tactical thinker, were you?” Calvin shifted easily behind the rusting steel upright of the lamppost. Confident of his ability to know exactly what Yale was going to do next. “Uniform have already found those two head cases you wasted. I know it was you.” There was a pause. “But you know what I’m going to do about it?”
“What?” Yale grated, still trying to work out how to get a tactical advantage on a mind reading ex-copper. “What are you going to do about it?”
“Not much.” Said Calvin easily. “Providing…”
“Had a feeling there was going to be a sting in the tail. You’re a fucking scorpion Calvin.”
“Sort of.” Calvin acknowledged. You could hear him grinning.
“What?” Yale swung around and upright in a single lithe motion.
“You come with me.” Calvin’s shadow didn’t move.
“Is that it?”
“For now, yes.”
“Mind telling me why?”
“Because I’m asking you to.”
“Where are we going?”
“Favours get me into trouble.” Yale hedged.
“Me too.” Calvin agreed. “All the time. Come on.” Then he turned and began walking, ably dodging piles of rubble and other street garbage in near total darkness.
Yale puzzled. Calvin only had that mind reading….. oh the sneaky fucker. “Get out of my head.” He snapped.
“I’m only borrowing your enhanced night vision, Yale. Think of it as a down payment.” Calvin, still hooded against the rain, kept on walking. All Yale could do was follow.
Turning a corner, they came into an area of more reliable street light with fewer heaps of garbage and potholes. Calvin hailed an Autocab with his Comm, and by the time they’d reached the brighter lights the little bubble cabbed vehicle sat waiting at the kerbside. “In.” Calvin directed. Yale swung into the safety web which folded discretely about him. The small driverless vehicle swung away from the roadside, slotting effortlessly into the brisk flow of traffic, the main drag crowded even at three in the morning with party folks on their way home. Or to someone’s home.
“Look Calvin, I need a drink.”
“I know what you need, Yale, and it’s not alcohol.” Calvin said with a ‘shut up’ tone in his voice. Yale reflexively said nothing. The Army did that to a guy.
After a few minutes the cab swished to a halt. They got out. A dark clothed man with a full beard and skullcap stood at the kerbside, fidgeting with his shoulder bag. Nodding at Calvin, he said. “Is this your friend?” He chin nodded at Yale with a hook nosed face. His disdainful expression told its own story.
“Yes. I can vouch for Yale.” Calvin slipped his hood back to expose curly short black hair and a mouth tainted with a cruel knowing smile. His eyes glittered like gemstones, hard and bright.
“Here is my Comm. Activate here when you have my daughter safe.” The man explained. He indicated an icon on the small square of plastic.
“No problem.” He nodded at the man, who discretely moved out of earshot.
“Why do you need me?” Yale asked, keeping his voice low.
“To do what you’re trained to do. Follow me and be close when I need you.” Calvin examined the Comm, reading the on-screen details.
“Because the kidnappers might just be going for the triple whammy. The girl, the money and me.”
“So I’m your insurance policy?”
“Because I’ve upset a lot of people over the years, and they want me out of the way. Permanently.”
“What about him?” Yale backward nodded at their departing client.
“Poor guy really thinks the kidnappers have his daughter. I got a friend to access the Parks and Burials data cloud. The poor kid’s dead and he just can’t accept it. That’s why he came to me.”
“Yeah.” Calvin replied bleakly. “Two years ago.”
“Pretty sad. My crew probably disposed of her body. Yet I still don’t get you.” Yale replied. “Why bother taking the case if his daughter really is dead?”
“He’s a desperate man with big credit. I get five percent of the ransom if I stop the kidnappers scamming him. Ten, if by some miracle I find his daughter alive.”
“Why not just ask for some heavy backup from your old Police mates?”
“Yale, you’re good at what you do, but leave the critical thinking to me, huh?” Calvin gave him a cynical sidelong glance. “I haven’t any friends left. Just enemies who hate each other more.” He swung into the waiting Autocab vehicle. Yale stepped back.
“Ah, hell.” Yale briefly glanced at the hook nosed man, who was watching Calvin’s departing cab anxiously from a distance. He turned left into an alleyway and swung to face the sheerness of a ten metre brick wall. Enhanced muscle groups flexing, he took four steps back and ran straight at it.
With a practised flick of calf and ankle he was literally running up the wall like a four legged spider; toughened fingers and toe tips digging into crumbling mortar, keeping his momentum. Up, up and over the roof edge onto a sloping metallised surface, dodging vent stacks towering over fifteen metres above the streets.
Glancing over the roofs edge he watched Calvin’s Autocab swinging away from the main drag, down narrow side streets into the desolation zone.
Yale knew this area. Capering from rooftop to rooftop, jumping impossibly far to land catlike on a ridge or flat surface, easily keeping the vehicle in sight.
It was taking a strange route, wherever it was headed. At one point he found himself perched, clutching a corroded weathervane on a derelict churches weathered stonework, watching the little vehicle go round the same block twice, before backtracking and taking two seemingly eccentric detours.
Still, it felt good up here. Not just good but great. Free running, just like he’d been trained to do.
Down below, the small cab came to a halt by a burned out apartment block. Yale watched it intently with night enhanced vision. At the end of the street was a flat roofed warehouse. Four black clad guys with automatic weapons half hidden on the roof. Calvin got out of the cab, and after glancing at the bright display of the Comm, turned right, down the end of the next street, left, and left again. Yale already knew where he was going.
Scrambling to the ground Yale picked up a pebble and weighed it in his hand. This would do. While Calvin was walking down the street into a certain ambush, Yale ran far more quickly than any Olympic class sprinter; around a corner, through a reeking alley half blocked with garbage and demolition rubble, a silent superhuman blur in the darkness. In his Army days he could have done this more than twice as fast, but even now he was inhumanly quick. A blurring of his arm and the pebble whipped out of the alley mouth, arcing over the warehouse roof to rattle down the far perimeter fence. Heads turned at the noise, and in that seven second hiatus, Yale was across the open ground, over a three metre razor wire fence and up the five metre wall onto the roof.
The first guard, barely more than a kid, went down soundlessly to a punch to the back of his neck. Yale quickly put on his coat and cap, at a distance indistinguishable from the disabled guard at his feet. He felt the rains shadow half a minute before it swept over the rooftops. As leaden water droplets hammered the roof, heads went down, as did the second guard, then the third and fourth. Taking the fourth guards weapon, Yale noted yet another figure hidden by a lean-to at the gate Calvin was approaching. None of the rooftop guards had been carrying Comms, nothing that could be traced by its signal or betrayed by screenlight, so Yale guessed that the outside security guys were just muscle, hired for the occasion. None of them were dead, just out of the game for at least five minutes. Neatly trussed in their own clothing. They’d be a problem when they could move, but, Yale calculated, that was still a good five or ten minutes away.
Calvin passed the hidden gateway guard, whose Comm display flickered briefly. Yale leapt like a silent shadow. A second later, the guard was stunned like his friends on the roof. From the deepest umbra of the lean-to Yale watched Calvin’s retreating back as the warehouse side door opened and he simply walked in.
How to enter unseen? Glancing upwards, Yale spotted a missing side ventilation cover on the wall, scampered up the brickwork and cladding before slipping bonelessly into the maze of girder frames underpinning the warehouses flat roof. From this vantage point he could see and hear everything.
The girl, he presumed it was her, sat tied and hooded on a chair under the glow of a single spotlight. Dressed in a grey robe of some sort, restrained at wrist and ankles. There was also a small explosive jacket wrapped around her. Kill radius three metres if that. Probably remote control. Yale could see she was still breathing, but very slowly as though drugged or asleep.
Glancing around the murk with enhanced vision, he could see one obviously armed man by the door, next to Calvin but no-one else.
Calvin had seen the jacket, and was talking into his Comm. “I need a gesture of good faith.” He was saying. “I want that explosive vest off her.” But the guard was already edging toward the entrance door.
Yale dropped on him like the fist of God. Rolling clear, he was at the girls side in a moment, expertly pulling detonators just like he’d been trained to do, disabling circuits without tripping fail safes. Calvin was moving for cover, but looked to be trapped in amber as Yale tossed the vest back across the empty warehouse, pulling the girl towards the exit as the detonators went off like a small firework display and the vest began to burn. Nearby loose scraps of packing material began smouldering.
“Go, go go!” Yale slung her limp frame over his shoulder. Hooking his hand under Calvin’s arm and propelling him over the downed guards body and out into the night.
He half carried the surprised Calvin past the still disabled gate guard, out through the warehouse gate and down the street. Ducking into the urine reeking recess of a boarded up apartment block with E-Plague ‘Biohazard’ warnings taped all over the doors and windows. Nothing more happened, apart from a distant moan from one of the disabled guards.
Yale passed the girl to Calvin, who lay limply in his arms. “Wait.” Yale whispered. A solid looking van pulled up at the warehouse gates and two heavily robed and hooded men got out. They weren’t just hired muscle. These had the air of well trained acolytes.
He ghost-ran up to the side of the van and put his ear to the offside door panel. “Well?” A snappish voice said from within. One of the dark clad acolytes put his hand to his head as he passed the semi-paralysed gate guard. He leaned down, there was a flash of steel and Yale clearly heard the crunch of sinew and vertebrae from thirty metres away. “All right. Clear up the mess.” Said the voice from inside. The other acolyte nodded and made his way onto the roof via the fire escape.
So not enhanced, then. Yale wouldn’t have bothered with a ladder.
A moment later the voices owner was out of his seat, flat on his back, lying mouth open and stunned as Yale dragged him to the reeking doorway. Calvin took over, looking closely at the bald, heavy set figure with narrowed eyes, seeking the thoughts within. “It’s a set up.” He announced after a moment. “From A to Z.” He whipped the hood off the girl. Eyes glassy and vacant, with blue bleached short hair and stoner gang tattoos all around her neck, she bore no resemblance to the clean featured kidnap victim they’d been sent to recover. He indicated the girl. “Full of date drugs. High as a kite.” He swung angry dark eyes onto the heavy set man. “This one was told to get rid of me. Make it look like a case gone bad.”
“Hang on.” Yale blurred into motion as the two acolytes reappeared in the warehouse yard. One had his hand to his ear but got no reply. Turning his head to his partner he reached into a robe pocket. Across the street, Yale slipped into the cab, tapping a random destination code into the navigation module before closing the door. The automatic vehicle sped away, leaving him to duck behind a pile of rubble.
Startled by their vehicles disappearance, the two acolytes emerged from the shadows, staring after it, retrieved guns pointed at the floor. They never saw Yale coming. He cartwheeled over, grabbing the head of the rearmost, snapping his neck and rolling the acolytes now-lifeless corpse out of sight. The other robed figure spun to his left, gun in a two handed grip, which was no good to the larynx shattering punch Yale delivered to his throat. He swayed for a moment, carotid artery shattered, choking, chest muscles spasming, desperately trying to draw down any sip of breath before dropping lifelessly to the ground in an untidy heap. Yale dragged him over to the warehouse and threw his body through the side door before retrieving the murdered gate guard and the second Acolyte inside. Flames were already visible through the broken side vent. Smoke boiling out from a heat melted skylight.
Yale returned to the doorway with their guns and knives to find Calvin staring into the eyes of their terrified captive. “Who set me up? Names, dates, times.” The ex-cop paused and began smiling a terrible quiet smile as the man’s panicky memory gave up its secrets. “Yale. I may have another little job for you. You up for it?”
“Another?” Yale straightened up. He dropped the weapons on the ground, feeling suddenly very tired, but a good tired. The battered and bruised kind of exhaustion where you know you’ve won against all the odds and any pain didn’t matter. He’d almost forgotten what a high that was. He sat down heavily and instinctively began field stripping the guns, bending critical components easily with his unhurt left hand until they were no more than junk.
“I can’t pay you money, but I can find you a better place to live, food, decent clothes. A gym to help you burn off the frustration. Maybe I can even help untie some of those knots inside your head.” Calvin stood up and glanced down at the girl. “I’ll deliver his majesty here to the local Police station. I just checked their wanted site. There’s a dozen warrants outstanding so he’ll be a welcome guest.” He’d tied their captives arms with some discarded cargo strapping, but the man was so obviously traumatised from Calvin’s mind rape he couldn’t have resisted. “The girl’s details are on her Comm.” Calvin handed over a sparkle decorated square of dark plastic. “You get her home. I’ll meet you back at Petes and we’ll go get something good to eat. Then we’ll talk.” Another Autocab was pulling up at the kerb. “Time we weren’t here. You with me?” Flames were flaring through the warehouse side door. Sirens wailed softly in the distance. The local Firefighters surveillance drones must have already picked up the blaze, even this deep in the quarantine zone.
Francis Yale, ex-Augmented-Enhanced Special Forces, nodded, easily picking up the unconscious girl and gently placing her in the cabs safety web. He was being offered a chance to feel wanted again in a good cause. For a given value of good, that is. But perhaps that was all that was needed for a little redemption. Pausing thoughtfully for a moment before shutting the cab door, he straightened up. “I’m with you Calvin. I’m so bloody right with you.”