Our target has not yet told his guards about the blackmail. He is continuing with the agreement. However, he is beginning to have thoughts about what he might do to us when we are alone in the facility. As we planned, it is nonworking hours, and most of the assembly is done by machine. He is wondering if he can get us to a room with his guards and then torture us until we tell him how to deactivate the email. I can use my powers to kill these men, but it will probably kill Mr. Alwin as well.
I almost couldn’t hear Eve’s voice over the wind screaming past my ears. I didn’t know if she could hear me, but I rode only a few cars behind the limo, and the vampire had been able to detect my thoughts through several floors of concrete.
I am having trouble feeling your surface thoughts. There are too many people in the cars and on the streets. Please try again to speak to me.
“I want to grab our weapons and then attack the car when we are in a less populated part of the city,” I yelled my shitty plan, but I couldn’t hear them over the sound of the wind across my uncovered ears. Eve didn’t reply to my words, and I took it to mean that she hadn’t heard me.
The streets were packed with cars, but the traffic was moving much faster than I would have expected. The sidewalks were also busy with pedestrians, and the neon advertising lights on the buildings reflected off the smooth surfaces of their umbrellas, coats, and shopping bags in a way that almost made the people glow with a phantasmal light.
The limo turned right onto another major street, and I followed them to a freeway on-ramp. The road took them high into the sky of the city, and the change in perspective allowed me to see over some of the smaller towers. There were airports on all sides of the city, and I could see the lines of thruster fire light up the horizon as a three hundred kilometer long spacecraft tried to maneuver its bulk down to the ground.
I had spent a few hours familiarizing myself with the map of this city, and the display on my motorcycle was also giving me a location ping. The driver was heading in the direction of Elaka Nota Corporation’s spacecraft facility, but this freeway would overshoot the place where I had hidden our gear by half a kilometer.
There was no way I’d be able to get to my weapons.
I rode behind them for a few more minutes and debated on my next course of action. I couldn’t force them off of the road with my motorcycle, I didn’t have my guns, and changing into my tiger form wasn’t going to do anything but alert these guards as to my actual identity. That might have already happened. One of the many cameras in the city could have identified my face, or seen Eve and Z when they got into the car. The clock was ticking, and I could do little more than watch as the metaphorical hands moved.
He is considering telling the driver not to take us to the facility. Perhaps I should have gone with your plan. Z and I are hinting to him that he needs to take us to the shipyard to show us all the craft he has built, but his guards are becoming suspicious. I suspect Mr. Alwin will decide to risk the email. I know you are on the motorcycle, but I might have to begin using my offensive powers. It will create a dangerous situation for Z and our target. If you can think of anything in the next few minutes, it would be helpful.
“Tell him your partners are at 0.00232 N and 0.234 S. I’ve hidden our weapons there,” I said into the wind, and I hoped the beautiful woman could hear me.
I will inform him.
The woman’s words conveyed no emotion when they entered my mind so I couldn’t tell if she was worried. My lack of control over the situation was beyond frustrating, and I felt the beast inside of my soul scream to be unleashed.
The limo angled toward the next off ramp, and I dropped back a bit on my motorcycle, so it wasn’t completely obvious I was following them. Fortunately, another car decided to get off behind the limo, and I positioned the cruiser I rode on a spot that prevented anyone from inside the car from seeing me.
We are going in that direction. The guards all know of our blackmail. The interior of the car is hostile. Guns are pointed at Z and me. If they do not find the relay Z told them was programmed to send the email, the men will have turns with us until we give them the information.
“Shit.” My hiss turned into a growl, and I struggled to keep my head from spinning. The animal inside of me wanted to drive my motorcycle into the back of the limo so I could climb on the roof, rip open the metal like a sardine can, and tear them all into ground meat.
I took a deep breath of the air whipping past me and managed to get the beast back into the corners of my psyche.
“I’m going to ride ahead and wait for you to get there. Be safe,” I said. I didn’t know if the woman could hear me.
The limo made a right on the street after the highway, but I continued straight and twisted the throttle on my grip to increase the speed. The bike was wide, but I was still able to fit between most of the traffic lanes. I thought about running a few red lights, but I figured that would guarantee I would get caught by the security cameras, so I decided against it.
Eve didn’t communicate during the ten minutes it took for me to get to the edge of the city where I had our gear hidden, and my panic continued to chew into the lining of my stomach. I pulled into the trash-filled alleyway where I’d stored our stuff, and parked my bike at the end of the lane behind an ancient metal bin. The container was large enough to fit two of motorcycles inside, but it was made of a light aluminum, which allowed me to push it aside without causing any noise to echo. Underneath was a manhole cover, and under the cover hung our gear bags. I grunted a bit with the effort of pulling the heavy disc out of the ground, but then I looked into the hole and swore.
My bags were gone.
“Grrrrrrrrrr,” I slammed my fist into the street hard enough to break my knuckles. My hand went numb, but I didn’t care and slammed it into the asphalt a few more times. After the tenth strike, the pain started to cut through the numb anger, and I was able to focus on my next steps. The limo would be here in a few minutes, and I needed a gun to take care of the four bodyguards and the driver of the car.
I poked my head down into the sewer and looked around. I hadn’t heard or smelled anyone nearby when I first hid the bags a few hours ago, and the bin didn’t look to have been moved. The manhole cover was large and weighed a good fifty kilograms. I doubted anyone could have lifted it.
There was a dim light down the north direction of the tunnel.
My hand had healed already, and I used it to swing from the top of the ladder before I dropped to the distant ground of the sewer. I could smell the scent of synth-tobacco, and the aroma brought up memories of my time in the Jupiter Marines.
I feel you again. I suspect we are a few minutes away.
I pushed my service memories away and sprinted down the dark passage of the sewer. This place stank, but not as badly as the area of the Undercity where Eve and I had first escaped the spider drones. These were the slums, and I suspected most of the abandoned buildings didn’t have working sewer lines anymore.
I tried to curb my speed with a bit of stealth, but the passage was made of smoothed concrete tiles, and even my quietest footfalls echoed painfully from all of the walls. I just focused on sprinting, and the light up ahead began to grow brighter.
The gunshot sounded a half a moment after I saw the flash of the barrel. I’d half expected whoever stole my gear to try to shoot me, so I threw myself to the ground well before the bullet smashed into the wall behind me.
The dumbass was using my giant revolver. What an idiot. Not only was it too dark down here for anyone to use the sight, but I was too far away, and I doubted the shooter could handle the recoil from the weapon.
I shot to my feet and sprinted in a hunched over position.
“You can’t ahhh havvvv!” the voice shouted again. I saw the muzzle flash from the revolver extend into the darkness of the sewer again and I ducked lower. The bullet went way wide and smashed into the wall a good fifteen meters from me.
The shooter was backlit from a lantern on the ground. He looked hunched over, either from pain or age or both. He was holding the large chrome revolver over his head, and a pillar of white smoke came from the muzzle. It looked as if the man hadn’t expected the second shot to kick as hard as the first, and he was trying to wrestle the weight of the gun back on target.
I was only five meters from him now, and I managed to shoulder check him before he could point the gun at me again. Something cracked inside of him when I hit, and I caught his gun holding wrist before he fell away from me.
“This is mine,” I growled at him as I pried the revolver from his gnarled fingers. The man was old, and his face was covered with warts only advanced skin cancer could bring.
“No. My. I fooo--” I interrupted him by turning the revolver around to point between his eyes.
He had one of my other pistols tucked into his belt. I let go of his wrist, yanked it free of him, and then pushed him away. I didn’t shove him hard, but the man weighed almost nothing, and he ended up collapsing against the wall five meters from me.
The animal who shared my DNA wanted to rip him into pieces, but the human side of me pitied the sick man. I was the one who left my belongings hanging from the ladder. I grabbed the gear bags from the tile walkway. It looked as if he had only opened the gun bag, and I still felt the weight of my shotgun and rifle inside of the case.
We have pulled up to the alley. I feel you beneath us. Where are you?
“I’m coming,” I said aloud.
“Huuuh?” the man said.
I looked down at him and then at the revolver in my hand. He was no longer backlit by the lantern, and I could see cancer covered almost all of his left eye. I imagined he had to be in absolute agony. A bullet to his head was probably a mercy.
But I had enough blood on my hands already, and I was going to have more by the time this day was over.
“Get a meal and a drink.” I tossed some of my cash on the ground at his feet, and then I sprinted back toward the ladder up to the alley. The man said something as I ran, but I didn’t catch the words.
We have stepped out of the car. The guards are taking Z and me into the alley. Alwin is in the rear of the group. He thinks this is a trap. I feel you in the sewer beneath us. I will take them to the back of the alley. All of the men have pistols out, but our target does not have one.
I slid to the bottom of the ladder and looked up its five-meter length. I couldn’t climb up now without them getting an easy shot at me, but if Eve could get them to stand behind the bin, I might be able to sneak up and get the jump on them.
Should I change into my other form? Should I let the tiger out of the cage? It screamed against my heart in approval, but as soon as I thought about the idea, I threw it aside. Changing back into a human exhausted me, and we still needed to get inside of the facility. I was more than a little confident I would have to use my stronger form when we were trying to steal whatever spaceship we could find.
“What is this?” I heard a heavily accented man’s voice ask from above.
“It’s a sewer cover. Fuck, you are as stupid as you are ugly!” I heard Z hiss. I almost couldn’t believe the balls on the woman.
The man said something I couldn’t understand.
“Speak English asshole, I can’t understand your gutter grunting,” Z said.
“I said, you are ahh going to be ugly when I am ah done with you,” the man growled with a thick accent.
“Hey, you hear that? It is the sound of you and your boss getting fired once the videos of you having orgies in the back rooms of strip clubs hit the news waves. I’m sure your shareholders are going to love to know that they are spending money on--”
“Where is this relay?” another man interrupted Z’s tirade. He spoke with almost no accent, and I guessed the words belonged to Uwuwto Alwin. He also sounded a bit scared of Z’s threat.
“Behind this bin. It is inside of the motorcycle saddle compartment,” Eve said. Her voice sounded like a calm breeze, but the animal inside of me screamed to be unleashed so it could kill the men that threatened to harm her.
“Go get it. Then bring it to us,” Alwin said.
“Sure, I’ll go back there and just hit the fucking send button.”
“Jaman, go get it out of the seat,” Alwin replied a second after Z spoke.
I heard footsteps up above as one of the guards walked past the manhole cover.
“Can you throw Z down here and then jump in afterward? I’ll catch you, and then I can shoot them,” I whispered and hoped that Eve heard me.
No. She is held by one of the men. I am held by a second. I can kill this man, but then the others will kill me.
My anger poured from my brain like lava. The rest of my nerves began to smoke, and I almost let myself change. There had to be away out of this. There must be some way I could distract these assholes and then free my friends.
Then I got an idea and ripped open one of my equipment bags.
“I ahhh don’t see ahh relay!” the man said.
“I’ve got it!” I yelled as my fingers closed around what I was looking for: a flash grenade.
What are you doing?
Eve’s voice conveyed no surprise or emotion.
“Flash grenade. Can you make it float in the air with your magic?” I whispered as I pulled out the pin and let the handle fly off.
“Who ahh said that?”
“Down here! In the sewer!” I shouted.
“Bring it up--”
I tossed the flash grenade up and out of the manhole with a perfect underhanded lob. I almost wanted to see if Eve used her magic, or whatever her power was called, to make it levitate before it exploded, but that would have been idiotic. Instead, I assumed she was going to make it work, and I bounced up the ladder with my eyes closed.
All the men and Z screamed with agony after the grenade activated.
I jumped out into the alley and pulled out my pistol. One of the men was to my right by the trash bin, and I guessed he was the one who went to investigate my motorcycle. I didn’t really need to aim at him. He was close, and I had always been a good shot. The pistol kicked a bit in my hand as the bullet ripped through his skull.
The man holding Z was hunched over with agony, but the blonde hacker was curled up in a fetal position on the ground, and her escort didn’t even have a hand anywhere on her mostly naked body. My second bullet went through his eye, and the exit wound splattered a fist full of brain onto Uwuwto.
There were three guards left, but the one who held Eve was standing behind the other two. Their numbers didn’t match my original count, and I realized that the driver must have stepped out of the car to assist. All of them were blinded, but the one closest to me on the left was a professional, and even though he was blind, he guessed where I stood from my gunshots and was twisting his own pistol in my direction.
I dove to the floor of the alley as his shot went off. I didn’t know if he would have hit me if I hadn’t, but my somersault took me the four meters of space between us in a single roll, and I came up in a crouch about half a meter from his feet.
My bullet entered him at the pelvis, ripped up through his stomach, under his ribcage, into his heart, through his lungs, and then exited at the top of his shoulder.
The penultimate guard started shooting, but he was waving his gun around blind and had no idea I was still crouching on the ground. His head exploded like an overripe melon fruit, and more brain splattered onto the well-dressed president.
The last man screamed something at me, and I turned to see him holding his gun to Eve’s skull. He shook his pistol and then tapped it on the side of her head with a jerking motion. I felt my anger turn into insanity, and my muscles began to swell. I’d rip that arm off first and then take his leg. I’d watch him squirm while his body bled out.
I will take care of him. Do not change.
Eve’s red eyes stared into mine, and the woman’s full lips formed a beautiful smile. I felt my body stop its transformation, but my anger didn’t actually subside. I still wanted to kill the man, but a bullet would do fine now. I didn’t need to tear all of his limbs off.
He shouted at me again, but his eyes were closed, and it was obvious he couldn’t see at all. He opened his mouth to shout the unknown language once more, but then his voice choked off, and he gasped.
His arm was moving away from Eve’s head. His shoulder was trembling, his knuckles were white around the grip of his gun, and his face looked horrified. The pistol lifted away from the side of the beautiful woman’s head and then slowly moved to his own. He started screaming, and let go of Eve with his left hand so that he could try to pull his right arm down, but as soon as he let go over the scantily clad woman, his pistol went off, and the right side of his face turned into a cloud of red smoke.
“What the fuck is going on? Am I dead?” Z cried out from her fetal position.
“I threw a flash grenade.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Now can you take these red hot pokers out of my eyes? I feel as if my brain is melting along with my retinas.”
“I’m going to get the bags from down below. Ehhhh-- Where do you think you are going?” I grabbed Uwuwto Alwin by the collar of his coat and tossed him into the nearest wall.
“I’ve got money. Please don’t kill me. I have a family,” the man stuttered. A gallon of tears was descending his fat cheeks and dripping on the floor.
“I’ll get him in the car,” Eve said. The beautiful woman carried one of the guard’s pistols in her right hand and a fistful of the president’s hair in her left. “Come with me, Alwin. We had an agreement.”
“Yes, yes. I’ll give you what you want. Just don’t kill me. I’ll take you right inside. Please don’t kill me!”
I moved back to the sewer hole, jumped down, set our gear bags over my shoulder, and then climbed back up to the alley.
“Z, can you see?”
“Oh sure, looks like black with darker spots of black on a burning black background of blackness.”
“I’ll help you up,” I said as I grabbed her arm. I got her standing easily, but I realized I would waste too much time leading her out of the alleyway. She was blind, wearing narrow platform heels, and the alleyway pavement was uneven. I was actually surprised both women had managed to walk down here with their shoes on.
“I’ll carry you,” I picked her up and sprinted back to the car.
“Awww, so sweet. My eyes still think that you’re an asshole, though.”
“They will forgive me soon.” I chuckled and then set her on the limo seat.
Eve already stepped inside with Uwuwto, and I saw the vampire woman had her pistol trained on the man’s chest. She turned to me, and a slight smile came to her red lips.
You should grab the driver’s coat and whatever money you can from the bodies before we go.
“Confirmed,” I said aloud. I was going to ask her if she needed to drink any blood from these men. I didn’t know how often the woman needed to “feed” to stay healthy. Then I realized my life was quite strange. I was a mutated weretiger thinking about how best to feed my vampire friend.
Our lives are indeed strange. I would like to drink some of their blood, but we are short on time. It helps me with my powers, but I will speak to you more about that when we are off of this planet.
I moved back to the group of dead men and searched through their pockets. They each carried rolls of cash, wallets with payment cards, Elaka Nota Corporation IDs, and extra magazines for their pistols. I was starting to collect a small arsenal of firearms, but one could never have too many guns. I laid my long coat down on a clean patch of ground and tossed all the arms and ammo on top of the fabric.
The driver’s coat was too small for me, and the muscles in my arms almost ripped the seams loose when I bent my elbows. It would be obvious the coat wasn’t meant for me if someone examined closely, but it was a better solution than just wearing my duster. At least it didn’t have any blood on it.
There was so much that could still go wrong with this plan.
I pulled up my coat into a sack and carried it over my shoulder to the limo. I must have looked like a strange kind of Santa Claus, but I doubted anyone in the abandoned slum area was actually watching us. I threw everything in the back next to Z, and then closed all the passenger doors before taking the driver seat.
“They are probably going to recognize me when I drive up to the gate. My face, along with yours and our friend’s are all over the news feeds,” I said to Eve through the window of the limo.
“Maybe. I am counting on the contextual disconnect of our strategy,” the dark woman said.
“They know our faces, but they are searching the city. I doubt these guards even care. They will not expect us to pull up in a car with one of the company presidents and then ask to be let in. They are expecting us to be hiding,” Eve explained.
“So you are counting on the guards at the gate being total idiots? Ugh. I can’t believe I agreed to this plan,” Z moaned from the back seat.
“Can you see yet?” I asked over my shoulder.
“It’s coming back. Still, hurts to open my eyes,” Z said.
“Start moving the guns from my coat and put them in one of our gear bags, then cram everything under one of the seats back there, or in a corner. I don’t want any of these guards to see them if they look inside,” I said.
“Kay. When comes the part of this plan where I get out of this slut suit? I have a wardrobe malfunction every time I breathe,” Z asked.
Uwueto whined and spoke before I could answer Z. “Don’t hurt me. Can you just take the car and my money? I don’t know who hired you all, but I can give you the schematics to our weapon systems. You don’t need to take me inside of the facility."
“We won’t hurt you if you cooperate. You’ve taken women here before to show off. Just ensure that there are no hiccups at the gate and you’ll live through this,” Eve’s voice was uncharacteristically angry.
“We are leaving the outskirts of the city,” I told everyone. “We’ll be at the gates in ten minutes. I’m going to close the privacy window. Make sure the bags are as hidden as you can get them and put on an act for these guards if they look inside.”
The two women agreed, and then I rolled up the dark glass so I could concentrate on the road ahead of me.
Unlike the other road we took out of the city during our first reconnaissance mission, this one was in decent repair and had some lights on the side. Even though the planet had been terraformed, and the gravity adjusted, the terrain still looked like the kind of badlands I had often seen in the high desert areas of Ganymede. It was mostly rocky mountains, stocky shrubs, and withered trees. The vegetation was kind of odd given how many times it had rained since I escaped into the city, but I supposed there could have been some problems with the soil that prevented a proper jungle from growing.
Or it could have been the light from the system’s sun. The city only ever seemed to get a few hours of hazy light every day before it slipped back into darkness. I did recall seeing many tanning booth storefronts in the city, and it was possible the planet didn’t spin on its axis completely.
The walls of the shipyard facility rose in the distance like a glowing caterpillar. The sight filled me with a bit of dread, and I contemplated the possible outcomes of our mission. The best result was us accomplishing our goal and stealing a ship out of their yard. Z had been right when she expressed doubts about any of the vessels having space folding technology. Those starships were virtually unheard of, but even a cruiser with a hyperdrive would mean we could jump solar systems with only a week’s worth of Earth time. We could head in any direction, and Elaka Nota would be unable to follow us through the vastness of the Milky Way. If we found a ship with a warpdrive we could get away even faster, but those ships were also rare.
The worst case scenario was the three of us getting captured. As much as I didn’t want to be experimented on again, I almost couldn’t bear the thought of Eve back in the liquid filled tube. I didn’t want to ponder the depth of my feelings for the woman who freed me, but I would give my life to protect her. I’d do it a thousand times and endure whatever agony to repay her.
I would do the same for you, Adam. They will not capture us. Death will take us first. It would be our last freedom, and while I would choose life for obvious reasons, dying by your side would bring me peace in the afterlife.
“Confirmed,” I said to her.
I tightened my grip on the steering wheel of the limo and turned into the main road of the facility.
Z’s eyes have recovered, and she has hidden our equipment under the longest rear seat. We are lounging on either side of Alwin. He takes women to the main office building. It is attached to the north side of the largest building. I wish we had a better plan, but Elaka Nota is too powerful for us to wait. This will be our only chance.
“I know. We’ll shoot our way past the guards if we have to, but then I can guarantee the final outcome. Let’s hope this works.”
The closer I drove to the gate, the more impressive it looked. The mass of concrete squatted a good forty meters high. The top of the wall had flashing red beacons to alert aircraft, and I spotted way too many auto turrets to count. I angled my head down into the steering wheel and prayed to my luck that none of the monitors on the gun’s cameras were linked to the facial recognition software running my image.
There were two gates, and I rolled down the window as I drove the limo up to the first one. A pair of guards wearing Heavy Elaka Nota armor stepped out of a side station. One of them approached my open window, and the other circled the car. Each of the men was holding what looked like plasma rifles.
The armored guard said something I didn’t understand, and my heart started to hammer in my chest. If things had gone wrong, I’d planned on shooting these guys, plowing past the gate, driving into the main building, and attempting to get onto the nearest ship. The armor these men wore would laugh at my bullets, and each of their plasma rifles probably cost as much as ten of these limos.
The weapons would also destroy the car in two shots. I’d never had one issued to me when I was in the Marines, but I had seen their power on the battlefield plenty of times. They mowed through the armored opposition as if everything was a paper target. I doubted I’d live through a shot of one, and I doubted that my healing abilities would save me if I did manage to live after taking a shot.
I needed to talk my way through this.
“President Alwin in the back. He’s got girls with him,” I said as I pointed my thumb. I couldn’t see the man’s eyes through the glass of his helmet, but I did see my reflection. I was surprised that I looked so calm.
“How many?” The voice asked.
“Just two this time. Can you believe this guy? I told him this was a secured area, but he said he does it all the time, and if I didn’t like it he’d fire me.”
“Where is Kimba bin?” the guard asked. I knew that was the name of the driver I killed.
“Night off. Alwin told the other guys they could stay at the club. Said to me I had to drive him here because I was new. Said I had to do my time. It’s my second day.”
“Where are you from? Your accent is strange,” the guard asked, and I saw the other one circle around to the driver side out of the corner of my eye.
“Jupiter. How about you? You don’t sound like a native.” I forced a smile to my mouth.
“Ha. Mars actually. We are a long way from home.”
“Mars, huh? You’ve probably got a story a lot like mine. You serve?” I asked.
“Fifth Army. I was in the Diatrade scuffles,” he said.
“I wouldn’t call those ‘scuffles.’ Heard that was some shit. I wasn’t in anything that serious. A couple of pirate issues. Mostly ship and station disputes.” My story was under exaggerated a bit. I’d done plenty of space, planet, and station missions. Some were full-scale conflicts. Others were recon or special assignments.
“Ha. I could never get comfortable with that idea. A bullet goes stray, and you are all dead. I prefer to be on the ground,” the man said.
“Confirmed. We should grab a beer sometime and chat more. I’ll grab your info when we get out. Good to talk to someone who is kind of from home.”
“Ha. That sounds good. Talk to you then.” The guard waved his hand, and the gate lifted in front of us.
“Wait,” the other guard called out, and I felt my stomach freeze.
“Yeah?” I asked as I leaned my head out.
“You mind rolling down the window?” this guard did have a local accent, but he didn’t have the “ah” phrasing tossed in his words.
“Sure. Let me figure out what button it is.” I looked through the controls and found the ones for the window. I unrolled the divider at the same time as the passenger one so that I could hear what the armored sentry said.
“What is taking so long?” Uwuwto said with a gasp.
“Sorry sir, wanted to confirm you were back here with two guests.”
“I am. Let’s go.”
In the rearview mirror, I saw that both women were hanging on the man, and Eve was stroking his neck with her long nails. I averted my eyes before I could get angry and focused on the gate ahead.
“Carry on,” the first guard said to me after the second had stepped away.
The gate was opened now, and I let the limo crawl past the doors before I slowly accelerated. There was another guard post up ahead, but the gate there was already opening, and the pair of men just waved us past without inspecting the limo.
Then we were inside of the facility, and a few more steps closer to getting off of this planet.