Chaos was the religion of the moment. Branch had been defied and was running for his life. Bill had quickly opened the door into his den to allow Branch to escape from the fighting only for the billionaire to stumble in, fighting to catch his breath. He gripped onto Bill's overalls to keep himself up while Bill reached out and steadied him.

"It's safe through here, boss," Bill said.

"Safe? Safe?" Branch was in disbelief. "Did you see that? Did you see what they were doing? Gabriel, that motherfucker, my god, I just... Safe?"

"Aye, they won't make it through here. I promise ya that, I've got a wrench here with Gabriel's name on it." He smacked the wrench he had threatened Dr. Faraday with into his open palm.

"Give me that." He snatched it from his subordinate's hands, Bill relenting his grip to his boss before Branch inspected it and unloaded on his face, the wrench cracking across his skull, sending blood splattering all over. The hulk of a man stayed standing, holding his jaw before Branch smacked him again, again and again. Bill fell to a knee while Branch continued to rain down blows on him until he was on the ground, and his skull was misshapen beyond recognition. Branch spat on him, tossing the wrench to the ground before unfurling his pocket square and dabbing at his blood-speckled forehead. "Fucking dullard."

The billionaire attempted to regain his composure, the chaotic destruction of the arena almost deafening, from the screams to the gunshots. After a deep breath he straightened out his newly red-speckled-yellow-tie and stepped over the body of Handsome Bill like it was a fallen tree in his way on the sidewalk, striding towards the door before he noticed Dr. Faraday huddled in a corner, shaking and covered in Bill's blood.

"Ah yes," he cleared his throat, "Dr. Faraday. Truly a splendid day, isn't it? Do give my regards to Mr. Gabriel, won't you?"

There he stood, waiting for her response. All she could manage to do was give a sheepish nod, waiting for him to attack her. The blow never came, though. Instead, Branch dusted himself off, straightened out his suit and meandered out of the den, leaving her and the corpse of Handsome Bill alone in what was both his home and his grave. It was a fitting end for a life that turned into a mire of violence and depravity, yet the loss of life still felt worthless, even if it was Bill. Standing seemed out of the question for her, her legs weak and the air oppressively heavy when a pounding on the door from the arena made her jump.

More pounding, including some muffled shouting, but everything was a blur thanks to the ensuing chaos. Dr. Faraday scrambled around for something—anything—that she could use to protect herself. The purpose of Handsome Bill's den was to outfit and equip combatants, yet there was nothing lying around. He was good at his job; she supposed. There, hanging from his belt, was his key loop, including the keys to the weapons locker. Taking a deep breath, she crawled towards the body; her palms slapping against the sticky blood that pooled around his body while the pounding persisted.

A chill ran through her body while she slipped, falling face-first into the body, the stench of his still warm body making her retch. Fumbling around with his jeans, she grabbed at the keys, tugging them a few times before the loop on his jeans broke, the ring jangling free into her hands. But there were too many keys—at least thirty or so—none of them marked. The weapons' locker was right behind the set of lockers that she dealt in with medical supplies, blankets and other essentials, but the banging was growing more and more intense, the metal door bowing at the force of the blows. The row of keys was taunting her while she sifted through them, looking to find any sort of label or mark to set them apart. Then, without warning, the door burst open, sunlight streaming through into the darkened pit that was Bill's den, her dropping the keys into the puddle of blood. The only thing within arm's reach was the big, adjustable spanner that Branch had bashed Bill's skull in with, but it was sitting amidst the remains of his head. Fighting off the disgust, she rolled over and grabbed it, the handle cold and slimy before rolling back towards the door and swinging it wildly in the air.

"Leave me alone!" She shouted, eyes shut and jaw clenched, only to feel it connect with something and get stuck. After a few tugs, she heard a laugh, only to open her eyes and see a haggard Tom Gabriel on the other end of the wrench. "My god," she said, rushing towards him and squeezing him, forgetting about his host of injuries.

"Ah, shit," he moaned.

"Oh, no, I'm sorry, he stabbed you, right? I thought I saw him stab you, but I wasn't sure where or if he did or..."

"Yeah," he slumped down on a bench, pulling his jacket aside to show a gash in his black t-shirt and a mass of red flowing over it. "Fucking ass."

"Just sit still and I'll patch you up, although we'll need to..."

"Where's Branch?"

"Oh, um," she was rifling around her supply locker, "he went down that hallway."

"Was he alone?"

"I, well, yes, but, what are you doing, sit back down and let me treat you," she stood, dumbfounded with gauze and rubbing alcohol in her hands while Tom was sauntering off towards the building proper and the elevators. "Come back here! At least let me treat the wound, so it doesn't get infected."

"I've got something to take care of," he said. "Why don't you clean Bill's brains up off the ground."

"Tom, stop being so damned stubborn."

"This ends now, doc," he leaned up against the chain-link fence. "I'm going after him."

"At least let me give you something for the pain, Tom,"

"No," he said, "I need to be alert."

"Fine, then, hold on," she went back to the locker and rummaged around until she found a vial of lidocaine, some epinephrine, and a syringe. Without looking at the dosage, she filled the syringe up. "You might want to sit down for this."

He shook his head no, lifting his shirt up to show the knife wound, just a few hairs underneath the gunshot wound. The wound was still bleeding, and with every breath, a small spurt flowed out. She plunged the needle into his skin, injecting a small dose before moving in for another, dotting around the wound while he clenched his teeth at each injection. After she finished, she pulled a roll of gauze from her back pocket and began wrapping it; him trying to pull away only for her to look up at him, stopping any dissention cold in its tracks.

"There, that should numb you up and the bleeding should at least slow down... for now, I suppose, but I need to treat you, Tom. This is serious."

"You saw what he did," he muttered, "I can't let him continue on like this."

"Just be careful, Tom, christ."

"They need you out there," he said. "Vera and Farrington. They've got Crusher, and he's hurt bad. Wouldn't want him dying like that in front of his kid, would ya?"

"Fine, I just... Be careful, won't you?"

He grunted before walking off towards the exit of the parking structure and back into the depths of Branch Tower. That feeling of finality still wouldn't shake free from her mind, but somehow he had survived the last time they had said goodbye. Perhaps this was his day to survive. Who knows what Branch had in store for Tom, but she couldn't help him alone, she knew that, and the people who could help him needed her.

Back at the locker she scrambled for supplies, rounding up antiseptic, gauze and a few vials of morphine. Before she headed for the door, she grabbed the spanner as well, just in case she needed to fight anyone or anything off. The scene outside the door was beyond what she had expected to find; bodies and gore strewn about. Most of the fighting had subsided and, instead, survivors were scourging around to check on the fallen. As a doctor who had taken an oath to help the wounded and sick, she felt overwhelmed. Even if most of the fallen were in Branch's guard uniforms, they were still people in need of help.

All of that changed when she saw the mess in the corner. The gargantuan beast hunched over, looking as vulnerable as he was inside of the cell that they had locked him into, only covered in blood and guts. There was no way to tell what was his own, and what was from others. Only the female engineer, Vera, was close to him, trying to soothe the magnificent beast while Will Farrington hovered behind her, a machete at the ready in case Crusher decided one of them was food. The boy and his mother were nowhere in sight.

"Oh, doc," Vera said, trying to sound upbeat but exhausted and shaken, "this looks bad."

"No shit, it's bad," Farrington grunted, "look 'round, doll, look what that beast did. He served his purpose. Let's get outta here before something happens."

"How bad is he wounded?" Dr. Faraday asked, approaching them. "Will he?"

"No, he won't bite, if that's what you're asking," Vera said. "Disregard whatever Will here is going on about."

"That's the thanks that I get? I corralled that thing out to save ya and that's what I get?"

"He's a big baby," she said.

The doctor approached, realizing that the tools and supplies that she had at her disposal would not cut it when it came to whatever the Crusher was. Not only was he bigger, but whatever Branch had done to him had altered him beyond her wildest imagination. Things weren't all going according to plan, with his body covered in bulbous tumors and lesions, but he was an incredible specimen that made her curious what he looked like through an x-ray or CAT scan, not that it helped her now.

"I'm not even sure where to start."

"Most are just minor cuts and bruises," Vera explained. "He heals fast. Unlike anything that I've ever seen before, I'm just worried that there's something else going on."

"How much do you know about his... condition?"

"I saw him turn, watched it all happen. He complained about there being a beast living inside of his head, about it taking over his body and his mind. Whatever it is, the Demoreo that I knew doesn't seem to be in control anymore, but parts of him are peaking through."


"The bugger recognized his boy," Will interrupted. "Lit right up and went nuts. Asshole was just chasing me out here, I thought he'd bloody rip my head off. Saw the boy an' his wife. Boom, different beast. Even Vera here, he knew her."

"Where are they now?"

"Who?" she asked.

"His son and wife."

"Oh, right, we had Stuart run them off to safety. Honestly, we thought he'd go and find you. The kid had a gash on his chest and her leg was pretty banged up."

"Good," she said. "Maybe I should head back in and try to find them? I don't know what I can do for Demoreo here without running tests. I can treat some of these gashes so they won't get infected, but I'm not sure that it matters."

"He just seems so... defeated? He fought so hard to remember and to help all of us. Now he just seems drained of life. I'm worried he won't make it."

"Fuckers been dead since Branch got 'em," Farrington interjected.

"Oh fuck off, Will," Vera grunted. "Hey, where's TK?"

"Oh dear, Tom," the doctor remembered him sauntering off into the unknown. "He went after Branch."

"Where did Branch get to?" Will asked.

"He... went into Bill's den and," a shudder ran through her spine.

"Say no more." Vera gave her a squeeze, the doctor flinching at the pain in her arm.

"Gabriel gonna get himself killed, ya know."

"What do you mean?" Vera asked.

"Haven't seen Viktor 'round, if Branch has him with him, well, that fucker is stone crazy."

"Oh god," Dr. Faraday froze. "I sent him up there. He didn't even have a weapon on him. I had just numbed up the stab wound. He was looking pretty haggard."

"Gabriel can handle himself," Farrington said.

"You're an idiot," Vera retorted. "He's gone off to get himself killed, for what?"

"Never seems to be a reason," Farrington said.

"So you're okay with him just dying, then?"

"Fucker took my job!"

"He opposed the dictator who tried to have me killed!"

"Ey, I saved the fuckin' day."

"I have to go," Dr. Faraday mumbled after cleaning out a few of Crusher's wounds, only to see them already starting to heal on their own. "I have to go."

"No, wait." Vera grabbed her by her bad shoulder, making her yelp in pain. "Oh shit, sorry, doc. But wait, I think we can help."

"I ain't helpin' him," Farrington said.

"Fuck you, Will, you're helping."


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About the author


Bio: I used to write about professional kickboxing. Trust me, I was good. Now I write science fiction.

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