෴෴෴ ෴෴෴ ෴෴
Raz took the gloves out of his pants and pulled them on. He flexed his fingers and wrists to check they were on right. After testing the fit he snapped the heavy buckles into place. An incongruous grin appeared on his face when he clenched both fists tightly. There was something about the feel and heft of them that spoke to him. They just felt right, for punching things.
Just then he heard and felt another thump. The sound reverberated through his bones. It sounded like the first thump, but somehow sharper and more vibration through his feet.
I don’t know what the hell that was, but whatever war is going on out there, we need to take advantage of the situation and get out. Based on that map, it looks like the only rooms big enough to house extra people is a direction we’ve never been, better yet, it looks like it’s on the way out. So Bee, we’ve been in several areas here, with the new perception bump and senses increase, do you think we can chart a way out?
[There is a reasonable level of confidence.]
[However, that room is not on the way.]
[It is a significant detour that will require retracing your steps.]
[This will increase vulnerability to recapture.]
That sucks. We’re going to try anyway. I’m going to run as fast as I can, and you just feed me the information about which way to go in whatever way lets us move the fastest. I somehow think we’re not going to get a better chance than this.
Raz looked both ways again and felt as though left was the best way to go. He went left and ran down the long hall approaching a hallway intersection.Feeling that going right was the correct choice he went right without slowing down.
Upon turning the corner he was coming up behind a guard walking away from him less than twenty feet ahead. The guard was alert and spun to face him. At the same time a spot on the guard’s throat flashed in the HUD, Raz was already triggering the relevant muscle memory chain. He leaped forward with all his running inertia and slammed his fist into the guards throat as the man finished his turn, seemingly in slow motion. Raz felt and heard something crunch and collapse under his fist.
[Combat: Lethal hit.]
The guard went down in a spray of spittle and began to gasp. Bloody foam flecked his lips. He clutched his throat with both hands, struggling for air.
Raz looked down at the guard. “Oh man, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to kill you.”
The guard’s eyes widened and he fumbled for his sidearm. Raz stepped on his hand to prevent him from pulling out the weapon. “I think I’ll take that.” Raz pulled the weapon free and looked it over. “If you live, consider a new line of work, you’re working for some really bad people here.”
[Do you wish to inspect this weapon?]
Nah, plenty familiar with these.
Raz checked the chamber of the Glock 22 and then turned away from the downed man and kept running.
Several turns later he came to a corner and found himself face to face with Carl. Raz raised the gun.
Carl raised his empty hands. “Whoa, be cool man. I'm just trying to bail. I ain't gonna try and stop you.”
“What’s going on?”
“No idea, this place is under attack, and I’m getting the fuck out while I can. It's like a military or swat unit out there. I hope they win. If I never see this place again it’ll be too damn soon.” Carl kept his hands up and held himself very still.
Raz looked him over. From the disheveled look of his clothing to the uniform piled on the floor behind him, Carl had obviously changed into his street clothes in a hurry.
Raz compared his position to the map. “Where is everyone else?”
“We have battle station drills. I assume they are at their stations.” He swallowed loudly. “I just want to go. I’m sorry for everything I was part of. I tried to be as good to you as I could. I just want out of here. You must be able to relate to that.”
“Not them, the other prisoners, where are they.” With a glance and a flick of his will, Raz created mirrors around him to make sure no one was sneaking up behind him or from the hallway corner behind Carl.
“All gone. They all got bussed out of here. Everyone that was, uh, left.” Carl pointed at the hallway behind him. “The main dorm there is where they were, everyone left a couple days ago.”
“Sit down.” Raz glanced in the direction Carl had pointed.
“What?” Carl looked confused.
“Sit the fuck down on the floor right now.”
Raz ran around him and looked around the corner. The room looked and smelled like the room he’d met Hutch in and was empty. The lingering scent of unwashed bodies had faded somewhat, Raz felt the scent was a few days old.
Raz turned to see Carl looking at him with fear showing in his eyes and tight expression.
“Ok, I'm out of here, and if you’re leaving to, then good for you. You were the most decent guard here, and so I’m not going to…” He paused, realizing for the first time that he’d been assuming he’d have to kill him. “I won't keep you from leaving. But for your own good, don’t even try to screw with me.” He lifted the pistol slightly. “Seriously.”
With that, he turned and ran back the way he’d come.
The guard he’d hit was laying there very still. Raz wondered if he was still alive. As he approached, the guard suddenly coughed up a wad of bloody phlegm.
[This opponent is still alive.]
[A second strike to the throat with fist or heel is the easiest way to resolve this.]
[Triage activated, deliver a killing blow for maximum combat experience.]
What? No. I’m not trying to be a murderer. It looks like he’s going to die anyway.
[Critical message: multiple undesignated humans approaching]
Raz looked around the hall and looked for doors. The first was locked, the second led to a dark room that was unexpectedly large. It looked to be full of wood and metal crates and other containers packed in tightly, resting on pallets. Raz closed the door behind him and felt around in the darkness, hoping to hide behind enough containers to stay out of sight. He braced his shoulder against the wall and pushed. The crate barely shifted. He set the pistol down on the edge of a pallet and tried again with both hands. His hardest push barely shifted the top crate.
What the hell is in these things?
By bracing his back against one stack and pushing with his feet, he grunted in effort and barely managed to slide one set of the stacks of crates in the second row just far enough to create a niche between them to hide in.
Feeling his heartbeat loud in his ears he became aware that he felt good, surprisingly good.
Am I on an endorphin high?
[Yes, in addition to the pain blocking endorphins, a number of powerful combat stimulants have been released by your body.]
[Beyond that, you are also absorbing a significant influx of combat related data from both encounters.]
[This will work toward unlocking your next capacity ranks in combat related abilities.]
But why does it feel so, well, good?
[Unknown, but records imply that the process of gathering data is always meant to be a pleasant experience.]
[More pleasant and less risky than the dangerous exposure method employed by human medicine.]
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of several footsteps in the hall. Raz slipped deeper into his hiding spot among the boxes and made himself be still. The clearly audible footsteps seemed to approach for a long time before they stopped outside the door. The door to the room he was in opened and he held his breath.
A loud electronically distorted voice called out, “Good sized storage room, shall I search it?”
Raz heard a barely audible reply. The sound was familiar but he couldn’t place it. He tried to imagine just being the crates, still, immobile, boring. Without warning, the door closed, and he let out a quiet sigh of relief.
He listened to the sound of the footsteps receding and slid out from behind the stack of containers when he could no longer hear them.
Was I imagining that or did I hear three sets of footsteps, and only one guy talking?
[It was not imagination.]
Peeking out into the hall revealed no new threats. Raz had only taken a few steps when he heard a very clear but quiet voice from far behind him.
“Shit, this is one of their guards. He’s in bad shape, barely breathing, looks like a crushed trachea. We’re the first ones this way, that means someone else took him out. Empty holster. Do you see a pistol? Assume that whoever took this guy down got his weapon.” Raz could hear the man's voice from before saying.
The conversation behind him reminded Raz that he’d left the pistol in his hiding spot.
Dammit! I left the gun behind. I just became every character I've ever hated in a movie when they leave behind a perfectly good weapon that they really need.
Raz stopped to listen, hoping he’d been wrong in sensing three people. The sound of two sets of footsteps started coming toward him.
Shit shit shit, no time to go back for it now.
No one answered the man, but he conversed as though someone had. “You’re right. We may have missed the VIP, we need to double back. Can you two go back that way and I’ll continue onward?”
The man spoke as though he was talking to someone again. “Ok, but just so you know, it's kind of creepy when you-” The man's voice grew too quiet for Raz to hear as he continued to jog toward the next hallway intersection.
[Warning, high energy outputs occurring forward and to the right approximately 100 feet from here.]
Do you mean high voltage wiring or weapons, or what?
[High powered enhanced individuals engaging in combat or other high energy output activities.]
Oh, well let’s steer clear of that.
Raz came to the intersection and realized that there was no choice. The corridor to the left was sealed with a large heavy door that resembled a bank vault with a series of bars or levers on the side opposite the hinges. The door was large enough to drive a semi truck through. He tried the mechanism to open it. The levers didn’t budge. He sniffed. A strong sour odor caused him to gag and retch. He backed away from the door.
Well, I guess we’re going right. So much for steering clear of bad things. Yuck, whatever that is stinks something fierce.
[This scent strongly activates the body’s hazard warnings.]
You think? Nah, I was just almost barfing for fun.
Raz turned from the door and proceeded down the other hall. He slowed down and more cautiously made his way down the corridor that seemed to be rapidly filling with smoke. His enhanced perception seemed to cut through the smoke surprisingly well visually, but he realized he’d be a coughing mess if he didn't start staying a little lower. The acrid smoke didn't smell like anything his lungs would appreciate at all.
Give me an update, where is this fight relative to me now?
[The main locus of energy is thirty-four feet ahead, and twelve feet to the left.]
Yeah, somehow I thought that might be the case. Raz looked ahead and spotted a door about thirty feet ahead that was metal and glass. Repeated loud impact sounds thudded through the hall raising dust that joined the smoke.
He crept toward the door and pressed against the same side of the hallway as the door, reasoning that he’d be a slightly larger target, but for far less time if he crossed the glass door on the near side.
As he closed in on the door, a particularly loud thump that he could feel in his bones pulsed out from the room. The glass door shattered outward.
[The main fight is over. It appears that one of the combatants has subdued the other.]
That's too bad, I was hoping they’d be nice and distracted.
Raz reached the place where the door used to be. Realizing the door was now just a metal frame and a pile of glass shards on the floor, he listened at the doorway. The sound of Braithwaite's voice was clear enough. The whole tone and manner of speaking was unfamiliar, weaker, scared, and far less sure of himself than when he’d talked to Raz.
It sounds like he’s not the winner. Probably good news? But who attacked him?
Raz peeked around the corner into the room.
Despite never having seen him up close, the man in glossy black armor standing over the defeated scientist could be no one else but Doktor Midnight. He stood over Braithwaite, who was slowly levering himself into a sitting position from the floor where he was laying.
“Where are they?” the harsh metallic synthesized voice emanating from the black-armored figure demanded.
“They’re all gone. He ordered me to release all my test subjects two days ago.” Braithwaite smiled smugly. “Obviously, Martine knew you were coming.”
Doctor Midnight snarled an inarticulate enraged curse. He gestured and Braithwaite struggled and then flopped onto his back, clearly trying but unable to rise or even move. “I should crush you like the pestilent bug you are. You’re not interested in redemption, and that's the best news I’ve heard today. The way I see it, you’re nothing more than vermin that would most improve the world by ceasing to exist.” The modulated voice coming through the armor cold with menace. “If I find out you had anything to do with-”
Braithwaite gurgled something unintelligible.
Doktor Midnight cut himself off and stepped closer to the supine scientist, taking him out of Raz’s field of vision. "Nothing to say for yourself? I suppose I could let up enough for you to breathe, but why should I allow someone like you to live when so many more deserving have died?" He lifted his right hand, the black armor flowing away from it. "You’ve been given gifts meant to save humanity, and instead, you choose to become just another monster. There’s only one thing you’re useful for now," he crouched down out of Raz's line of sight.
“What are you doing? Get out of me! Oh god stop it now!” Braithwaite wept, not quietly, he cried like a child or as though he were in horrified agony. “Please stop. I can’t take it anymore.”
Raz felt torn between wanting to know what Doktor Midnight could possibly be doing to reduce Braithwaite to tears so abruptly, and being sure he didn’t want to see whatever it was.
“How many of your victims have prayed to god to help them?” Midnight asked in a low tone. “How many of them did you give mercy to?”
Raz had dialed up his hearing to clearly hear the words they spoke but felt compelled to keep watching this showdown of the two men he hated most in the world. He leaned forward and shifted his foot ever so slightly.
The armored figure stood up and cocked his head as though hearing something. Raz froze.
Doktor Midnight looked down at Braithwaite. “You have no idea how lucky you are right now. Don’t ever let me see you again,” he said. The promise of violence was clear even through the voice modulation.
Midnight launched upward and punched through the ceiling as though it wasn’t there.
Braithwaite stared up at the hole in the ceiling until a chunk of debris fell on him, snapping him out of his fugue. He struggled to his feet, staggered, and limped toward the far door muttering to himself. His lab coat showed a small spot of blood on the left cuff.
Raz heard something. From somewhere behind him, he could just make out a faint female voice whispering, "—has eyes on the subject." he heard her say.
Raz held himself still to keep from visibly reacting and made a mirror from a nearby piece of brushed steel wall cladding. He saw a blurry vision of a masked woman in some kind of tactical gear with a rifle held at low ready creeping toward him.
He dismissed the mirror and ran. The first step landed on a pile of glass shards. His foot slipped and crunched on the glass. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Braithwaite start to turn around as he ran past the door.
He turned the corner toward the way out and heard the woman give chase.
Raz fled through the facility as fast as he could run. Well before each turn in the complicated building layout, he had a sense of certainty about which way to go. Several turns later he smelled a scent he associated with hot metal and welding. Raz rounded another corner and saw a guard with short dark red hair. Rich was standing in front of a doorless doorway. The guard heard his running footsteps and whirled to face him.
“You!” was all he had time to say before Raz was upon him.
Activating a motor chain, Raz leaped forward and punched at his throat. Rich turned his injured arm away from Raz and fumbled for his gun, inadvertently dodging the critical hit.
Rich drew his sidearm.
[Ballistic projection (0) activated.]
Raz saw a brilliant beam of imaginary light lancing out from the barrel of the pistol in Rich’s hand. Raz dodged, leaping to the side to stay out of the beam.
“I’m going to enjoy putting a bullet in you!” Rich yelled and jumped back from him to get a shot.
The beam of light sputtered and cut out as the distance between them grew.
[Ballistic projection (0) range exceeded]
Raz didn’t answer the HUD or Rich. He faked right and went left, closing in on Rich until the light beam reappeared.
“Hold still you little bitch!” Rich tried to taunt him.
Ras was too busy keeping out of the path of the gun to reply. A glow appeared on one of Rich’s knees. He lunged forward and downward to strike at it. The heavy gauntlet made a dull knocking sound when he scored a hit to the side of Rich’s knee.
Rich cried out and fell down to one knee. Raz grabbed at the pistol and twisted it. Rich didn’t let go of the weapon. Raz grabbed the sidearm with both hands and levered the muzzle further away from himself. The two men slipped to the floor on the smooth commercial tile. Rich kept his iron grip on the pistol and began to force the muzzle back down toward Raz. Rich's enhanced strength with one hand too much even against Raz’s two-handed grip.
Raz started sliding on the floor. Rich was pushing him across the floor along with the gun.
This was a bad plan. Way too strong. Win this now or lose forever.
As the beam coming out of the barrel inched closer to pointing at him, Raz spotted a brightly glowing spot on Rich’s injured arm just above the edge of the cast.
That's my chance. This could go really wrong, no time, gotta try.
Raz stopped resisting the push. He rounded his back and pulled on the pistol. This allowed Rich’s force against his upper body to propel him around in an arc on the smooth tile floor. Raz spun his lower body around and kicked the heel of his shoe down on the glowing spot on Rich’s elbow as hard as he could.
The beam had drifted dangerously close to him. He saw Rich’s finger squeeze down on the trigger. Everything slowed down. Raz leaned his head as far from the muzzle of the gun as he could. At the end of his spin, the gun went off. He saw the flash and sensed rather than saw the bullet whizzing past his head and ricochetting off the floor. It would be the last sounds Raz heard for several minutes. The pistol cycled in slow motion, the shiny spent brass casing launching out and upward.
[Injury: Noise-induced deafness sustained]
Rich shrieked, although Raz couldn’t hear it. He let go of the gun and clutched at his broken arm.
Raz took the pistol and got to his feet. Rich glared up at him, his face twisted by anger. “I’m gonna kill y-” Raz couldn’t hear the words, but the meaning was clear. He cut Rich off with a kick to the face. He stepped out of reach and stood there over Rich with the weapon aimed at his chest. Raz thought about putting a bullet in the bully’s heart, but eventually shook his head.
Can’t do it in cold blood. I hope I don’t regret this.
He tucked the pistol in his waistband at his back, hoping he wouldn’t also regret not having a holster.
[Repairing short term deafness.]
After confirming that Rich was out for the count, Raz had a thought and deliberately pressed his forearm against the bare skin above Rich’s cast.
[Alternative Upgrade Datastream detected, resume analysis? y/n.]
Resume function. I love that.
A small partially filled status bar appeared at the edge of his view.
Rich’s face contorted, as though even unconscious this was unpleasant.
Raz brought the status bar up and watched it animate but not progress in any significant way.
How long does this take?
[Unknown. We have never performed this analysis to completion.]
Can the process be sped up?
[Yes. This process can only be activated on designated opponents. It may be damaging to the target. Enhanced analysis activated]
The point of contact on his arm felt a burn, not unlike a sunburn, or the irritation of chafed skin.
That is kind of uncomfortable.
[It is probably worse for him.]
Raz looked at Rich and realized the guard appeared locked into a rictus of pain. He couldn't hear any sound above the shrill ringing in his ears, but it looked like Rich was moaning or screaming even though he was lying limp on the floor—dazed if not stunned.
The status bar was visibly moving. Raz scanned the surrounding room. The loss of his newly enhanced hearing was making him nervous.
Nowhere to put a mirror, I'm too exposed here.
The status bar filled, and another began filling.
That pace is great. But we can't stay, too vulnerable here. All I can hear is this damn ringing in my ears.
Raz stood and walked to the door. He glanced back just in time to see the woman he’d spotted peeking around the corner.
He thought he heard her shout something in his less bad ear, but the high pitched ringing in both ears was all he could hear for sure.
[Projected hearing return, 2-5 minutes.]
Raz spun and ran out the door. A few steps out the door he stumbled to a stop. The view of the city was overwhelming. The image before him was simultaneously hyper-realistic and yet almost surreal in appearance. Brilliant glows and mixed reflections created a scene of nearly overwhelming beauty filling him with wonder for what people had once dreamed—and then built.
Whatever this is, it’s cool to look at, but dial it down a lot, way too intense right now.
The surrounding city morphed and faded into a more typical night cityscape.
Standing still Raz didn't so much hear as feel the impacts of the approaching footsteps and broke into a run again. He glanced over his shoulder and saw two women giving chase. They were waving at him almost in sync with each other, but each still carried a rifle in the other hand.
They both wore the same gear and matte black masks with some kind of symbol painted on. Another glance showed him it was a simple hexagon shape and a smaller symbol on both masks. When he looked back at them, they stopped running and one of them fiddled with her mask. Raz took that as his chance to turn and run.
Shit, now there’s two on my tail. We’re going to have to take them out if we can't outrun them.
The HUD showed him the worst of the hazards on the pavement made slick by recent rain and oil. He sprinted down the street along the safe path shown to him by the HUD and turned into the first alley he came to.