Dirk opened the cab door, thrust Mouse through a sheet of rain into the rear seat and made to close the door. Mouse stuck her foot up against the door.
"But aren't you coming with me?" She sounded slightly panicked.
"Ya be got no hikes, mon,"* said the driver, a young black man with short dreadlocks. He turned and put his mechanical arm across the back of the seat. It had lots of spiky bits protruding from it. "Noss' be got ya covered, no?"**
*You have no reason to worry, my right-honorable friend. **You are in my esteemed protection, are you not?
Mouse was biting her lip and not looking comfortable.
Dirk sighed. "Mouse, this is Nosferatu. He's-"
"You've sold me out to Cryotech, you bastard!" Mouse tried to jump out of the car. Dirk caught her with one hand and sat her right back down.
"Nah, mon"* said Nosferatu, flashing his odd set of artificial teeth, "my gear be a-custom giddy snik, see? I'd be no settlin' for jack no Cryo-shit be techin' my izzy. Be my izzy be my izzy, see?"**
*No, my right-honorable friend, ** all of my cyberware is custom tailored, can you not tell? I would never permit such questionable gear as Cryotech's intrude into body, as my body is my own, and I hold my well being in high regard.
Dirk watched Mouse scan over Nosferatu, taking in his cybered arms, his pointed teeth and his oddly golden eyes.
"No," conceded Mouse, "I don't think Cryotech would make something like you."
Nosferatu smiled. "Y'be swift, mon!"* He put out a hand that looked to be made of fluted razor blades. "Allees, we no?"**
*You have the right idea, my right-honorable friend! **Will you consider me a right- honorable friend of your own?
Mouse pursed her lips, staring at the hand. Dirk leaned in close.
"If you can trust me," Dirk said, "you can trust him. He is going to take you to my CO. You'll be safe with her."
Her brow furrowed. "Promise?"
Dirk smiled and patted her on the shoulder as he straightened. Rainwater dripped off his nose.
Mouse stared at him for a minute, then looked to Nosferatu. He winked one of his golden eyes, still holding out the hand which looked like a sadistic surgeon's tool. She took it tentatively.
"Noss, you said?" Mouse tried to smile, and didn't fail too miserably. "I'm Mouse."
Dirk closed the taxi's door. Mouse looked at him through the water flowing over the glass. The taxi drove off. It occurred to Dirk later that he should have smiled reassuringly, but he had never been a father before, and didn't quite know how to act the part.
Water washed over Six. Whether it was from the rain, the lake, or Nosferatu's bad driving, Six couldn't tell.
Six turned and began wading south. He reached up and fitted the goggles to his face. The HUD read the current time to be 10:23 PM.
"Sir?" chimed a voice in his ear.
"Map a route to the rendezvous for me. And tag the two guys who are following us."
A squiggly line was sketched out over his left eye, and a schematics list trailed over the right. It went on for a few pages. It looked expensive.
“Hmm. All their gear is Cryotech. They're not even trying to hide.”
Traffic roared by, routinely washing water through Six - and two oddly shaped men who trailed behind him by about one hundred meters. No other pedestrians were on the sidewalks. Colored lights of streetlights, headlights, neon signs and flatscreens were reflected and blurred through the waves of rain floating through the air and the flooded streets, making the world appear as though it were a snowglobe.
Six approached an alleyway, a black void marring the world of colored glass.
"Mercedes, I'm taking a right here. Inform HQ I'm nuetralizing threats."
Six veered into the alleyway. He wanted a cigarette.
Seconds later, two hulking shapes loomed at the mouth, cautiously stepping in after Six. They looked like cliche cartoon thugs, with disproportioned limbs and a body mass several times that of a normal human. Mercedes outlined all their pointy bits (guns, mostly, with a few sharp objects built into their gorilla arms) with thin yellow lines. If Six were to be hit with any of those, he'd definitely feel it in the morning. Provided he could feel anything in the morning.
They swept into the alley, and with strangely fluid movements they drew several unfriendly-looking guns. Not only did they look like pros, they moved like pros, too. Fancy that.
Six stepped out from behind a dumpster and in one fluid motion grabbed the slide of the first zombie's automatic and slid it back. The brute instinctively pulled the trigger, which caused the slide to release, and Six used it as fistload.
As zombie A was in the process of becoming unconscious, zombie B was attempting to put a small piece of metal through Six's skull. Unfortunately for zombie B, Mercedes had long since traced all the trajectories of potential harmful objects, which resulted in a nice yellow line being drawn from zombie B's barrel to a point which wanted to pass through Six's brain. Reading the zombie's body language and predicting a shot, Six simply cocked his head seven inches to the left and the bullet zinged by harmlessly, dropped the slide, then proceeded to press zombie B's off switch with an open palm strike to the cheekbone.
A voice radioed in over Mercedes' comm channel.
"Six, do not engage. We do not want to attract unnecessary attention, and our cleanup crew is still handling the situation at the hotel."
"Don't worry, Captain. Attention isn't what I've got."
Six stepped out the other side of the alley. All this rain was beginning to make him cold.
"You still must not engage. Those men are heavily armed and they could fire shots. I can't have you endangering civilian lives."
Dirk stepped out of the alleyway onto another street and examined the trail that Mercedes had drawn for him. In theory, his rendezvous with Boxcars would be only a few blocks away. He needed some warmth and some time out of this incessant rain.
"Six, I'm ordering you to -"
"Two Cryotech handymen tried to waylay me in an alley. They were probably after the girl, and they saw me leave the hotel with her." He cocked his head sideways. "Are you sure of the wisdom of Box and I meeting in an Irish bar?"
"Two Cryotech - er... an Irish... what?"
"Ask Needles. I'm sure he knows something." This road was a less crowded, one way street. It seemed that the storm drains had backed up and that the rainwater was flooding the street, though it was only an inch or two deep. Rain was dripping from Dirk's nose and chin and loose bits of hair.
"Needlepoint!" the captain yelled, her attention shifting, and then the transmission cut off.
Dirk came to a pub on a corner. The neon logo declared it the Helios Speakeasy. The name called the embers of his memories to briefly flare, but he didn't feel like stoking that fire.
He wrenched the badly balanced door open, feeling his shoulder strain (he must have pulled something rappelling) and stepped into the blazing atmosphere of the Helios. He reached up the pack of cigarettes that he kept in Mercedes' strap behind his left ear and extracted a smoke with a flick of his thumb. Catching the cigarette and deftly depositing it in the corner of his mouth, he flicked open his lighter. As soon as the flame leapt up, the cigarette gave a dramatic drip and put the lighter out. Dirk frowned.
"ID?" asked a dilapidated voice to his right.
Dirk's frown shifted slightly, making it lopsided. "When did they start checking again?" he muttered to himself, as he produced a wallet.
"FBI?" said the young man, demonstrating his ability to read on the large printed letters next to Dirk's picture (which also had a nice background of the United States Seal). Dirk had nearly forgotten the cover provided for this mission. People ask less questions about a familiar entity.
"Yes, very good. Do you mind taking my coat?" said Dirk, removing his sodden lump of water "retardant" polyester/wool. He scanned the room. It was crowded for such a dismal night. The bar proper was lined with customers and most of the tables had too many chairs around them with too many patrons in them. Many colored lights, mirrors, loud music (which he recognized as the underground thrash band from Seattle, Von Bek) and a heavy cloud of smoke had a distorting effect as he surveyed the room, but there was a dark corner...
The significant weight lifted off his arm, but he sensed some hesitancy.
"Ummmm... Mr. Johnson?"
Dirk gave the bouncer a pointed look, and the boy jumped.
The young man had noticed the large revolver that had been hidden in the small of his back by the coat, and the bandolier of bullets that ran along the holster's straps. Dirk, still frowning, altered his frown to a more understanding one and said, "Good point."
He handed the holster and its belts to the boy. “You're doing good, kid,” he said with a nod.
The young bouncer nodded. Dirk plucked his wallet from the boy's hands turned away, and as he did so, he heard the lad say to himself, "Fuckin' demonic..."
And he could have sworn he had heard the boy add the word, rad!, but the noise from one of the pool tables pick up then.
Dirk made his way to the dark corner, a booth that had somehow been forsaken from the bright lights which surrounded it. Someone was sitting in it. It was not Boxcars, whose presence would be less hard to focus upon. It was as if something drew him to this person in the dark - something familiar.
He slid into the seat opposite the person and she looked up sharply. Piercing green irises shone into his eyes - which was odd, because the light was behind her - and she reached for a long, thin package leaning against her seat which was wrapped in silk.
"Don't worry, I'm not here for that..." However, he did not know what he was here for. He noticed an empty glass in front of here. "You look like you're running on empty. Do you want a refill?"
If looks could kill, Dirk would have been stabbed repeatedly, torn limb from limb, and then frozen solid, probably all at once. Something was awfully familiar about this woman. Vibrant red hair... something was screaming in the back of his mind, something lost, forgotten... destroyed.
"Who are you?" Her voice was an avalanche of ice, sending chills - more like frozen shockwaves - down his spine. He felt compelled to answer...
"W-would you like someone - something?" Dirk looked up to see a server wringing his hands. No, it was the manager. Bouncer-boy must have told his boss that he could read. Dirk frowned - bitterly, this time.
"Two of whatever the good lady had."
Dirk turned back to the good lady. She was clenching the empty glass. Dirk recalled that the glass had been dry when he had sat down. Now it was frosting over. She had not taken her eyes off of him, and her eyes had not lost their lust for Dirk's painful freezing death.
He propped his elbows on the table and laced his fingers together in front of his nose. Their eyes locked for a time which lasted for how long, he could not say. She was trying to draw something out of him, he could feel, though whether it was her eyes or some other force, he could not say.
Two drinks were set down, breaking the spell. Dirk made his decision.
"I am Dirk Farsythe. You are... Winter."
He eyes narrowed to icy slits. Her grip tightened on the glass, which cracked with a sharp, high note. She drew a hissing breath.
"What... what have you done with... her?"
He lifted his drink and sniffed it without glancing away from her eyes. It was a White Russian. He took a sip.
“What I thought was right.”
Slowly, she lifted her drink and tasted it. She then took her silk-wrapped object and stood up in a fluid movement. Her back was to him.
“Don't follow me,” she said, then walked away. As she left, her brilliant crimson hair, tied in an intricate braid, caught the light, her pale skin shone like the moon, her green dress, slit down the leg to reveal teal stockings, flowed as part of her body, and her dark leather jacket was a shell against the world. She was beauty incarnate.
She proceeded to exit the bar like a blizzard thunderhead in a jetstream.
Dirk stared after her. For some for some inexplicable reason, he was... proud.
He finished his drink. He considered Winter's drink. He downed that one, too. Dirk cricked his neck. He drew forth a second cigarette and lit it successfully, this time.
"Sir, I have taken a heat signature of the woman to whom have just enjoyed the company. It is very unusual."
"Yes, it should be. Keep it in mind." He stood, leaving three empty glasses, one cracked, and a green piece of paper with a monetary value on the table. "Now get me the captain."
Bouncer-boy regarded him with something that was either fear or awe. He couldn't tell because he didn't look as he donned his gun harness and his coat once more. Physically he felt better, now that most of him was dry. Mentally, he felt like someone who had been beaten with a large stick, thrown into a blender and then boiled.
He checked Aura, his revolver, loaded six bullets, and pulled Mercedes down over his eyes. Then Six stepped outside into the storm.
"Needles. I need the Captain." Mercedes' HUD read the time to be 11:32 PM.
"Sorry, Six. Noss just got back with the girl, and the cap'n left me to watch the comms so she could brief 'em."
"Damn." Six began walking.
"Box never showed, and a problem that needs investigating has come up." The rain was colder and it felt like it was fighting him.
"Ummm... what? Wait, I hear rain. Are you outside?"
"Yes, I'm heading to the south side now. I'll need Noss to pick me up, and possibly another. Tell him to follow my GPS signal, but not to rendezvous with me until my signal." The streets were flooded, with water lapping at Six's boots.
"Boxcars didn't come? That's not like him... I'll relay the message, but I'll tell you that the Captain is not going to be happy."
"This is more important. This is why Domino wasn't around tonight. They were having problems at home."
Six was following his feet, not knowing the exact direction Winter had left in. He did know that he would find her, though, if he kept following his feet and the whim that was guiding him. Water flowed across the sidewalk, washing toward the flooded gutter, carrying the dirt and grime away with it. The water appeared as if it were sacrificing itself, corrupting its pure nature in a vain attempt to clean the concrete.
Mercedes' voice chimed. "Sir, the captain is trying to get through, but we have entered an area in which radio frequencies have been jammed."
"Well, we'll have to trust Needles got my message right."
"Sir." A yellow outline whipped into being around a man lying face down in the gutter of an alleyway. Dirk bit his cigarette. Most bums he knew didn't carry automatic rifles wrapped in electrical tape. Most didn't dress in kevlar flak armor, either. And most certainly weren't stupid enough to get their throats cut by large sharp objects.
Six stopped at the mouth of the alleyway. Lightning flashed dramatically, revealing a half dozen more bodies strewn in the alley. One was in a dumpster. All of them had shoulder patches which touted the words, "Domino, Inc." They were all armed to the proverbial teeth, and they all had died of one or two impressively painful looking slashes or stabs. Rain washed the blood from them, leaving the bodies curiously contorted and staining the mud black. He wondered if they had even been able to get a shot off.
There was a warehouse through the alley, across the street. Rythmic flashes came from the windows, and the sound of gunfire, muffled by the torrents of rain, echoed in the watery night.
"She's a crazy fool," said Six to himself, as he pulled his black mask on. He replaced Mercedes over his eyes, the pack of cigarettes behind his ear, and drew Aura.
"Either that, or they finally got it to work," he muttered.
As he walked through the alley, Mercedes spotted and outlined a team of still-moving soldiers moving across the parking lot in front of the warehouse in a tactical fan. Memories of Domino's personal army was coming back to him. He got to the other mouth of the alley way and raised Aura. He fanned the fingers of his left hand and positioned it next to her hammer.
"It's a longshot, but... what the hell."
He emptied his mind of thought and replaced it with action.
He cocked Aura with his right thumb, then pulled the trigger. As the pin hit the primer of the cartridge, he flipped the hammer back again with his left thumb, still holding the trigger down. Pulling back the hammer rotated the cylinder and lined up the next cartridge with the pin, and the hammer immediately fell and struck pin to primer, firing a second shot. He flicked his remaining four fingers over the hammer, firing all the bullets in rapid succession, making very slight adjustments in aim between.
This process took Six less than a second. It was a technique invented by gunslingers of the old western frontier, which they had dubbed "fanning." It was hardly accurate, as most gunslingers shot from the hip, but it was a great way at making enemies keep their heads down.
Six, however, had refined this technique, using it without the clumsy draw, and Aura had a ten inch barrel, which helped improve accuracy.
Seven men fell to six shots. The eighth man, suddenly alone, panicked and spun around, firing wildly.
Six gated open Aura's cylinder and popped the smoking shells out.
A bullet bit through the lapel of Six's coat. He made a mental note to get new coat.
He fished a fresh bullet out and socketed it in.
A sudden silence of gunfire echoed through the rainfall as the man ran his clip dry.
Six spun Aura's cylinder and snapped it shut with a flick of his wrist.
He drew a bead on the man's chest. The man, frantically trying to insert a new clip, spotted him at that instant.
"Short, controlled bursts," said Six, well out of hearing. He fired.
He stepped out into the street. Several large, black vans were haphazardly parked on the sidewalks - in some cases, literally. The former men had been working their way towards a side entrance in the building. Mercedes pointed it out to be the nearest entrance. Six waded through the sheets of rain to it.
"Sir? The steel of the structure is shielding the infared signals by sixty percent, but I have the distinct signals of at least thirty-one human bodies."
"How many of those are still breathing?"
"Nineteen display confirmed vital activity."
Six loaded Aura with a practiced hand, deftly fitting six bullets into the cylinder. He snapped the cylinder shut and held the flat of Aura's barrel up to his forehead.
"Strike without thought and without form."
He wrenched the door open. Mercedes switched to nightvision. A body just inside the door was outlined in yellow. An automatic rifle, an M-16, was laying next to the body. Six nudged a toe underneath it and kicked into the air. He caught it in his left hand.
There were two large stacks of boxes on the near end, in front of him. About twenty feet overhead there was a catwalk encircling the large room. It was hanging from the I-beam rafters. There was a hole rusted into the roof from which rain poured in, accompanied by a faint neon glow.
Men were on the catwalk, across the room from Six. Three men with yellow outlines were pointing guns up at the rafters, searching for something. Something then fell upon them, a woman. She landed on the railing next to one man, swiped at him with something long and straight (dark stuff began spraying from him), carried the swipe through into a thrust into the next man's head. The third man, behind her fired a burst off, missing wildly, and the woman countered by spin-kicking the man hard in the chest. The man tumbled off of the catwalk and landed on his neck below.
Mercedes got a lock on her. She was carrying a sword – an Italian rapier, according to Mercedes' weapons database - and a long piece of silk in her other hand.
Something moved to Six's left. Two men backed around the corner. One of them looked over and noticed Six standing a few steps inside of the door.
Six nodded to him.
The man, slightly confused, nodded back.
Six squeezed the trigger of the M-16.
Two three-round bursts later, the clip on Six's M-16 ran dry. Six frowned underneath his mask. Just his luck.
The man lurched back, maybe hit but more likely just flailing to dodge the bullets. He fell into his buddy and he somehow managed to catch him.
Luck be damned, thought Six. He tossed away the useless rifle, leveled Aura and fired. Both men fell. Six always had better luck with simpler guns.
The echo of Aura's percussion rang between the metal walls of the warehouse. There was a sharp difference between the light caliber of an automatic rifle's chatter and the heavy booming presence of Aura. He had effectively announced the presence of a third party.
"Well, I'm in the shit now." He ran to the right, away from the bodies he had just created, and ducked behind the other pile of boxes.
No one was in this corner of the warehouse. No one... except for the long, sharp piece of steel that had appeared next to his neck. It was very cold.
"Why have you come here?" hissed a sharply melodious voice.
"This is as much my fight as it is your own, Winter."
"I need no help from you!"
"I'm not here to help.”
Six was certain that he'd have to carry his head out of this barn, but then the blade disappeared. The biting pain on his neck didn't, though.
"Get my sister," Winter's voice said in his ear, and then her presence was gone.
"Sister?” he asked the air. ”Which sister?"
She had cut his mask, so he took it off. Probably a bad idea, but...
"Mercedes, do we have contact with HQ?" he asked as he refit the goggles to his eyes.
"Yes, high bands are not being jammed."
"Good. Drop coordinates and get me an ETA." He slid the pack of cigarettes back behind his ear.
There was some commotion going on back on the other side of the building.
"Mercedes, locate a person in this building who is not a man with a gun."
"Yes, sir. Nosferatu ETA 5 minutes. The Captain is furious with you, sir."
"Duly noted. I'll explain later."
"Sir." A yellow outline appeared on the HUD through the boxes. A man was holding the shoulder of a woman... much too short of a woman. A girl? That would make sense. A sister he didn't know would have to be young.
Six noticed the weapon in this man's hand, which was different from the others. A modified Desert Eagle.
He curled his lip. “Son of a bitch. A ladder, Mercedes."
"Behind you, sir."
He spun to his feet and lurched up the ladder.
A the top there were men. He didn't bother to count them. He fired one shot to his left as he mounted the top of the ladder, and he used the recoil of the shot to line up the next in the opposite direction. He fired. He followed the bullet's swath to the right from the ladder. Another man was around the corner of the catwalk, and a shot later he wasn't. He was kind enough to toss his gun in the air, so Six caught it.
There were two more men on this stretch of catwalk, and there were men behind him that were stil moving. He fired Aura at the two men and with his left hand sprayed automatic fire back to his right, under Aura.
He was at the other corner of the catwalk, now. The rifle was empty, so he clubbed the last man with it and dropped it with the man as he toppled over the rail.
A modified Desert Eagle, the automatic equivalent of Aura, was pointed at Six. Aura, cocked and ready, was pointed in the air.
Six looked into the eyes of the other man. "Darius."
"Dirk. They said you were dead."
"Yeah, I'm Jesus. And I need that girl." There was a small, dark-haired shape that Darius was gripping, but Dirk didn't dare take his eyes off of Darius.
"Sorry, but no. This girl and the other are to come back with us. Your expertise would be welcomed back at Domino, I'm sure..."
Dirk shook his head. "Nevermore. I'm through with that life."
With Aura pointed in the wrong direction and Darius' weapon right on target, Dirk knew he had no hope of taking the other man down. However, there was a hangwire next to him...
Dirk aimed slightly and fired. The catwalk, supports cut, fell from underfoot. Darius' shot winged Dirk's left cheek, off target. Dirk leapt forward, grabbed the girl, and pushed himself sideways into the pile of boxes, just to the right.
As boxes flew everywhere, the girl wrapped her arms around him and screamed into his chest. He did his damnedest to use his body to shelter her, and a few seconds later he had his back against a hard place. A few more seconds later, he realized the hard place was the ground, and they had miraculously managed to land between shattered boxes.
He wanted a cigarette.
He sat up and righted the girl in his lap. She was an Asian girl, appearing to be on the last of her single-digit years. Her eyes were an odd color, sort of a cross between brown and hazel, which had the effect of being somewhat orange. They were oddly bright in this dark light, as though the moon were somehow shining on them through the clouds, the rain and the metal roof. She was wearing an adult-sized long john shirt, somewhat damp and some black jeans which appeared too big.
Dirk frowned at her. She imitated his frown, then reached up and removed his goggles from his eyes. With her hands on either side of his temples, she stared him pointedly in the eyes.
Dirk cocked an eyebrow.
"What's your name?"
"Au'um," she said, smiling.
"Autumn? Not very imaginative are they?"
She stuck out her tongue. "I liek it."
He poked her on the bridge of her nose, right between the eyes.
She crossed her eyes, wrinkled her nose, and batted her nose with hands lost in overlong sleeves.
Shouting was floating over the pummeling of rain on the rusty roof.
"Autumn, do you trust me?"
She nodded. "Yea."
"Then let's get out of here." He hefted her up in the cradle of his left arm and rose to his feet, brandishing Aura. She wrapped an arm around his head, her hand above his eyes. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that Autumn was pointing her finger in the other direction, as if she were covering him. He smirked.
The few remaining men were concentrated on a vortex of pain and death in the back, so Dirk made for the door he came in. He wrenched the door open...
To come face to face with a soldier boy. The boy was wounded in the shoulder. It must have been one of the men from Dirk's first volley from the alleyway. Looks like this one survived to come reinforce. What a pity.
Dirk put Aura into the boy's face and pulled the trigger.
"Fffrudge." Dirk remembered to watch his language in the presence of a lady.
The boy, who had flinched, scowled. He fired his gun into Dirk's abdomen.
Now, bulletproof material can only resist so much punishment. As Dirk pistol-whipped the boy and Autumn screamed (again), he felt a searing hot pain in his gut.
Dirk staggered over the littered bodies and deposited Autumn on her feet behind a van. Voices had followed him out. He could hear bullets tinking into the van in a rhythmical urge to slaughter him.
Autumn looked up at him with wide, worried eyes. Dirk, kneeling, gave her a reassuring smile and said, "When I leave here, get in this and wait until I or Winter gets back."
She nodded. He prepared to jump back into the firefight, tinkling six empty cases out of Aura and loading two more, less empty ones. He put his left hand on the wound. It hurt like a catholic nun slapping his knuckles with a ruler. His peripheral vision had become a red haze and his hands and feet began tingling. He thought he was going into shock, but was not sure because he was going into shock.
He leapt out. There were two men, phantoms of darkness through red rain... which was good because Aura only had two more bullets loaded... Aura chastised the first man, sending him to meet Poseidon in the ocean of rainwater which had sprung up... It was hard to reload with his hand a bloody mess... No, his side was a bloody mess, his hand was just pressed up against it... covered in blood... his blood...
He couldn't get his thumb to pull Aura's hammer back anymore... which was okay, because he couldn't hold Aura level enough to shoot... The shadow of the man was doing something... falling down face first in the water...
He staggered into something... not sure what... Why would the man do that?
A woman... Winter, that was her name... appeared out of the gory haze his eyesight had become... She was saying something...
Dirk tried to point to the van Autumn was in... but he couldn't see it anymore... which was good because he couldn't lift either arm to point... Some repressive weight was dragging his right arm down... but he knew he shouldn't let go...
Light! His eyes could see nothing but the pair of lights blazing in the red darkness... Something strong wrapped itself around his waist... which hurt like all holy hell... and began moving him somewhere...
He hit something hard... and dry... Thought escaped him... as the tide of dull red fell into a deep black.