Escape and Evade
~ Chapter 16 ~
What if Max never made her speech at the end of FN? What if instead of
barricading themselves inside
Disclaimer: I asked Santa for the rights to DA, but I must’ve been on the naughty list cuz it ain’t mine.
Rating: NC-17 for sex and violence
Author’s Note: Ahh... the long anticipated, eagerly awaited ‘kicking of ass’ chapter. Mood music? Miroslava’s Name of the Game video, naturally. J
X5-494 breathed deeply, tasting the night air as much as smelling it, his senses extended to the utmost in all directions. Sharp green eyes took in every detail with a pinpoint precision at odds with his casual, laidback appearance. He was attuned to the slightest alterations in his surroundings, like the predator he was meant to be. And it was glorious.
Satisfied that everything was as it should be, that nothing had been overlooked and nothing unforeseen needed to be taken into account, 494 flicked open a channel on his headset. For half a second he wavered between sarcasm and blunt soldier speak, and then shrugged and – just for the hell of it – settled for quoting poetry.
“Once more unto the breach.”
And all hell broke loose.
Syl lay on her belly on the rooftop of an adjacent warehouse, right eye pressed to the scope of her SV-98 sniper rifle. Less than 50 meters from her position, a Familiar sentry stood guard on the rooftop of Warehouse 19, half-hidden in the shadow of an air vent. Syl allowed herself a small smile; the shadows weren’t nearly deep enough to hide her target from her genetically-enhanced vision and the odds that she could miss from this distance were laughably small.
Syl dropped into her ‘zone’, no longer aware of the grit that dug uncomfortably into her knees and belly, or the cool breeze tugging at the blonds strands that had worked free of her tight braid, or the distant slurping of the waves against the wooden pilings of the dock. There was only her finger on the trigger, her eye on the scope, and the target. Everything else just fell away.
Centred, barely breathing, she squeezed the trigger and watched, face impassive, as the Familiar’s head exploded in a crimson shower.
Opening a channel to mission command, she calmly announced, “X5-701 reporting. Target acquired.”
safely ensconced at Manticore, Dix accessed the back door program he installed
in the mainframe at Seattle Power, all those months ago when they were still
hiding out in
The fact that Warehouse 19 lacked a working secondary generator, combined with the fact that the Familiars lacked the anatomical adjustments necessary for keen night vision, gave the transgenics a distinct advantage in the fight. The fact that the power outage was sector-wide and not just confined to a single area kept municipal employees from investigating, and thereby disrupting, said fight.
Dix grinned hugely and leaned back in his chair, pleased with his contribution to the cause.
Hunkered down behind a pile of wooden crates on the seaward side of the warehouse, Mole hefted a 25mm Militech Mini-Grenade Launcher, took careful aim, and calmly blew a hole in one of the rolling bay doors. The door exploded with a satisfying whoosh, torn and twisted metal flying through the air like confetti. The surrounding air crackled with heat.
Startled screams echoed from inside the warehouse. True, they were mostly screams of rage, but there was the odd scream of pain mixed in too. Mole grinned and took a long drag on his cigar.
Dropping the grenade launcher, he pulled a Remington Wingmaster pump-action repeater shotgun – loaded with solid cartridges rather than the standard buckshot – from the duffle bag at his feet and prepared to drop anyone so foolish as to try and make a break for the loaded helicopters waiting behind him on the pier.
494 flattened himself against the wall at the rear entrance to the warehouse, beside the door that opened onto the back alley where the dumpsters and recycling bins sat empty. He turned his head against the flash of light as a mini-explosive blew the lock on the heavy steel door, the slight pffft sound it made timed to coincide with the larger explosion caused by Mole’s grenade.
A squad of heavy combat soldiers led by X5-646 stormed the entrance. They dove to the floor and rolled in one smooth motion, guns in their hands and ready to fire as they came up in a crouch.
494 waited a beat, long enough for the X5s to engage the Familiars set to guard the back entrance, and then signalled to his fellow solo operatives waiting in the wings. They blurred through the door and around the edges of the fight, moving so fast not even their own squad mates saw them go. As soon as they had cleared the fight, they fanned out into the dark interior.
Five mad scientists were waiting somewhere inside the vast warehouse.
The hunt was on.
Max crouched behind the rear wheel of Ames White’s government-issue sedan, conveniently parked at a right angle to the business entrance at the front of the warehouse. Taking cover next to her were Joshua, Zane, Krit, and Jondy; poor Joshua was folded double, his oversized frame all knobby knees and elbows just to keep his head from poking above the bottom edge of the passenger window.
It was ironic that White’s car was perfectly situated to lay down cover fire to keep the Familiars pinned while her transgenic brethren flooded the warehouse from every other side. It was even more ironic that she had absolutely no intention of using the gun Alec insisted she carry.
Max craned her neck to peer over the trunk of the car, scanning for weak points or breaks in the wall that might be used as gunnery holes by those inside. The large glass windows that fronted the building were boarded over and decorated with multi-layered graffiti slogans, slogans that were both obscene and merely crude. The plywood was old and warped and looked as if it had been nailed in place the day the business first went bankrupt, but it was still intact.
the most part, Warehouse 19 resembled any one of a thousand abandoned buildings
In the near distance, gunfire punctuated the otherwise peaceful night; Hell’s own marching band, playing the soundtrack of her childhood.
Max curled her lips in a feral grin. Her squad’s mission was to secure the exit and prevent any attempts at a retreat through the parking lot. She was supposed to hold the line and let the battle come to her.
Warehouse 19 was an ugly but functional rectangular box. A set of stairs at the front of the building led to a fair-sized landing lined with a row of closed doors; office space for the management. The space beneath the landing was walled off from the rest of the warehouse and contained both the general reception area and counters for shipping and receiving. The remainder of the interior was an open, cavernous space.
On a catwalk high above the warehouse floor, 494 swiftly made his way towards the offices, his target’s most likely location. He monitored the gunfire, his mind tracking the flow of battle even as the larger part of his attention was occupied with his own mission. He judged the firefight as densest on the seaward side; the Familiars were determined to punch their way through to the birds waiting on the pier, as was to be expected. However, since they were taking heavy fire on the landward side as well, they couldn’t spare the manpower for a concerted push. They would be down to hand-to-hand soon, once his teams breached the outer defences and began sweeping the interior.
494 grinned in anticipation. The Familiars’ strange insensitivity to pain did not make them invincible, and there was one breeding cult loony he would dearly love to use to test the limits of their pain tolerance. Two, if that jacked-up bitch from the Jam Pony fiasco was still in town.
A sudden explosion rocked the building on its foundations. X5-523 – ‘Mick’, his brain supplied automatically – had just blown out one of the loading bay doors on the landward side of the warehouse. 494 nodded in satisfaction. Everything was on schedule and proceeding according to plan.
He had a mark to locate.
By now, 646 and his team would have retreated back beyond the wall, taking the bodies of the dead guards with them. Odds were excellent that the cult wasn’t even aware their perimeter had been breached. Focused on repelling the invasion, they most likely hadn’t seen the need to set guards on the scientists yet. Which left him with the element of surprise.
494 cautiously approached the office at the tail end of the landing and furthest from the stairs. Pressing his back to the wall on the hinge side of the door, he listened intently. The room was silent and apparently empty, but the high metal ceiling amplified the gunfire and made it all but impossible to detect the presence or absence of a heartbeat through the din.
494 drew his HK 9-mm SMG and set it to single shot mode. Dropping to a crouch so as to present the smallest target possible, 494 pushed open the door with his left hand and held the gun steady in his right and swept as much of the interior as he could see. There was very little furniture inside; only a battered desk and a single filing cabinet, both pushed up against the outer wall. Moonlight shone feebly through the dirt-encrusted window. Diving to the floor and rolling to the side, 494 quickly scanned the area behind the half-open door.
Eight corpses lay in an untidy pile against the far wall. Dried blood from the precisely drilled bullet holes left a trail between sightless staring eyes. Execution kills from close range. And completely unexpected too, judging from the faint expressions of surprise etched on their faces.
Obviously, these eight men were the flight crew assigned to the shiny NSA helicopters parked on the pier outside.
494 was inured to the sight of violent death and had been from an early age. He was not a squeamish human, to get nightmares from the sight of blood and murder. He’d seen bodies in far worse shape than this. Had done worse himself, in fact, back in the day. But as he stared at the dead flight crew, something stirred inside him, in the parts of him that were ‘Alec’ and not just the soldier X5-494.
This was wrong. This was pointless and unnecessary. These men did not have to die.
They deserved better than this.
One of the men reminded him of Biggs.
Ames White punched the office wall with sufficient force to smash his arm through the cheap plaster clear up to his elbow. It was a foolish and undisciplined reaction, but the blind rage inside him demanded release and there was no other outlet close to hand.
White stared at his damaged, bleeding knuckles. The lack of pain steadied him.
They would come for the scientists, those filthy soulless unclean animals.
The scientists were irrelevant now. The virus already existed. It was there, waiting to be unleashed.
White’s lip curled in a disdainful smile. He wasn’t a beast, driven and controlled by his instincts like those fucking animals outside. He was one of the Blessed – the next stage of human evolution. And their Ascension would not be overthrown, not by those disgusting, ugly, mutant sideshow freaks. Not by a race whose very existence was a mockery of everything his people had accomplished over the millennia.
He would not be thwarted. He would unleash the Purification himself, ritual chanting be damned. The world would be forever cleansed of the stink of humanity.
And then he would punish his father’s creations for daring to exist.
Wrenching open the office door, White stepped out into the landing hallway. Ignoring the stairs altogether, he vaulted the iron railing and dropped straight to the floor of the warehouse.
494 watched from the shadows as White jumped the railing and vanished into the dark interior of the warehouse. His body hummed with the desire to give chase. He wanted to bloody his fists on that arrogant face; pin the NSA agent by his throat against the nearest wall until he gasped for air; make him fear for his continued existence the same as any of his victims, transgenic or human.
But he still had a target to acquire, and the mission was what mattered. It came first. Always.
Retribution would just have to wait a few more minutes.
494 diligently searched the office White had just vacated, confirming that the NSA agent was indeed the only occupant, and then moved off down the hall towards the next office.
He found his mark – Dr Theodore Cross, progenitor of the virus – behind door number three. The doctor was pacing the confines of the tiny office, swearing in a constant litany under his breath and jabbing ineffectively at the buttons on his cell phone. He was unable to get a signal thanks to Dix, who was jamming every cell tower in the sector, and it was making him frantic. The room stank of his fear. Clearly this was a man bred for brains, not nerve.
This man’s research might have cured cancer or AIDS or any one of the countless diseases that plagued mankind. Instead, he chose to create one more; one to put all the rest to shame.
494 could not find it within himself to regret what he was about to do.
Moving as stealthily as only a transgenic could, 494 snuck up behind Dr Cross. He looped his garrotte – his weapon of choice – around the Familiar’s neck cross-handed and pulled. The doctor made a dreadful wheezing noise and struggled violently for air, his fingernails scraping his neck raw in a desperate bid to dislodge the cruel wire. The heels of his expensive leather dress shoes drummed spastically against the floor. 494 merely tightened the wire and waited him out.
Eventually, the doctor quit flailing and sagged against 494’s chest, his body so much limp, dead weight. 494 maintained his hold several seconds, just to be certain. When he was satisfied the mark was dead and not merely unconscious, he gently lowered the man into the desk chair and posed the body so that a cursory glance from the doorway would not reveal anything suspicious.
Thumbing open a channel on his headset, 494 calmly reported, “Target alpha acquired.”
On the seaward side of the warehouse, one of the uberFamiliars – a hulking, sandy-haired brute of a man with a broken nose and shoulders a linebacker would kill for – leaned too far into the gap of what used to be the bay doors. Either reckless or daring or just too damn stupid to know any better.
Grinning like a fiend, Mole drew a bead and suddenly there was one less Familiar in the world, and one more mark on his mental scorecard.
He hadn’t had this much fun in forever.
494 smiled grimly. ‘Time’s up, you bastards.’
Beneath the gunfire, 494 picked out the sounds of a violent struggle. Swivelling to identify the source, he tracked the noise to one of the rooms under the landing. The only transgenics to have penetrated this deep into the interior of the warehouse were the solo operatives. 494 quickly moved to intercept.
Pressing his back to the cheap paperboard wall, 494 peered around the doorframe into what turned out to be the employee break room. It was quite thoroughly trashed. Tables were either shoved against the walls or overturned completely, and the folding metal chairs that had once been pushed neatly under the tables were now scattered around the room.
X5-229’s assigned mark – a woman with mousy brown hair skinned back into a tight bun and dressed in a frumpy suit and sensible shoes – waited in the small kitchenette in the corner opposite the door. Her upper lip was curled into a disgusted sneer; the kind of expression pampered women wore after stepping in something unspeakably foul while wearing $400 designer boots.
In the middle of the room, X5-229 – Reina, one of 494’s favourite sparring partners – was pinned between two soldiers from the cult’s Phalanx guard. The shorter of the two uberFamiliars – a squat, barrel-chested brute with thighs to rival tree trunks and arms to match – held 229 immobilized in a chokehold. His partner – tall and broad-shouldered, with a greying crew cut – picked himself off the floor from where 229 had kicked him and slammed a heavy fist into her exposed side.
Both men dwarfed the petite Asian X5. She looked like a child being accosted by the schoolyard bullies for her lunch money. 494 was reminded of those pre-Pulse after-school TV specials.
Of course, in those movies, the victim didn’t turn around and beat the crap out of the bullies.
229 lashed out with her left foot, catching the taller Familiar just below the knee and forcing him to step back. With room now to manoeuvre, she kicked off the floor and flipped herself completely up and over her captor’s head, breaking his chokehold on her neck in the process. Her boot caught the taller Familiar in the jaw on the upswing, rocking his head back.
Attempting to even the odds, 229 locked one hand on the stocky Familiar’s face and the other behind his head. But before she could exert enough force to snap his neck, he reached back and snagged her vest by one of the shoulder straps, and threw her over his shoulder to land on the floor on her back. 229 was momentarily stunned by the force of her landing.
494 dove into the fight, catching the taller Familiar around the knees just as he pulled his right foot back to deliver a punishing kick to 229’s ribs. The Familiar hit the floor hard. Rolling clear, 494 arched his back into a bridge and kicked out with his feet, launching himself upright.
Recovered from her fall, 229 swept her leg out, knocking her opponent off-balance though unfortunately not off his feet. Rolling to the side, she regained her footing. “Let’s try this again, shall we?” she asked brightly.
229 lashed out with a straight kick to the kidneys. The stocky Familiar held his stance and took the blow, and then attempted to get close, preferring to pound on his opponents with fists and knees where his bulk gave him the advantage. 229 went down into a backwards somersault that brought her to her feet in a position to land a roundhouse kick to the Familiar’s head. She slid to the side and retreated out of arm’s reach, using her greater agility and speed to dodge the flurry of heavy body blows intended to break a rib and drive it into her lung.
In the far corner, the mark began edging towards the open door, on the verge of bolting for freedom. 494 whirled, snatched the nearest chair, and tossed it straight at her head. She brought one arm up in time to protect her face, but still went down in a messy heap. 494 grinned.
The tactic cost him. The taller Familiar nailed him in the back of the head with a double-fisted swing. 494 let it drop him to the floor. Pushing off with his hands, he kicked out with both feet and caught the Familiar in the gut, knocking him back two steps. 494 rolled to the side and surged to his feet. The Familiar came after him with a vicious backhanded swing. 494 ducked, and the fist whistled harmlessly over his head. 494 feinted to the right then ducked under the Familiar’s guard and slammed an elbow into his face. He just absorbed the blow and ignored the blood that dripped from his broken nose.
Damn that ‘feel no pain’ policy.
“Weak, pathetic animal!” the Familiar snarled.
“Who’re you calling weak? You’re the one tag-teaming a little girl,” 494 retorted.
494 threw a fast left hook at the Familiar’s head, or at least he tried to. His stiff and still-healing muscles protested and the arm didn’t move as quickly as it should. The Familiar easily blocked the punch with his forearm and then slammed his off-hand into 494’s sore ribs. Pain flared up his entire side. Grunting, 494 back-pedalled out of reach. Shifting his combat stance to compensate for the pain, he presented his uninjured left side.
The Familiar registered the change in 494’s lead foot and laughed. Closing the distance, he threw a left hook designed to open up 494’s guard and followed through with a straight punch aimed at 494’s right side. 494 dropped into a leg sweep that hit the Familiar in the thigh and took his feet out from under him. He rolled clear, but not before 494 stomped down hard on his right hand. The little bones snapped with a satisfying crunch.
Time to end this.
Dancing backwards out of reach, 494 palmed one of his throwing knives in his right hand. The Familiar rushed him, impatient for the kill. 494 ducked under his guard. Bringing his right hand up in an underhand cut, he slid the knife beneath the third rib and rammed it into the heart. The Familiar stared in disbelief at the dagger that blossomed from his chest. He grunted and threw a wild punch that 494 dodged easily, then dropped to his knees and keeled over on his side, dead. Panting, one hand pressed to his aching ribs, 494 turned to survey the room.
In the kitchenette, the mark kicked off the metal chair, sending it skidding across the floor into the fridge, and got to her feet using her left arm for leverage. Her right arm hung uselessly at her side. Blood trickled from a small cut on her cheekbone.
‘Fractured wrist,’ 494 surmised. He suppressed an unwanted tinge of sympathy. ‘Fucking conscience.’ Assassination was so much easier without it.
He turned to watch 229 fight, though he kept the mark in the periphery of his vision. 229 aimed a spin kick at the Familiar’s temple. He intercepted the kick, grabbing her leg at the ankle while she was still balanced on one foot. 229 dropped to her hands, pivoting around her captive foot and slamming her free foot into the Familiar’s groin. He grunted and staggered backwards, his hands automatically dropping to cup his injured balls.
Selective breeding aside, certain types of pain just can’t be ignored.
229 pushed off the ground into a backhand spring. Both of her boot heels connected with the Familiar’s chin as she flipped up and over, sending him crashing backwards to the floor. Shaking his head to clear it, he surged to his feet. 229 danced backwards by several paces, giving her sufficient room and time to pull her gun. The bullet took him in the heart and sent him flying backwards. Without missing a beat, 229 pivoted and put a bullet in her mark’s back just as she bolted for the exit.
Flashing a quick grin of thanks to 494 for leaving her the kill, 229 fingered her headset and opened a channel. “Target gamma acquired.”
Syl lay motionless on the rooftop, her rifle trained on Warehouse 19. She waited and watched, alert for any signs of movement along the perimeter. The sound of gunfire drifting on the night breeze kept her company.
Something stirred in the shadows covering the smashed loading bay doors. Syl narrowed her eyes and focused on the source of the movement. Five figures ducked out of the warehouse – three tattooed priests in hooded robes and two guards in black body armour, guns drawn.
Syl smiled. Her hands were steady on the cold metal of the rifle.
Lydecker would be so proud.
The guards paused for a quick scan of the area and then hustled the priestesses across the lot. Syl ignored the two guards and targeted the first priestess in line instead, since one of tonight’s priorities was to gut the breeding cult’s ruling class. She took careful aim and waited for the perfect moment. When her target had almost reached the far side of the lot, she fired.
The bullet hit the mark perfectly. The sniper next to Syl fired a second later, and the second target went down. Syl aimed and fired again, eliminating the third priestess. Pleased, Syl trained her rifle on one of the guards but before she could take him out, four transgenics appeared from nowhere and closed in, engaging the guards in hand-to-hand combat.
Syl swore softly, and searched the night for a new target.
Surrounded and out of options, the priestesses and the surviving members of the Phallanx guard had gathered by one of the blasted loading bay doors, readying themselves for a desperate run for freedom.
494 attacked from behind, slamming a priestess in the back of the skull with a vicious crescent kick. She pitched forward into the priestess standing in front of her; both women went down; their efforts to right themselves hampered by the billowing robes now tangled around their legs. Beside him, 229 seized a second priestess by the skull; a sharp twist to the right, and the woman’s neck snapped like a twig.
With a screech, a tattooed and painted high priestess snatched a curved ceremonial dagger from her belt and leaped for 494, her claw-like hands gripping the handle in an overhead strike. 494 grabbed her wrists, dropped his weight backwards, and catapulted her over his head to land hard on her back on the warehouse floor. Wrenching the dagger from her grasp, he buried it in her throat.
Suddenly, 494’s earpiece crackled to life. <Target epsilon acquired.>
494 grinned. Three dead scientists.
Almost immediately the line went live again. <Target beta acquired.>
494’s grin widened.
Only one to go.
The front entrance opened onto a general reception area. A waist-high counter ran nearly the length of the room, dividing it into two sections. The area nearest the door was furnished with a desk, filing cabinets, two couches in truly hideous yellow upholstery, and a couple of fake potted palms. The long wall behind the counter held cubby-hole shelving units and an archway that led into the interior of the warehouse.
Five uberFamiliars walked through the archway, guns drawn – three males and two females, wearing identical black uniforms and the blank-faced expressions of seasoned soldiers. A thin man in a rumpled white lab coat and glasses trailed along behind.
Max signalled to her team. Nodding in understanding, they maintained their position. They’d taken what cover they could behind the furniture. Given a choice, Max would have preferred her old trick of clinging to the ceiling – no one EVER looked up – but the ceiling here was smooth, no rafters to brace against.
The Familiars cautiously moved around the end of the counter and penetrated further into the room.
It seemed like overkill to Max; five guards to protect a single scientist. This scrawny man wasn’t even the head of the project. Only it wasn’t him they were guarding so much as what he was carrying – a laptop was tucked against his side under his left arm, and in his right hand he clutched a stoppered glass vial.
Max’s blood ran cold at the sight of the vial and its clear liquid contents. It was obviously a sample of the pathogen – enough for the cult to replicate more, at any time. Her heart accelerated to a fever pitch and suddenly her blood was no longer cold; it was boiling, pumping adrenaline and fury through her veins.
They were NOT leaving here with that vial.
At Max’s signal, her team blurred from their hiding places, each hitting one of the uberFamiliars.
Max lashed out with a right-footed roundhouse kick that sent the Familiar’s gun flying. Bringing that leg down, she transferred her weight and immediately spun into a second, left-footed roundhouse kick to the head. The Familiar staggered but shook off the blow. She dove in before Max’s balance was firm and punched the X5 twice in the stomach. Max danced back out of reach. They began to circle warily.
Joshua batted the Familiar’s gun aside like he was swatting a mosquito. Hoisting the man in the air by the front of his uniform, Joshua shook him so hard his teeth rattled and then heaved him across the room into the far wall.
Zane came in low and fast, tackling a burly Familiar around the waist. Both men went down in a tangle of limbs and the gun went skidding out of sight across the floor.
Jondy loosed a crescent kick that knocked the gun out of the guard’s hand. He lashed out with a fist that just barely missed its mark. Leaping high, Jondy snapped a kick to his head that caught him on the chin. The Familiar absorbed the blow and rushed her. Jondy sidestepped the charge and elbowed him in the face. He responded with a backhand that split her lip and rocked her head back.
Krit grabbed the Familiar’s gun and wrestled her for control. She pulled the trigger, but the bullet blew harmlessly out the boarded-up window behind him. Krit slammed the Familiar’s wrist against his upraised knee, knocking the gun out of her grip. Bringing it up, he smashed her in the face, hitting her in the nose with it. Blood spurted. She didn’t even flinch at the pain. Her foot came up and she kicked Krit in the stomach, knocking them apart. Krit lost his hold on the gun as he fell backwards to the floor.
Zane’s opponent kicked him in the head then rolled clear and jumped to his feet. Zane flipped himself upright and into a combat stance before the Familiar could close on his position again. Blurring forward, Zane hammered his cocked elbow into the man’s chin with sufficient force to render most men unconscious. It barely fazed his opponent. Smiling nastily, he drilled Zane with an uppercut that lifted the X5 off his feet. Zane staggered but managed to keep from dropping. Shaking his head to clear it, Zane blocked the incoming punch with his forearm and slammed his off-hand into the Familiar’s ribs. He felt one crack beneath his fist, and smiled in satisfaction.
Joshua was on his attacker before he could recover from his impromptu flight. Picking him up, Joshua rammed him into a filing cabinet. Bracing himself against the cabinet, the Familiar kicked out and nailed Joshua squarely in the chest with both boots. Snarling now, Joshua punched him in the face and tossed him the width of the room. The Familiar landed on the counter, cracking the wood surface.
Jondy spat blood from her mouth and glared at her attacker. “Filth,” he sneered. Furious, Jondy launched herself at him. She threw a straight punch to his throat, which he evaded. Blocking her punch with his forearm, he drove his off-hand hard into her kidneys. Jondy gasped and doubled over the fist. She countered with an underhand punch to the groin and a head butt that knocked him back a step. He grabbed her wrist as she threw another punch and swung her into a nearby wall.
Max took a crescent kick to the head that knocked her helmet askew, blocking her vision. Max back-pedalled, fingers fumbling with the straps, and finally managed to rip it off. A backhand caught Max in the face and split her lip open. “Bitch,” she yelled, tasting her own blood. The Familiar smiled nastily. Pissed, Max let loose with a vicious straight kick to the stomach that sent the woman airborne. She flew backwards and collided with a couch. Unbalanced, it tipped over, tumbling her to the floor on the other side. Max vaulted over the couch after her.
Krit rolled to the side to avoid a kick to the face. He formed a bridge, kicked his legs upwards and slammed both boots into the Familiar’s chest, knocking her backwards into a wall. He flipped to his feet and blurred forward to intercept. She stood her ground and backhanded him across the face. Krit shook off the blow. He hammered an elbow into her stomach and then stepped back out of reach. They circled, fists ready, each searching for a hole in the other’s defences.
Zane lashed out with a straight punch to the kidneys and a second to the throat. The Familiar countered with a backhanded fist that rocked Zane on his feet. Zane shook off the blow. Feinting to the left, he aimed a punch at the Familiar’s head. The Familiar parried the hit and retaliated with a lightning fast hook that caught Zane on the left temple. Dropping to one knee, Zane struck at the Familiar’s exposed ribcage. In return, he kneed Zane in the face. Hard. Blood spurted from a broken nose. Zane dropped into a backward somersault and regained his feet. He spat blood from his mouth.
Joshua pounced before his attacker could regain his footing and pinned the man in a chokehold. The Familiar struggled violently to dislodge Joshua, but Joshua just dug in his heels and refused to be moved.
Jondy rebounded off the wall and dropped into a leg sweep. The Familiar jumped in the air to avoid the sweep. Jondy tucked into a somersault, barely escaping the boots aimed at stomping on her head, and sprang to her feet. She spun and whipped her back leg up and around in a roundhouse kick to the head. The Familiar ducked and retaliated with a strike to the solar plexus that drove the air from the X5’s lungs and knocked her to the ground. Laughing, he kicked her hard in the side before she could roll out of range. She felt at least one rib crack with the force of the kick.
The Familiar grabbed for Max as she dove over the couch. The two women rolled over and over, each struggling for dominance. Max managed to land two good hits before the Familiar planted her knee in Max’s stomach. She kicked the X5 off and jumped to her feet. Max twisted her body around and swept the woman’s legs out from under her. Flipping herself upright, Max was met with a boot to the stomach. Max grabbed the woman’s leg by the ankle and twisted, but the Familiar ignored the pain and used the X5’s hold for leverage to leave the floor and kick Max in the diaphragm with her other boot. Max staggered backwards, releasing her hold on the Familiar’s ankle. She rolled smoothly to her feet.
Krit attacked with a right punch to the kidneys and a left hook. The Familiar parried both blows and threw an uppercut to the jaw that Krit just barely managed to deflect. Pressing her advantage, she lunged forward, aiming a straight jab at his unprotected throat. Krit twisted sideways and the hit glanced off his shoulder. Blocking his counter-blow, she loosed a spinning kick that caught the X5 in the temple. Krit back-pedalled out of arm’s reach, blinking away the blood that dripped into his eye from the torn skin.
Jondy rolled to the side, trying to get clear of her attacker. Her lungs burned and she gasped for air, unable to catch her breath. The Familiar kicked her again, and again she felt a rib give way. Desperate, she kept rolling. Her fingers brushed against cold metal; Jondy snatched up the gun, rolled over onto her back, and fired. The bullet slammed into his heart, knocking him backwards off his feet; he crashed heavily to the ground. Jondy gulped in a grateful breath then got to her feet. She scanned the room, searching for another target.
Zane threw a fast punch which the Familiar blocked. Whirling around, he clocked Zane on the side of the head with a heavy hit that made his ears ring. The two men were evenly matched in strength and power but Zane was losing momentum; Zane wondered how many more blows to the head he could take. His left eye was almost swollen shut and blood still dribbled from his broken nose, making his breathing wet and ragged. Zane shifted his weight to his left leg and landed a side kick with his right to the Familiar’s cracked ribs. He hammered an elbow into Zane’s knee before the X5 could retract the leg. Zane grunted as pain shot up his leg. He back-pedalled out of reach, moving awkwardly. They began to circle.
Max growled in frustration. Blurring forward, she slammed the Familiar in the side of the head with a cocked elbow. She spun with the impact and retaliated with a vicious kick to the back of the X5’s knee, causing the leg to buckle. As Max staggered, off-balance, the Familiar grabbed Max by the arm, swung her in a full circle and sent her flying into a wall. Max hit the wall hard, her entire body jarring in pain. Rebounding off the wall, Max landed in a crouch and sprang towards the Familiar. She nailed the woman in the stomach, doubling her over her fist.
Joshua let the limp form of the strangled guard drop from his arms. He looked for Max and saw the doctor scrambling for the exit. With a roar, Joshua dove after the fleeing man. Grabbing him by the back of his rumpled lab coat, Joshua whirled around and flung him back across the room. The laptop and the vial went flying. Cursing Joshua’s parentage, the doctor scrabbled after the vial on hands and knees. Panting, Joshua moved to block the door.
Krit’s opponent came after him with a jump kick. Krit slid sideways and drove his fist into her exposed side. Whirling, she retaliated with a roundhouse punch to the face that rocked him back on his heels. Krit grunted. She smirked. Feinting to the left, Krit let fly with a straight right to the head. The Familiar dodged the blow, grabbed his arm at the wrist as the punch whistled harmlessly past her ear, spun, and crashed his arm down against her shoulder. Krit’s elbow broke with a loud crack. He staggered backwards. Smiling, the Familiar lashed out with a side kick to the stomach that doubled him over.
‘Shit.’ “Krit duck!” Jondy yelled.
Krit immediately dropped to the floor. Jondy fired. The bullet took the woman between the eyes. She wavered on her feet, her jaw hanging open in surprise, and then slowly toppled backwards to the floor.
Breathing audibly, Zane tried for a roundhouse kick that didn’t connect and faked a stumble when he landed on his bad leg. Grinning, the Familiar bought it. He came in for the kill, head lowered to butt the X5 off balance and take him down. Zane stepped forward, slipped in under the Familiar’s guard, grabbed his skull in both hands, and twisted; his neck snapped with an audible crack. Zane let the body drop, its staring eyes wide and unmoving.
Max’s attacker grabbed her by the front of her Kevlar vest and flipped her over her shoulder to land, hard, on her back on the desk. Max gasped as the air left her lungs in a whoosh. The Familiar then slammed Max in the sternum with a double-handed fist that made the X5’s eyes water. Max jackknifed her legs, and caught the Familiar in a pincer grip with her knees around the woman’s neck, ankles locked behind her skull. With a twist of her hips, the woman’s neck snapped; the body fell lifeless to the ground, head lolling to the side at an impossible angle.
Panting heavily, Max got off the desk and surveyed the damage around her. The room was in shambles, but the Familiars were down and they were the ones left standing. Bloody and broken, but still standing all the same. She smiled.
A shot rang out in the sudden stillness. Max spun around and dropped into a combat stance.
The doctor dropped face first to the floor, a bullet dead centre between his eyes. The glass vial fell from his nerveless fingers and rolled across the floor and came to a stop next to the filing cabinet.
A transgenic soldier stood in the archway behind the counter, gun arm extended. X5, with unruly ginger hair and a face full of freckles. It took Max several seconds before she could place him – Finn, Alec’s partner from the sparring match she witnessed just two days ago.
“Thanks,” he said, grinning, “I was looking for him.” Finn indicated the target with a jerk of his head. Leaning over the counter for a closer look, he shook his head, clearly unimpressed. “Fuck, what a loser. I’da really hated being goat on account of him. Do you know how many bottles of scotch I’da had to front if he made it outta here?” Max stared blankly at him.
Finn shrugged and opened a channel on his head set. “Target delta acquired.”
Max calmly crossed the room to stand next to the filing cabinet. Raising her foot, she stomped down hard on the vial, grinding the glass to powder beneath her boot heel.
Syl dutifully scanned the length of the pier, paying particular attention to the shadows and relying on her hearing and scent as well as vision to compensate for the fog that was rolling in off the ocean and thickening by the minute. 494 had ordered the snipers off the roof and on sentry duty. Boring, but Syl didn’t mind. She was grateful for the chance to stand on her feet and move around instead of stretched out flat on her belly on the cold roof. Besides, guarding four abandoned birds was a far sight better than body retrieval.
Although she couldn’t pinpoint the location of the sentry stationed next to the warehouse, she knew he was there and that all was quiet at his end; she’d have heard his signal if it wasn’t. Satisfied that there were no immediate threats in the environment, Syl relaxed her stance, rolling her shoulders to ease the kinks in her neck and between her shoulder blades. Then she bent her head to examine her rifle, the muzzle dipping slightly towards the ground while she blew carbon out of the breech and checked the seat of the clip.
A tiny sound drifted on the wind from behind her and to the left. Her brain automatically identified it as the squeak of a man’s shoe, even as she moved to intercept. Syl pivoted on her back leg and whipped the rifle up and around, but before she could get the barrel up into firing position a dark shape slammed into her from the shadows. Pain blossomed behind her right temple, and the world went dark.
The heavy bay doors were bent and twisted out of all recognition, ripped apart as easily as tissue paper and still hot to the touch. Mole’s idea of knocking.
‘Logan’s right,’ Max thought giddily as she walked out of the charnel house formally known as Warehouse 19, ‘Transgenics really are woefully lacking in manners.’ She giggled; a high-pitched trill that she was just too tired and too buzzed to hold in. Biting on her knuckle hard enough to draw blood, she choked the laughter off before it could become a full-fledged hysterical fit. Her entire body fairly hummed with the adrenaline high from the fight.
Closing her eyes, she breathed in deeply and let the crisp, salt-tinged night air wash over her until she was calm and settled and something approaching a proper soldier again. She looked for the sentries, but a heavy fog was rolling in off the ocean, dampening her senses, and transgenics were just too damn good at hiding in the shadows. Max shrugged, unconcerned, and started the long walk down the pier.
She stopped opposite the first chopper in line and silently contemplated the heavy urns strapped to the cargo hold floor. The urns were made of clay in the shape of Greek amphorae and painted with elaborate runes that spiralled widdershins from the urn’s fluted top down to its fat belly.
36 urns total; 12 cities. That made it 3 urns per city – the number no doubt chosen to represent some sacred, unholy trinity. ‘Or ease of carrying,’ she thought, eyeing the heavy urns. It would take more-than-human strength to heft one of those.
Max glanced back at the warehouse, her mind busy cataloguing the different players and their roles in this misbegotten attempt at racial cleansing. A team of five scientists, to shepherd the pathogen until show time. The Phallanx – so many Max didn’t bother to count them all – to defend the urns. Ames White, to cloak the entire operation with the legitimacy of his government day job. And three dozen priests to perform the ritual itself – 12 painted and tattooed high priestesses to rattle the bones and speak in forked tongues, and 24 acolytes for the lifting, carrying and pouring portion of the festivities.
Max eyed the interior of the Black Hawk again. Nine heavy urns strapped to the cargo hold and room besides for the priests and their guards. White could certainly have gotten a convoy through the sector checkpoints with a wave of his government-issue ID, but the choppers let them bypass the pesky checkpoints altogether. And no doubt if they cared to search, they would find 12 planes at one of the abandoned airstrips outside the city, just waiting to whisk away the urns and their vile contents.
Clever. But not clever enough.
Max moved down the line of helicopters, compulsively counting urns as she went. Nine in the first chopper... nine in the second... nine in the third... eight in the fourth.
Max forgot to breathe as she stared, horrified, at the slashed cargo straps.
One urn was missing. Gone. Taken.
She spun and ran full out for the warehouse. Halfway there a second thought hit her with such force it knocked her off her stride. Earlier tonight her team took shelter behind White’s car.
His car was here.
Where was he?
Max pulled up the memory of the dead Familiars now laid in neat rows down the centre of the warehouse, mentally rotating the image to come at it from all sides, searching for White among the horde. But his wasn’t one of the broken and bloodied corpses inside the warehouse.
One urn was missing... and so was Ames White.