Stolen Lives
By David R. McCalden aka PC Glenton

Chapter Twenty-One: Midnight Shopping

The street was dim, the only lights available were from streetlights barely hanging on to life, leaving the block in shadows, barely illuminating the run-down shops lining the block. But, that was only to my benefit.

I approached the stores from the back, carrying only a crowbar. While I didn't have a chance to case the buildings, these stores are pretty much all the same... bars in the window and doorway, and maybe a camera or two. But these systems were dependent on one thing: electricity.

I snuck into the back alley, my eyes following the path the wires made, allowing a slight grin as I spied my target: The fuse box. Like the doors and windows, there were rusty metal bars guarding it from outsiders, but they failed to make to take into account long metal objects that could easily force it open. Messy, but it worked.

I slid the metal bar through the bars, and caught the upper lid of the fuse box. After applying enough force, and wiggling the protective lid, the fuses allowing the block to function were laid before my eyes like a hidden treasure. It was an older model, however... no switches, just giant fuses connecting the power. Still no problem, as my metallic buddy forced the electric guardsmen to abandon their post, a few dull sparkling noises and an occasional flash announcing their retreat. There was no danger of feeling the shock, though... I was careful to keep the bar away from the back end of the fuse.

After the box was emptied, I waited a few minutes, hopping no one noticed the sudden blackout. When no one came, I walked to the front of the store, pausing to peer out of the alley to see if there were any witnesses. It was clear... probably scared off by the now drunken gang.

I snuck around to the front door, and took a close look at the door barring me from my loot. It was two doors, actually. One made entirely of bars, the second your typical glass door found at convenience stores. They would be considered a challenge, if everything present wasn't so damn old. The padlock holding the bars was barely functional, thanks to the rust in the middle of the latch. It was no problem using the crowbar to wrench it open, just one sharp tug against the square mechanism, and the bars moved out, revealing the second glass door.

This was a bit harder... the lock was small, and the crack between the door and frame was too small for the crowbar... heck, it was even too narrow for a playing card. There was only one option I could think of. I raised the bar above my head, and slammed it toward the door; causing a loud crash and broken glass splattered everywhere.

I turned back a bit, taking another peek for witnesses, and praying no one woke up. But, it was late, and it was obvious that anyone around would probably be too tired to even be woken up by this crash. Or too used to strange sounds. This was a tough neighborhood, after all.

I took another deep breath, and moved my hand through the newly made hole in the door, careful not to touch the jagged glass. My hand found the locking latch, and turned it, giving me access to the darkened shop.

The interior of the store was blackened, like a bottle of ink had covered the shelves and merchandise. I could see only silhouettes. I quickly cursed myself for not bringing a flashlight, and started groping around, careful not to make any noise.

Cutting the power definitely turned off any security, but I quickly wished I had thought about lighting... it was near impossible to tell where I was or what I was handling just by the tips of my fingers. It took me ten minutes of groping about like a blind man, knocking over bread and a rotating magazine rack, before I found the counter, and a collection of small keychain flashlights.

It wasn't much, but at least I could see, and limit the noise. I moved the small light over the counter, until I found the cash register. It was locked, but it was nothing that Mr. Crowbar couldn't handle. Unfortunately, he only revealed about Sixty bucks in varied bills and loose change.

This was a disappointment... I get more from a good pickpocket job. I made a disgusted kick to nowhere in particular, and felt something metal and solid stop my frustrated action. Puzzled, I looked down, and saw the store's safe.

Grinning with renewed hope, I kneeled down to examine the new treasure. Like the rest of the building, it was old and rusted. It was a simple job, with a huge hinge on the outside. Not very smart, but it was probably cheap.

I proceeded to work with the crowbar on the giant nail holding the hinge in place. Only to discover the security possibilities of rust. The nail was so rusty, it was almost part of the safe itself. I wondered how they managed to open and close it.

But, I was determined to have whatever was inside. I did a little browsing on the shelves for some help... something had to work. This was a convenience store, after all.

I quickly found the key to the rusty treasure. A bottle of WD-40! Grinning again, I hurried over to the safe, and started spraying. It helped a little, as the pin jigged slightly as I tried to pull it up. I repeated the procedure. Spray, pull, spray, pull... until I had conquered the rust, and was able to gently lower the door to the safe on the floor.

I looked inside, and my eyes lightened up, despite the darkness. Inside were stacks of bills, mostly small, but of varied amounts. Probably around $1,000. I guessed it was their life's savings, but I really didn't care. If they could blow money on a bunch of drunks, they could spare a grand or two. I grabbed a paper sack, and started loading up.

After cleaning out the ancient vault, I headed back out, pausing only to grab a candy bar and a Budweiser on the way out. I ate in victory, but saved the Bud for later. There were three other shops left, possibly with more money.

Tonight was a good night for shopping.

Chapter Twenty-Two: The Price for the Past

I was ecstatic... I robbed five shops last night, and collected a sum of around $6,500. It was amazing so much money was just there, ripe for those willing to get it. But, I was not one to show mercy to fools. After all, survival doesn't allow kindness.

I knew what I was going to spend my money on, but not sure where. I needed a professional who could find out who I was. That would come later, when the bars opened. I hide my cash and slept in the daylight, burrowing under a discarded blanket. Or tried to. I had another visit from "him."

It was the same as always... I was surrounded by darkness, not seeing anything, but knowing a lot was there. And the figure materialized. The man made out of shadows. The Voice.

"So... patting yourself on the back, are we? Think we have the solution to our problems?"

I was fearful... this was different from his past mockings. But, I kept my cool. "Maybe, maybe not. At least I will know who I am."

There was the cruel, insulting laughter again... and then I felt something peering into me from the demon... peeling me like a banana, looking inside my soul.

"Yes, find out who you are... then it will be over. For you!"

The laughing intensified, getting louder each second, echoing around the darkness, clouding my head, and shadowing my sanity. I was at my breaking point when I finally woke up, breathing heavily and covered in sweat.

Three hours after my attempt at sleep, I hit the bars again, with a clear purpose in mind. I wasn't too sure where to look, but letting the beer flow opened lips to my many questions. It wasn't long before I found the best place for the criminally intelligent. The Oozing Heart.

The Heart was your typical dirty slum pit. Cheap liquor, and suspicious crowds. Only these drinkers dealt into the dark side of medicine, often without licenses. I hoped I wouldn't need a shot from these goons.

I walked to the bartender, ignoring all the stares coming from the many dark corners. After buying a dirty, yet large mug of watered down Budweiser, and giving a twenty dollar tip, I was directed toward a clown who provided the services I needed. I took a second, more expensive, drink, and prepared to meet what would soon be my new best friend. A man known only as DNA Doug.

I strode over to where Doug was sitting, and did a quick check out. He was bald, except for the tufts around his head, crowning the greasy head skin like some kind of wreath. He was also bloated in both head and face, like two balloons pumped full of hot air. But, I wasn't here to be a fashion critic. I needed his skills, and I hope that book couldn't be judged by the cover.

I slid the drink in my hands across the table, toward the hump of lard, in a universal peace offering known in many bars. He stared at the mug, finally looked up, and gestured me to have a seat. Bingo. It was only a matter of time before I got my deal.

He took a sip of the brew, and then gave me a quick check out. Finally, his thin lips spoke. "I suppose you want something?"

Good... quick to business. Always the sign of an interested target. Still, I felt the need to play it safe. "I need to find out more about someone, on a personal level."

He seemed to turn purple for a second. "Then get a Private Eye, scum!" He made like he was leaving. Pride... another good sign. Guess I could trust him.

"It's me, dolt!" He sat down again, despite my insult. "I need to know who I am."

Doug smiled, which wasn't a very pretty sight, and then commented. "And, from the looks of you, you can't go to any legal institution. Very well, but it won't be cheap. I'll do it for two thousand bucks."

That was quick... must be a slow business. Still, I had plenty of dough left over, and I was too excited to bargain on his price. "Sold. When and Where?"

He smiled, and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper, with an address scrawled on it. By all definitions, a poor man's business card. Then again, neatness is a luxury in the bad side of LA.

"Meet me in three hours, at this address." He then left, paid for his previous drinks, and exited the bar.

I followed suit. Finally, I would know who I was. But, why was I feeling this cold sensation in the back of my mind?

Chapter Twenty-Three: The Mystery of Blood

It took me two hours to find Doug's place of business, but another half hour to make any sense of the makeshift pile he called home. The whole area was mostly concrete foundations and rotted wood, mixed in with broken glass of what were once windows. Natural decaying grey was the neighborhood color of choice.

Still, I wasn't here to play Martha Stewart. I was here to get some DNA read. And if a shit hole was where I would know myself, then I would gladly jump in amidst the crap. I noticed an old metal covered elevator, humming with faint power, the only life I found so far. I smiled, this is were I would find Doug. I slid open the metal fence, and hit the big red button, trying my best to ignore the reluctant creaks, and the waving motion of the cage.

When the soon to be death trap landed, it dropped me into a sight that both intrigued and puzzled me. Doug was there, as promised, but amidst something that looked like it came from Star Trek... plus 300 years in the junk pile. A perfect blend of rust and machinery. Wonderful.

Doug immediately saw me, and straddled over, bearing his full weight, his eyes shining with greed. "Do you have my money?" Heh... he had his priorities straight.

I handed him ten Hamiltons. "You get the rest afterwards." He seemed ok so far, but in these parts, especially on strange turf, it never hurts to be careful. To his credit, Doug just nodded, and gestured toward his equipment. It was time to see what experiments Dr. Frankenstein would be performing.

Upon reaching the weird assortment of abused technology, Doug quickly whipped out a rusty knife, speckles of brown showering down from the blade. And, before I could prepare, he grabbed my hand, and with enough force to convince me blubber could be used as muscle, wrenched it under his left arm. I struggled, but to no avail. I was trapped between two slabs of fat.

Doug brought the knife across my wrist, and made a gashing cut, before hanging my now cut hand over something that looked like a funnel. A few drops of blood dropped from my hand, and slowly entered the machine's dark reaches. Doug nodded, and then let my hand free. "Its best to do that part quick. People always expect me to use fancy syringes, or something clean. Best to get them bleeding before they get all high and mighty." Right about now, I was beginning to appreciate health standards.

Doug went to a computer connected to the strange device, and typed in a few commands. "Now for some backup." He gestured to another panel, one with a hand outlined on glass. "For fingerprints. The hand not used for the blood test. Don't want to ruin my equipment." I just rolled my eyes, and complied. "Hey, I saw that! Do you realize how much it cost to get this baby shipped from Hong Kong? I had to go through a bloody Triad! Show some love!"

I said nothing further, but the medical amateur I let work on me was glued to the computer, just talking out a storm. Obviously, he loved his work. "Damn smart of you to come here. These days, DNA is the only sure way of identity. It’s new, and very complicated to screw up these days. Fingerprints, sure, but if you wanted to, you could fake those. And through me... I don't waste weeks checking private information, no sir..."

I interrupted him there. "Wait... private info? They spend time checking up on you?"

Doug chuckled slightly. "Of course. Never sure when they have a felon on their hands, and you have to consider all the red tape and departments... ah, looks like we are getting some results." I leaned forward, excited to finally get an answer, an identity... but the look on the DNA man's face told me my hopes fell flat. He looked at me, his eyes wide, like the person before him was a ghost, or worse.

"I... no, no mistake... what the..." He blabbered like this for several minutes, until I erupted. "Damn it! What the hell is wrong?!"

He took a deep, but reluctant breath, before exhaling his answer. "You're not in the database."

My eyes lifted in puzzlement. "You mean I'm dead?"

He slowly shook his head, his voice almost a whisper. "No... I have records of dead people. What I am saying is you never died; because you were never born... you never existed."

I stepped back, my mouth opened, but nothing, not even air, coming out. I would of suffocated from this surprise, if it wasn't for a second one erupting through a boarded up window, with a loud bang. This one led to the third and final surprise of the day. Doug's forehead now pierced from the back to the front, erupting blood like a dying geyser.

I ran toward the window, but only caught a glimpse of the assailant. But, that glimpse was enough. It was a flash of armored blue... the same flash I saw in Glenwood several times, and in dire panic.

It was Stalter.

Chapter Twenty-Four: Promise of the Devil

Answers... I started my career in the slums of LA looking for answers. Instead, I found more questions... and know, a lack of hope. The only reliable source I had left for information was at the bottom of a dirty beer glass... and that was only self reflection.

Questions and thoughts brewed in my mind, moving faster then the bubbles in my watered down drink. Why didn't I exist? Was it me, or Stalter? And Why DID Stalter kill Doug... considering the trouble they went to capturing, and then hiring two thugs to kill me... only to hit someone else at the perfect time? I knew Doug was right... the machine was not hard to learn, and I used the river of blood its previous owner left to test it. Told me everything about Doug, not that it was worth knowing.

Frustration was the only thing on my mind... accompanied by the mocking laughter of the Voice... but, right now, I didn't care... I had nothing. I was just another mosquito feeding off the blood of the city. The only thing in my future was beer, and a dreary life.

But, it seemed fate wasn't done dealing her cards yet. After my third mug of golden comfort, a fourth mug appeared... and attached to it was a man out of place in this dive. Fancy suit, all the trimmings... looked like something out of a sports car. Inside the suit was an Oriental-looking man, but something seemed a little out of place, for some reason. His head was thick with black hair, oiled all the way down to the pony tail ending just at the end of his neck. I first thought him as a gay rich guy, slumming it for fun, and a little nookie. Normally, those types find themselves on the street waiting for the hearse, but when he went to sit down, something seemed to tingle at the back of my head... but I quickly ignored it, as it got drowned out by the visitor's introduction.

"Seems you have had a little bad luck." He spoke in an odd accent... a tinge of British, yet with a heavy dose of Chinese. "Or, do you like getting drunk?"

He seemed rather comfortable with himself... too comfortable, considering his surroundings. I didn't really trust him. "What do you want?" I only had three drinks, but I was already drunk on my own problems... and it showed.

He chuckled, and took a sip of his own brew. "I am just curious, is all... you see, some years ago, we sold a rather high-tech piece of machinery to an individual only calling himself DNA Doug..." My ears perked up... he originally owned that piece of crap? "... and, not being entirely trustful of our customers, we made it a point to monitor his activities." This was getting more and more interesting... I think I was almost leaning forward. "So, imagine our surprise, when a sample was picked up... that was NOT identified."

I quickly checked in my excitement, and replied in a gruff voice. "What does it mean to you?

He shrugged. "Oh, perhaps not much... except, the local police are rather puzzled... you see, it seems there was a massive robbery done a couple nights ago... five stores on one block. The thief made off with quite a fortune, but left several prints."

Crap... he even know about the robbery. Who was this guy? "But, the case was quickly covered up, when the prints failed to show up on any known database. Almost like the culprit... never existed."

Ok, that was enough... time to get to the point. "So, you a cop, or something? You here to arrest me?" One thing I learned from drinking in these pits... if anyone is suspected of being a police officer, the whole damn bar jumps to rip his limbs off. I figured a little pressure would help boil some info out of him.

My bluff didn't really work the way I wanted it to... he just smiled a rather eerie smile. "Forgive me, I should have introduced myself... I am Charlon, of the Sunrise Dragon Triad."

Of course... he was a Hong Kong gangster. After all, Doug said he had to buy it from one. But, why was he in the states. Was it really... my existence? I needed more info. "Why come here?"

"Quite simple... I want to recruit you. The job you pulled was done well, if a little undisciplined." Read: sloppy "And, the fact you have no identifying marks... well, you could get away with murder. So, I am offering you a deal... come to Hong Kong, and join the Triad."

This was a surprise... but, I was unsure. After all, could I discover myself in Hong Kong? I just didn't know. But, it seemed Charlon did more research then he let on.

"Of course, if you join our group, we could offer you certain help... like protection from one Stalter?" Ok, time to stop the gruff, and let utter shock take over.

"H-How did you..." I never get the time to finish... not that I needed to.

"Let us just say secrets are an interest to us. Of course, information about such secrets is also a good salary, no?" I only nodded... sincerely, this time. "So, be trained by me... and join our business. Of course, you could continue living in LA, as you are... drinking and slumming."

I had to concede one thing... the guy was smooth. And thorough. Though, I felt a little unsettled about this... I mean, he was almost TOO informed...

"SHUT UP!!!" It was him... my internal disciplinarian. "What would YOU rather do? Die like this, or have another chance, with a damn bed to sleep on?"

Well, another good point. I still felt uncomfortable with it... but, inner feelings have nothing on the promise of accomplishment. I grinned, and lifted my glass in a toast. I would move to Hong Kong, accept his training.

And get some damn answers, finally.

Chapter Twenty-Five: Reluctant Training

It was dark... I could barely see a few feet in front of me.

But, that was only a comfort. Would mean everyone else would see just as poorly, or worse. Most people never spend much time in the dark, anyway. And, I needed as much cover as possible. This was tricky.

I was ordered to acquire a set of blueprints for a new upper class resort. It seems the Triad was interested in studying them for "new methods of good reacquisition." Of course, it was just for planning heists, but hey, only a fool would outright admit it.

Getting in was not too hard... the construction complex was mostly old brick buildings. Plenty of vents, and really no windows. Easy to sneak in and hide.

Unfortunately, the vents were only accessible on the ceiling. A small fact that came to mind after I discovered the lined cover of my goal. I was stranded in the complex of makeshift cubicles... with only the shadows to protect me. Oh well... living depends on not what could be, but what is. Besides, I learned well the benefit of shadows. The best cover for anyone not invited.

But, enough reflection. I had to get out of here. These cubicles were a maze... and I was the rat caught in it, looking for the cheese. Too bad this lab also had armed cats.

Walking in the slow step I was taught in, I slinked through the hallways, my ears open for any sound... and noise. But, all was quiet. So far, I was fortunate. It didn't take long for to see a door. With a grin, I grabbed the handle, and turned. I would actually get it! I would succ-

It was then I heard a bang, and turned around fast enough to get shot in the chest... my black shirt was splattered in red... it was dripping down to my pants... I had failed, and there was only one thing I could do.

"Damn!! What the hell was it THIS time?!"

The lights came back on, revealing the cubicles to be a collection of colored cardboard. And revealing Charlon, holding a paint gun.

No expression... always no expression from him. Like a robot, with no feeling. "Tell me, what was behind that door?"

Here we go again... "The way out, of cour-"

"Do you have a map... can you see through the door? How do you know it was an exit... how do you know it was safe?"

He had a point... again. Like I would concede it. "It's a maze... there is always just one exit!"

My teacher just let out a weary sigh. "This is a simulation! There is no absolute way out... buildings are not made like this. You have to learn that there is no certainty... for all you know, there could have been a portal to hell behind that door."

I gave up... I was at this all night, and continually getting lectured. "Yes, Teacher." Hope he didn't detect the impatience in my voice.

"Clean up and get some rest... we continue tomorrow, early."

When he finally left, the only thing I could do was sigh... it's been like this for six months. At least these tests had some action... I was tired of exercising, and book reading. I had to admit, though... Charlon was a good teacher, even if he was demanding as hell. Though, I thought some of his earlier lessons were odd... like basic acting, and several electronic arts. Said they would be useful for later instruction.

I never had a chance to look for my identity... my free time was spent getting what little sleep I could. The nightmares were gone, my new schedule kept me to tired to dream, for the both of us. I guess even the guy inside got tired.

Well, he was right... it beat sleeping in the streets, and earning petty cash. I could only hope this training would be over, so I could see some real action.

I proceeded out of the room... it looked like things would be routine for now. It's kind of comforting, knowing that. A certain peace inside.

So why did I feel so restless?

Chapter Twenty-Six: Some Kind of Peace

Every step I took from that maze of humiliation Charlon called a training room grew heavier, like my body was slowly turning to lead. I could hear the hollow pounding of each step as I neared the bunks of the other Triad members. I didn't care if I woke them up with my steps. Hell, I didn't even know their names. Despite the eight long months I was here.

Not that it was boring, just very excruciating on the cerebrum and the body... hell, if being a thief meant having your brain and muscles crammed to the point where even crawling could become a chore, I might have tried a more honest line of work. Well, if it wasn't for the amnesia, the dark voice, and the fact I technically didn't exist

For all of my lessons, I was cast into total blackness, with only the minimal light needed... from when I woke up at three in the morning, to when I was finally aloud to rest around eleven in the night. Twenty hours of lessons, four hours sleep. Amazing what a man can get used to.

And what I learned wasn't all sneaking and stealing. I started off being forced to learn acting, then salsa. Charlon said it was to help with the two basics of his whole little school... mobility, and deception.

"To exceed, you need more then brains and muscles. You need charm, the ability to make others think you are innocent, harmless. You need to divert their attention with either lies, body language... even a nod or a smile can be the most powerful weapons, the best way to reach your target."

After two months of such lessons, compacted with limbo, yoga, basic electronics. Each day something new thrown in with the old... a kaleidoscope of knowledge. The funny thing was, while I caught a few facts here and there, it seemed like the whole point wasn't learning, but molding. Shaping my thoughts and body into something else... changing it, if such a thing was possible

But, after those two months being swept in a whirlwind of mental headaches, the training turned more physical. Sneaking into simulation offices, regular and electronic lock picking, working on how I walked... the works. I was amazed by it all. It seemed like everything I did in the past, in LA, was like a gorilla trying to imitate a skilled artist. There was a certain sophistication to this... job. Everything from how to stand in the shadows, so it looked like you disappeared, to how to handle even the hardest lock, without a sound. Charlon emphasized the silence. "Anyone can steal, but most who steal, get caught. Getting caught is the worse kind of failure, because if you can at least escape, you can try again. No such luxury in prison." And the best way to not get caught... was to not be seen in the first place. A simple approach... but, like most simple things, harder to put into practice.

Up to my "death" at the hands of a paintball gun, I was still doing those lessons. For 20 hours straight, and only four hours to sleep, and 45 minutes for meals. I didn't mind the work... better then living a thieving bum's life off the streets. I actually had something decent to wear as well, though simple, and blah… black cotton shirt, and black pants. The only distinguishing figure was a dragon climbing over a sunset, its claws grasping on greedily, like it was declaring to the world “I own it, and I dare you to take it from me.” Appropriate for the Sunrise Dragon Triad.

I past by a bathroom mirror, catching a glimpse of my now clean-shaven face. When I entered the compound, the lower half of my face was covered in matted, dirty hair, like a dog that was frolicking in filth. I never had time to realize how much of a mutt I looked like, until I took my first shower and shave in ages. Hell, Charlon even had a barber touch my locks.

I looked much cleaner now. Hair slicked close to my face, my profile back to its original square, tense features. I felt close to my old self… even though my “old self” has only been around for little over a year.

I approached the bunks, the sounds of sleep from the other Triad members the only things breaking the silence of the night. This was as close as I get to the other Triad members, outside Charlon. I always ate alone, under my trainer’s eye. When going to the bathroom, alone… like I was isolated from the rest for some reason. Well, considering the awkward topics that could pop up, I suppose it was for the best. At least my sleep was dream free, for once.

I crawled into the bunk I always slept in, and closed my eyes. And, with blessed ease, simply fell asleep, to prepare for tomorrows lessons, like I did every night.

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Reflections of the Past.

The four hours of peaceful oblivion came and gone in the blink of an eye, pleasurable and quick like a beautiful woman in a hurry, blinding past your senses. I awoke to the same rude shaking of my mentor, who somehow managed to do this without ever waking the other members, either by his choice, or by theirs. I never really figured that out.

And, like always, I sleepily followed him toward the restroom, to shower off the night’s sweat and dirt, and to wake up to a cold water from a rusty faucet. Not fancy, but functional. The shower was rushed, as always, but gave me a few minutes to think.

My tired thoughts shifted toward my new home. I never saw the outside of the base, always kept busy indoors, but I kept up with my history. Hong Kong was once a new pearl of China, when it was reclaimed from England back at the beginning of this century. Thanks to its influence, the Socialist Nation was one its way to becoming an economic giant, a powerful mixture of communism and capitalism. It was to be a new golden era.

But, only six years ago, in 2022, that pleasant dream fell for the nation. Some hardliners, the usual crowd who see corruption in the new, and believe the old ways are the right, and only, ways, the type of bearded old men who see the devil walk hand in hand with change, took sudden, and violent action. They heralded back to the “glory days” of Mao Tse Dong, of the pride and discipline of the old ways. But, their words were ignored as people discovered the pleasures of luxuries and owning material goods. Unfortunately, the determined voices of the past would not be ignored.

They started off simple, but loudly, in the streets, attacking shoppers entering a mall. Beating, stripping, kicking… a brutal celebration in the wine of human blood, drunk in the intoxicant of human passion and violence. The tide was so great; even China’s infamous police were pushed back. In the end, this violence only ended up in more violence, as shots were fired indiscriminately into the carnage.

The minds capable of thinking behind the conservative movement turned the whole thing into the police, and the government’s fault. Turned the world media against the nation. They started the incident, but no one cared anymore. Their government betrayed them, attacked them. They wanted it out… they wanted someone new. By any means necessary.

So thus, a civil war erupted… Old and New clashed in the streets of Beijing, each side painting more and more of the city red with blood. In only three short months, the city was divided in half, by one long street, which today, in the Chinese tounge, is called the Street of Blood.

It looked like the stalemate would continue, but the Old Party did something drastic. Using the sewers, a force of conservatives managed to work their way underneath the capital building. And, directly underneath the seat of New Chinese Power, they reduced all the utilities being applied to their enemy’s side into rubble. It was a total blackout, followed by total turmoil and panic. It was only a matter of time before they were crushed by their zealous foes.

A new chairman of the party was put in power, and a declaration that the ways of discipline, unity and communism have been restored. The cheering that went out that day was half-hearted, mostly out of fear then actual joy.

But, luxuries, in all forms, are addictive. Social standing amongst peers is a constant need for many. To have the best is to be the best. But, the only problem was, fulfilling such desires was a crime now.

And so, the people turned to criminals for their supply.

The Triads, semi-powerful during the previous communist days, and failing somewhat when items became legal, found a goldmine in the new government. Sure, the police where more of a danger, but that only upped the price of goods and services. Now, more then ever, it was profitable to be a gangster, or at least work for a Dragon Head. And in Hong Kong, where everything in China comes from and leaves from, the Dragons could fill their bellies on the delicate flesh of need.

“We are only looked down upon by those who still hold standards in things such as law… mostly those privileged enough to hold such lofty goals.” My teacher told me. “In essence, any country can not survive without an economy. And, as with the Russian Mafia, we make the wheels turn for the nation. Sure, the wheels are dirty, but they are needed. After all, gears need grease.”

Personally, I could live with that. I’ve seen my own share of dark places. I know the necessity for some men to live “shunned” lives. Hell, I was living proof of that… I killed; I stole, just to survive, all for the sake of my own identity. I was merely learning to do it better.

“That’s what you think.” Oh… the Voice. Haven’t heard from for months. Why the hell was he here now? “Just to remind you… that I am in control…”

That faint feeling came over me again… like things were being forgotten. But, it seemed to be dimmed… like not all was taken away. “Just… didn’t want to be that cruel.” And, I quickly felt him leave. Weird… that was short, and almost hurried.

I quickly turned off the faucet, and grabbed a towel to dry off. I spent a lot of time in the shower already. I was going to be in for hell as it was.

Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Ability to Kill

Fortunately, my fears of impending doom from a tongue lashing where obviously misplaced. Though, his stony look was enough of a mental flogging. My brain was reeling from that hard stare, as he just gestured for me to follow. I had a hunch there was a change of plans that he didn’t really have a say in, which was only confirmed as we past what he called the thieving dojo. I was about to ask him, but a quick turn of his head silenced any attempts for information. Obviously, he was about to do something he didn’t agree with.

After what seemed like an eternity on my nerves, we entered what looked like an armory, or a shooting range. Guns of all types, from BB guns made for the junior marksman raised on cowboys and Indians, to items like rocket launchers for the more mature, and desperate, audience. There where also a few items I have never seen before… probably not released on the market yet. Very high tech, and electronic.

My gaze scoured over this room, admiring all the tools of death present. I felt giddy, a kid in a candy store. But, those kids usually have a parent on hand before they go wild. This was no exception.

“You are admiring these… tools, I see.” Charlon finally said. “But, don’t be swayed. Given the time I wanted, I would of forced you to believe in the right tool for the right job… but, powers higher then me want me to rush to this stage, disagreeing with me that your performance is… satisfactory.” No pleasing some people

“But, while I have my objections, I must carry on with my orders. And my orders are… to train you in weapons. The RIGHT weapons.” I was now curious. What did he mean by right weapons? “As you know, I have been training you to be quiet, to not be seen or heard. To work with finesse, and not with force. If, for some reason, you have to kill, it must be done with the minimum attention possible. So… save these…” Charlon gestured dismissingly at the bigger, explosive weapons “for the soldiers… for those whose only purpose is brute force… to throw their lives in the gamble of war and destruction. For you… something smaller… something quicker…. Something quieter.

That’s when he handed me a pistol. I was puzzled, at first. All these tools, all these advancements, and he handed me something a housewife would carry? He must of read my thoughts, for he frowned. “You judge by its size, I see… don’t.”

“Because what is size to a bullet? These semi-automatics, these machine guns… all shoot lead. But, they do so loudly… and they fire off several shots in rapid succession. A waste, especially when you can get the job done with this… “ He then fired off a shot at a silhouette target, in the shape of a human body. With a proclaiming, single bang, It blew a small, but effective hole right into his paper forehead, shredding what would have been its brains..

“That one bullet, even with an armored opponent, is enough to kill a man. Why waste several with a heavier gun? This is what I mean by finesse… THIS is what I mean by the right tool. Not overwhelming firepower, but the skill to use a smaller one with ease.”

He handed me the pistol. By touching at it, looking at it, rubbing my hand against its side. And, even unconsciously, caressing it. I felt more relaxed… like this weapon in my hand was part of me… I gripped the handle, and felt my hand mold into it, with familiar comfort… like I held a weapon for all my life. And, for some reason, I knew it may be true…

I took my turn with the target, and landed just under Charlon’s shot. In the blink of an eye, I changed to a different victim, and landed another head shot. And, like a rock star finding his beat, I fell sway to the rhythm of bangs as I fired shot after shot… a full symphony of noise and violence, ended when the clip clicked, saying he had enough.

Coming out of my trance, I noticed the targets, from varying degrees, were bleeding shredded tears from their forehead, a massacre of pulp. Seeking approval, I turned to my teacher, smiling triumphantly. But, the grin was not returned. “So, you can kill… helpful, but I am not wasting my time with an assassin. Still… you saved some time. It seems your past may have some hold on you after all.”

Funny… when he said that, I felt a chuckle coming from deep within, and a sense of dread… both at the same time.

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Payment for Wisdom

My time under Charlon’s instruction continued, combined with my newly acquired pistols. My lessons incorporated the weapons, but not just for shooting… I was also taught how to use them for knocking out human obstacles. “Killing is a last resort, and not for compassion, or honor… but, for discretion. Bodies eventually get discovered, and blood stains are hard to get out, if they are on you, or spilled on the floor. If you have to, it is best to knock them out. They may wake up, or be woken up, but at least you won’t have to worry about the blood.”

The regime lasted for several more months… along with the other lessons. And, a year and three months of the lessons, of waiting for whatever they had in mind, and to do the job they requested for my identity, the time had at last come. There was no ceremony, no handshakes, not even a nod of the head. Just a different hallway, a different room, and a different person. A rather chubby one, his stomach hidden by a colorful silk outfit, in an Oriental design. Bald, and with the faint beginnings of a mustache. Like some stereotypical Buddha gone bad. Still, it has hard to hate him… he had a certain charisma about him. Of course, he was a crook… but so was I.

I bowed, low and humble, to which he responded with a bellowing laugh. “Such respect. From listening to your teacher, I would assume that you would rather spit on me, rather then listen.” Ok, it wasn’t THAT hard to hate him.

“Anyway… you have been with us for a long time. Partaking of our hospitality, and our wisdom.” He said this with a nod to Charlon, who stood quiet in the corner, like a statue decorating the lavish chamber. “It is time to repay you for this act… a final exam, if you will. I need you to steal something.”

“Why me? Surely you got other guys to do your dirty work?” I felt my master’s stare as I spoke, as I was breaking some sort of rule asking such a simple question.

The fat man just smiled slightly, as if he was amused by this little stray yipping at him. “Yes, but none of them have your… uniqueness. While they are skilled in stealing, they can be traced by even a simple hair. Something which YOU can not, as you seem to be absent from all databases… not even a primitive fingerprint to trace you! And, considering the nature of the object, that is necessary.”

“You see, the government is not really found of the work we Hong Kong businessmen do. They feel we are taking control away from them… of course; it was never theirs to begin with. People have a way of deciding what they want, and what they accept. If anything, we are… economic revolutionaries. If we happen to earn a little to feed our families, so be it.”

I smiled. Such talk, I gathered, was common among the Dragon Heads, the leader of the Triads. Rationalizing their careers by beautiful words was probably an ease on the conscience, or a face for the public.

“Which is why I need you… the government wishes to interfere in our more aggressive policies. You see, our competitors are very violent, very dangerous. We have to defend our own, after all. So, we arm ourselves with weapons, as needed, as I am sure you saw.” I instantly knew that those competitors considered us in the same way. In the end, it was the most basic and primitive of warfare. Small clans, gaining what they could, however they could. Just because the tools were modern, it didn’t mean the methods where.

“I was trained to be a thief, not a soldier. How can I help against a government raid?” True, I was trained in fighting and guns, but if I was going to fight in a war, I think my time here would have a different flavor, a more violent and louder one.

The booming laugh of the fat man echoed through the room, mocking and condescending the poor, ignorant American in front of him. I was really starting to dislike this fat blob. “It’s not a raid, but just a… precaution. You see, the powers that be wish not to fight us directly, but strangle us, cut off our own arms. And then, when we are helpless and squirming… then will they swoop down for the kill. We just received word that they are inventing a new tool… a silent alarm, audible only to those behind control stations, able to pinpoint the source, and send an army against us.”

“But… our informants have let us know about a new development from one of our more… privileged foes. They have a work around against these new alarms. You see, what sets these alarms off is either the sound or smell of gunpowder. But, if we return to older ways, with more traditional weapons… or, more accurately, traditional weapons in a new metal.”

I was getting interested… I was beginning to see where this was going. “The Enlightened Path have developed a new weapon, using nanomachines infused with a laser… making what appears to be one of those beam sabers from Star Wars, with the ability to cut through steel like paper. A weapon like that… and we would rule Hong Kong.”

I was beginning to see where this was going. “And, to avoid having this attached to you; to avoid being the target of Triads with similar goals… you can’t leave anything that could be tracked back to you…”

“Yes… and that is why we hired you. Since this is a delicate matter, where we can’t be held responsible, we need someone impossible to track down, someone who never existed.”

“We need you, Mr. Glenton, to steal the sword.”

Chapter Thirty: Threats From All Angles

The Chinese sun bore down on me with the unintended cruelty of a child frying ants with a magnifying lens. But, it appeared that feeling was unique to me. Not surprising, considering I spent a little over a year and a half indoors, and in the dark. I had to buy a pair of shades to just be able to step outside. Not that I minded. I meant to hide my eyes anyway. Still couldn’t get over how piercing they were.

But, despite the glaring heat, I enjoyed my own day out for “preparation.” Despite the harsh government change, Hong Kong was a nice, if slightly rigid, city. There were colors up and down the square, merchants… yes, merchants… were out in the street, extolling the values of their wares. Or, I think they were… my Chinese was still a little rusty. No social life.

There where police, but despite the fact I wore the Sunrise Dragon tunic, they didn’t bother me. Perhaps they were bribed; perhaps they didn’t really care about the foreigner playing gangster. Or, perhaps they knew, deep down, that the corruption we bring is needed for their city.

I walked into the plaza, surprised by the contrast between the merchants and the customers. While the sellers remained loud, boisterous, and smiling, the customers were huddled, just glancing at the wares, and then walking off. Almost like bees choosing flowers for their pollen. Very choosy bees. I did not know much about communism; mostly didn’t care, but I know that to share everything amongst one of the largest populations in the world would lead to shortages… I heard stories of the lines in the old Soviet Republic.

I just walked on. I didn’t have to worry about such… besides; I wanted to enjoy my day of fresh air… and perhaps buying something interesting, though I was instructed to spend my given stipend on something useful. But, that doubt quickly flew out the back door of my brain when I passed by a leather goods store, for inside was something that qualified for both: A pure black, floor length leather trench coat. For some reason, it seemed to scream at me to buy it… and I knew I could justify the purchase. After all, what better way to hide something that shouldn’t be seen?

I walked in the store, and gave the cashier my money, and instantly put it on… and instantly new I made a good choice after looking in the mirror. This jacket and I seemed to belong to each other. And, it was so full of pockets, I could carry weapons, and just about anything in here… without anyone knowing. The perfect thief compliment. Though, I couldn’t help but think how I looked like a Matrix extra…

That’s when it hit me… I remembered seeing Neo fly through the air, fighting agents, the whole scene with Trinity saving him… but, I never saw the movie.

That sudden thought put me in a daze, so I didn’t notice the limo pull up next to me, and was only brought back to reality when grabbed by a quick, iron hand, and pulled into the limo’s car, into what could be called the darkest interior of any luxury vehicle.

I saw only silhouettes, covered by the lack of lighting due to the tinted windows, and the divider separating the passengers from the drivers, covered in a barely visible, but highly pungent, odor of tobacco. To the right of me, was the perfect proof that the stereotype of the small Asian an untrue exaggeration. This one looked ready to rip me into human confetti.

The divider parted, revealing a slightly illuminated, wiry looking man, barely discernable in this devilish vehicle. He was smoking a long, filter cigarette, and I could picture the stare he was giving me. Finally, he spoke: “So… you are the one… the foreigner that’s feeding off the Sunrise Dragon’s plate… the food must be bad if they need to hire outside the city to have people eat it.”

“What do you want?” I knew the longer I stayed here, the more danger I was in. If the Sunrise Dragon Triad saw me enter this limo, I wouldn’t have to be a mind reader to know what they would think. And nobody likes a traitor. And… anyone who put this much emphasis in being threatening definitely was not good company.

The man just sneered. “So quick, and to the point, but some do like there business this way… so be it. Let’s just say I am a head-hunter from the Fanged Tooth Triad…” I wonder if he meant that figuratively or literally. “… and, we too are interested in a certain high-tech sword…”

“Who the hell uses a sword these days?” I attempted to play dumb, but all I got for my efforts was a jab in the stomach by Mr. Bruced-up Lee. After the coughing fit I got from the sudden impact, the conversation continued.

“Please do not insult my intelligence, Mr. Glenton… yes, I know your name. I know a lot about what goes on with the Sunrise Dragon. And, I know why they recruited you.

You are a man that goes everywhere like a ghost… you are seen, but never remembered. No one can find you, or know you. You are the scentless rabbit. And, I am hoping you are greedy. “

“You see… we, too want that sword. But, unlike the Dragons, we offer more then a place to live… we pay a recruitment fee for our new employees, if they deliver. Say, a certain weapon. For that, we offer our protection, and… five hundred thousand of your American dollars. What do you say about that?”

I said nothing. I felt the punches of the muscle next to me… I hate to see what he did if provoked more. And… I just wanted to get out of this alive. After a long silence, I finally said. “I need time to think.” At least I could buy some time.

I got a better deal instead. “So… you really are a rabbit. So afraid to earn money for yourself. Still… better to leave the door open. You may go… but if the Sunrise Dragons get the sword… you will lose more then money. You will lose a fountain of blood.”

I was shoved out the car, sprawled upon the street, my hands chaffed, but otherwise unharmed. The driver of the limo flew a piece of paper toward me. I caught it, and saw it just had a number on it… the number of the Fanged Tooth Triad. I quickly pocketed it, and looked around. Good, not much of an audience. Looks like the police around here were paid to ignore strange happenings, like this.

I dusted myself off and quickly walked back to the rendezvous, thinking about the Matrix movie… and how I knew it so well. But, I was quickly brought back to reality by IT again. “Stop wasting your time on stupid films! You have a chance to finally know who you are! That has to be worth more then any amount of money!’

“Yeah, but don’t you think its strange, of all the things I forgot, I would remember a movie? Think my mind would have other things on it…”

“JUST SHUT UP!” I was caught off guard by that exclamation, and just walked back in silence. The Voice was annoying, but rarely angry. More of a mocker then a yeller

What nerve did I just hit?

Chapter Thirty-One: Hitting it Off

The rendezvous in question was a run-down hotel room we agreed to meet and plan our moves… more for function then rest. Bars in the window, holes in the carpet… and sheets that smelled like they haven’t seen a washing machine since the beds were first made. Yep, a typical slum dive… a dirty room for dirty deeds.

And in this disgusting pit, was a man getting ready for his first big heist, with the nervousness of a child taking off the training wheels. For the tenth time today, while waiting for Charlon, I checked my gear. Using a pocket knife, and some basic sewing skills, I was able to cut holes in my jacket, for all the gear left out for me…several different lock picks, of different degrees of advancement and style… the simple long, needles for regular doors, to a razor like contraption made for card locks, and a keyboard like tool, looking like a cheese grater, to open keypads… the squares acted like receivers that fitted over the keyboard picking up any positive/negative signals, in a sense, finding the electronic tumblers. . For more complex doors, like retinal or handprint scanners… I was on my own.

I also had two guns… while my shooting was superb, and I was able to clearing out all the dangerous paper targets in sight, I felt better having a spare. Though it was recommended not to kill, I requested the second pistol… hey, if I ran into trouble, I better do everything I can to take care of it. Everything about this was stealth… not to be killed or caught. And, if anyone happened to see me… the unlucky bastard shouldn’t be able to tell others… ever. Of course, it wouldn’t do to be seen with weapons in public, so I put them in the jacket, but in easy access, just in case.

I also had a typical lock activated grappling hook… strong enough to pull three hundred pounds, and able to extend about six stories, provided I could get a good grip. A common, but useful, tool for getting where I shouldn’t. I put that into the dark recess of my coat as well.

I had other slits in my jacket as well, mostly for… other things I may find. Hey, I may be at work, but I should help myself to something as well. Though, all they were used for now was hiding the Fanged Tooth business card from the Sunrise Dragon. Hell would await me if they found it. I really should have destroyed it by now, but it was just one of those things that no one ever thinks of, like cleaning out pocket lint.

My nervous and excited preparations were interrupted by footsteps… but different from Charlon’s steady, focused stride. No… these were quicker, rushed… I didn’t give it any thought, until I heard a knock. These unusual steps were looking for me. If I wasn’t so nervous, I would probably have acted differently, but being as high on adrenaline as I was, I immediately entered combat mode, pulling out a pistol, both hands on the grip, striding to the side of the door, my gun ready to blow anyone’s head off… the knocking persisted. I quickly moved one hand to turn the knob, and quickly open it ajar, just to get this game over with.

The knocker got the hint, and the door opened purposefully, revealing what I least expected: an olive skinned angel, with flowing black hair, down her whole back… which was covered in a tight, black tank top, filled out near the top, showing the fruits, while slim going down to her tight, tight black jeans. Such an eyeful distracted me from the little fact I had a gun pointed to her head.

Such a combination, in addition to dropping my guard while… checking her assets, enabled her to get in a quick jab to my gut, causing me to keel over, but I didn’t have time to groan, as a quick upper to my lip forced me on the floor. But, I didn’t have time to give in to the pain. I quickly recovered from the surprise, and grabbed her leg, pulling sharply, and knocking her down on the ground.

In mere seconds, I sprang up, my gun trained on her head… but I in no way had the advantage, for as I was peering down on her, she has a very long barrel from a rifle against my face. We stood there, in total silence, each one looking at the other, waiting for any movement, any excuse to shoot… while at the same time, steeling our nerves, not wanting to provoke the other into returning the favor… a test of patience.

Which was ended by a rather smug laugh, and a slight, amused, applause.

“Ah, I see you two have just met. PC, allow me to introduce your backup and support for this assignment. Miss Mia Koj. One of Hong Kong’s best snipers and… agents, for lack of a better term”

Backup? “Why the hell do I need backup? Especially from this bitch?”

“Excuse me? From what I heard, this is your first time, newbie. Seems to me, you need more then backup… you need a mommy to hold your hand.”

“Well, excuse me for not trusting anyone in a slum. Especially a gun wielding psycho dressed like a hooker!”

“Why you miserable, cocky little bast…!”

My teacher quickly interrupted our discussion. “If you two wouldn’t mind, we can save the assessments for AFTER the job. For now, I could with some silence.” It was rather aggravating, how passively demeaning he could be.

Mia and I took one last, cold look at each other. Yeah, she was a looker, but what they said about beauty was true only skin deep. And, I had a feeling that she would end up crawling in mine, even though she made my blood boil, in both the good and bad ways.

And I was expected to WORK with her? As we walked out the door, I started wondering if my past was worth this…

Chapter Thirty-Two: Shadowy Preparations.

The trip to the Enlightened Path compound was made in total quiet, the only communication were the silent, cold stares between Mia and myself. This woman was supposed to watch my back? I had a feeling she would rather stab me in it. The last thing I needed to worry about was a partner who didn’t trust me. I had enough to worry about myself.

The most dangerous job I did was my first… that bank heist in Glenwood, and that turned out to be a disaster, with a whole freaking army of Stalter troops appearing like locusts, to devour the only remaining crop left. Would my training with Charlon really pay off? True, I felt I was a lot better, in better shape… but still, a lot more was relying on this then just a little… ok, a lot of spending money.

The van drove by… at a slow pace, as to not attract attention. So, when we reached the compound four hours later, I got a good view of its majesty… its amazing, eye-popping majesty. It was like a miniature, modern fortress. Made of sleek black obsidian, with black glass windows… like crossing a modern skyscraper with Frankenstein’s castle. All it needed were lightning and bats. To put it simply, it was huge… two wide towers, connected by a wide stretch of building. I am not sure what crime the Enlightened Path specialized in, but it must be worth a bundle.

But, I wanted to know more, then just the gaze I was getting. “Anyway we can get behind it? I want to see what this thing is really like…”

“No.” Charlon responded in that emotionally neutral voice of his. “Circling it like vultures is a good way to let them know we are watching… these people are suspicious, and keep to themselves. They are like a cult… a cult of scientists.”

“Besides, I got some blueprints with me… you should be able to secure a route, if I choose to give it, instead of leading you to their intruder extermenation room.” Mia replied, with a cold, sarcastic tone.

“Some backup. Maybe I should have YOU removed-“

”ENOUGH!” Charlon bellowed, rocking the van. “Please keep in mind neither of you are getting anything if this fails. And, you two WILL need to work together. If you keep squabbling like preschoolers, I will take care of you both. Now…” Charlon’s tone calmed down, as he went into description mode. “Mia will be watching the outside of the building, taking care of any problems that may appear on the outside, and providing any on site support she can. I will be with her, looking over what little information we have. It seems these prints have a few gaps.”

“So, the great sniper is limited in intelligence? Not surprising.”

If looks were bullets, I would be pierced by now. “You are beginning to look dangerous… anyway, I will be giving you instructions via headset.” Mia tossed me a what looked like a MP3 player, complete with the headphone set.. “Put these in… and leave it to me to make things interesting.”

I plugged in the headset, and put the wires on my purpose. I knew it was a radio, probably meant to keep in contact with Mia and Charlon while I was in this fortress. “So… what’s next? Any last orders, or any last words?”

Charlon shook his head. “You are on your own now, PC. There is nothing more I can say, except remain undetected, and careful.”

“And I have a few more words for you as well, jackass.” Mia commented, as she quickly and expertly unfolded her sniper rifle. “Don’t make a fool out of yourself… and good luck.”

I smiled, bowed, and walked toward the fortress, heading for the bushes. The biggest heist in my life so far was about to begin.

Chapter Thirty-Three: The Heist Begins.

I dove into the surrounding bushes, hiding myself from any curious or wary eyes. Moving slowly, making only slight movements in the foliage, so it appeared that only a small animal was moving this night. My vision was obstructed by green, but at least others couldn't see me.

After spending several minutes in my natural shelter, hearing absolute silence, I dared to take a quick peek. Good, it was clear. I crawled out, sneaking toward the wall, moving slowly, my back against pressed against the black stone, until I reached a corner. I took a glance around the corner… guards, in heavy body armor, and carrying some serious firepower, in the form of military issue machine guns, and grenades. No way I could go in from there.

I retraced my straddling, my back to the wall, senses on high alert, prepared for anything that might appear. I reached the other corner, and just saw the grass was just as bad as the other side of the fence… more guards, equally armed.

I needed another way in, so I turned on the portable radio I received from Mia. “Hey… those blueprints say anything about a back door? Got some heavy resistance from both sides here.”

“Yeah, I noticed. The window just above the door has a grating, which leads to an air vent. Let me see if I can’t distract Laurel and Hardy here.” There was a crash, and I noticed one of the lamps near the entrance had gone dark. The guards reacted, on the alert, but looking away from me. I took the opportunity to get in closer, praying they didn’t turn around, when the second lamp crashed, on the other side, giving me barely enough time to dive into the new shadows, and get low, crouching in the darkness.

I would of cursed Mia by now, for her bad timing, but I was holding my breath, not wanting these two guards to see me. But, it seems my training had paid off, with my black clothing. I was right behind them, but concealed. Just another phantom of the night.

One of the guards brought out a walkie-talkie, calling for repairs, obviously. The other was near him, just nodding to the whole conversation. By the time either of them looked behind them, I was grappled on the ledge above them, looking 6 feet down at them.

The grate protecting the vent, fortunately, was loose, so it was a simple matter of just opening it and closing it, like a door. Guess even the most impenetrable fortress had a few kinks. While I was sung in the man-made metal tunnel, I took a few moments to converse with Mia.

“Glad to see you can kill lamps so quickly. Next time, make sure the thief is hidden before you continue, ok?"

“Well, you were the moron that had to rush it. Things would have been great if you just waited.”

“For what? For the guards to die of old age? I saw an opportunity, and took it. What else would you expect me to do?”

“I don’t know… maybe trust your support?”

“Not going to happen, sister.” I quickly ended the call. I was in no mood to argue with her right now. I crawled through the vent, moving slowly and softly, so as to not make any loud or noticeable bangs on the cold steel. I would have to get out soon, though.

After several minutes of worming my way through, I found an opening. I paused a few seconds, to make sure it was clear. Good, it was silent… but the lights were still on. It should be ok to enter, but I would have to be careful. I peered through the grate, to find myself in an empty office. It was late at night, around eleven pm, but obviously some employees burned whatever was left of the midnight oil. Well, Charlon was right… such devotion WAS cultish.

I opened the grate, and slid down… to the tune of the door opening. There was no time to think. I jumped underneath the only hiding place available… the wooden desk. I was crouching underneath when the door opened. Thanks to the windows being only one way, not letting you see in, there was a reflection. It was just a guard, like the ones outside, and not the worker. He walked in, gun at rest, and just moved his face side to side. Obviously, he was in for the light, and nothing else. After barely a minute, he walked out, and flipped the switch, enveloping the room in darkness

That was my cue. I walked back out from under the desk, sneaking toward the door… pausing suddenly, I froze, and remembered one little detail… and realized how close to capture I came.

I went back to the previously opened vent, and quickly put it back in place. I almost got poisoned by forgetting to close one, when I escaped Stalter, and I rather not have it repeat again. I was very lucky the guard was apathetic and overconfident. I would be in a mess if he noticed the hole in the wall.

I left the room, into the hallway. There were plenty of corridors and offices. I had no idea where to look for clues, or where to even begin. If Charlon or Mia had any ideas, they would of said something, despite their annoying or bitchy tendencies. I had no choice. I pulled out a lock pick, and proceeded to work on a nearby door. The answer I needed was in one of these rooms.

Now, to find it before the guards found me.

Chapter Thirty-Four: Arrows Left by the Enemy

I was back in the shadows, panting, out of breath, and sweating, holding my wrist, massaging feeling back into it. An hour had passed since I started picking the locks in the hallway, and things have gotten difficult. It felt like I could no longer go on. I turned on the radio, and relayed my surrender to Mia and Charlon.

“Please tell me you have a clue on the sword. My arms can’t handle another damn lock!” An hour spent prying open door knobs, over and over, only to find neat, paper free offices, without even a computer for information, which I found surprising, was enough to give anyone carpal tunnel syndrome. The pain removed me from a daze of systematically unlocking door, after door. Even the guards, which I knew where patrolling, didn’t show up to stop the rhythm.

But, even the greatest maestro needs a break. At least I had hiding room, and plenty of shadows in these offices. If only these monuments to obsessive-compulsive cleanliness had something pointing to my goal.

A burst of static burst me from my reverie. “Sorry, PC. We got nothing. We know where the rooms are, but what they contain, or what’s in them… well, its one of the reasons we had someone like you do it.” I started to get annoyed, but then a sudden flash of inspiration put some ease into my mind.

“This sword… is highly secure, right? That important.”

“Yeah, obviously. Why?”

“This place barely has any guards, not enough to protect anything valuable. Either the Triad overestimated the sword’s usefulness, or…”

“Or, they are using electronic surveillance and defenses!” I grinned at Mia’s new excitement.

“Yeah… and that means, an extra concentration of wires, cables and other connections. Your blueprints show any of that?”

“Let’s see.” There was a rustle of noise, and some murmurs, flavored with the particular accents of Charlon and my backup... After a long period of waiting, Mia’s voice came back on the line. “Seems to be a great deal of power going down toward the basement, accessible underneath the two side towers. Something has to be there.”

“Excellent… I at least have a starting point, but I just can’t blaze in there. Anything branching off? There has to be someone manning these things, like a control station.”

“Well, according to what I have here, the lines from the basement run through the upper regions of the towers, parallel to the cameras. So, if one goes down, the other will be able to back it up.”

“And, considering the distance between the two, there is no way I can easily take care of both…” A flash of inspiration came, as I recalled one of Charlon’s lessons in electronics. “Unless I can find a way to increase the current to an extremely high degree. I would be able to burn out one station, and the extra voltage would short out the other station… and the cameras.”

“Well… it’s worth a shot.” I noticed Mia sounded skeptical of my plan… I admit, it did sound far fetched, but I was convinced I could wire something. “The eastern tower is the closest to where you entered. Now, get going, or lead will be the last thing you see.”

Funny… she actually sounded cheerful with that last threat. Oh well, I now had direction, and a lead. I peeked out the door, making sure it was safe, and then snuck out. The night was about to get a little better.

Chapter Thirty-Five: A Narrow Escape.

The pain in my wrists soon faded away, ignored once I had a new goal, a new direction. I headed in the direction Mia told me, again on the prowl, and again open for any unsuspecting surprises. The hallway was long, so I had to keep watching my back as well as keep my eyes peeled ahead. I may be dressed for concealment, but it’s amazing how far the average human can see. At least I had the different offices to duck into.

I went like this, creeping from office to office, in total silence, until I reached the staircase. The trip was uneventful... it made me suspicious, just how quiet it was… but, I had no time to ponder this, and I quickly took a peek upwards. Quiet as a tomb… but the only ghost here was myself.

Stairs would be problematic. There was really no good way to hide, nor any way to avoid surprises. The best thing I could do was keep my ears open, listening for the tramp and footsteps of the patrols, and head away from the noise, toward an exit, if they were coming close.

I climbed, taking one stair at a time, walking slowly, gently. My shoes but a whisper on tiled steps. Floor by floor, on my way to the top. But, the wound of a door opening above me perked me up from my methodic reverie. Someone was here… and, from the sound of his steps, he was getting closer. I immediately turned around, only to hear a similar sound from down below, and getting louder as well. The sensation hit me immediately, and squeezed my innards like a giant claw, caught between two unyielding slabs. I was trapped.

I controlled my breathing, forcing myself to stay calm, and focused. I needed to get out. I knew that I was one level above and below, and the stairs and banister would hide me… the stairs would do a better job, so my main worry should be below me. Knowing this, I used the stairs above to their full advantage, and straddled myself on the banister, making every effort to be quiet. I saw the other guard below me, my eyes on him, waiting for him to get close to the top of the stairs, the one second where he would turn the corner.

When he finally reached it, before he could look my way, I shoved my body toward the lower stairwell, using a great feat of acrobatics to straighten myself mid fall, and grab on to the edge of my former post with just my finger tips. I waited a few more seconds, a few more steps, to give myself a little more time for my next stunt.

I let go of the side, only dropping a few feet, since my body was extended, and then on tiptoes, leaped down the stairs, skidding to a stop. Pushing against my built up momentum, I leapt toward the door, opening and closing it so quickly, it could be thought I was passing through the door itself.

The hallway was lit like the others, but I could not take the risk of escaping the light this time. It would take some time to pick open the doors in the hallway, and I had two guards behind me. My only hiding place was the door itself.

The adrenaline rush that helped me get here now wanted to betray me, exhausting my lungs, making them beg for air. But, I had to deny them. Any panting, any heavy breathing, could give me away. I needed to be silent. I crouched down, against the wall.

The hinges on the door had a safety release, meaning they couldn’t close all the way, most likely to protect the wall, and to prevent any absent minded worker from being crushed by any herd of lunch goers making a mad dash to the cafeteria. And this safety feature was what I planned on keeping me safe, and hidden.

As I thought, the door opened, going as far as it could, its shadow casting a protective blanket on me. From this blanket, I saw the tip of a military issue machine gun, the same one carried by all the grunts here. I bristled, forcing myself still and silent, controlling my breathing, making it slow, and paced.

I saw one guard, in ready position, walking forward, his pace like a lion’s on the hunt, looking for prey, ready to spring at the slightest pin drop. He looked to the side, thankfully not thinking about the door, and crept forward, trying one door, seeing it was locked. With quick expertise, he unlocked it, and entered the office. The second guard was a perfect mirror, doing the same actions in concert with his partner, on the other side of the hallway.

I took this time to make my exit, moving through the door, and back up the stairs, moving silently, hoping the time it took to clear the office of any intruders would allow me to be some distance away. I walked up to the level I was on, and paused, waiting for any commotion, or any assault, but all was calm. No guards, no shots, nothing but silence.

I took the liberty of allowing my lungs the much-needed air, giving them the luxury of heavy breathing. I then continued my climb, hopefully without incident this time.

Chapter Thirty-Six: The Gamble for Darkness

The rest of the climb upward was thankfully uneventful, the only obstacle on my way to the top was the sheer repetition of the stairs, going upwards and upwards, ruining my focus, and dulling my instincts with a haze of boredom.

Finally, the endless hike ended, at an ordinary looking brown door. By looking at it, you could not know the power that lies behind. But, like most things, is only a sham to hide what is truly inside. The natural form of deception, used in nature, and in human society.

The door itself was just another knob, like the ones below it. Nothing a little picking wouldn’t open. But, behind that door was the true challenge, and proof that my musings of natural deception were true. A solid metal door, locked not by keyhole, but by plastic card.

But, I came prepared for such inconveniences. Inside my jacket, in one of many hiding spots, was a device that looked like a calculator, but attached to the top were many wires, which lead to a metal card, with a magnetic strip on the other end. A pick for card locks.

I inserted the card into the slot, and turned on the “calculator”, which was really a digital decoder. The information from a card, like anything using computerized information, was just binary, on and off switches, which we translated to 0 and 1s, and in the case of long digits, like this could be, further translated to hexadecimal, a base 15 counting system. What this device did was send these 0s and 1s randomly, looking for a pathway.

It could easily be compared to a lock going through tumblers, trying to find a way in. When something gives, it goes in further

The display and buttons of the decoder was mostly there if the lock was more complicated, or the password had a feedback randomizer, which changed the information received. If a skilled operator noted a sudden change, he could carefully observe the movements, and see the variable that appeared most often. That digit, in hex, would be the correct sequence for a card-code. And, it also came with a memory option to store past numbers, to avoid doing the process all over again.

I managed to get the door open, correcting the randomized inputs that attempted to throw me off guard. The passage in was soon open to me, but I did not relish it yet. I had to be careful, so I put my sights in the new room before I let my feet take their first few steps. And, for the first time, I saw the first true hint of how secure this place was.

The whole area was at least two floors high, and about forty yards wide, from each end. A perfect square, filled with enough electronic surveillance to keep a whole country of stalkers busy and occupied. Monitors, computers, desktops, and even recordings, to rival those of network television stations. Big Brother would love this place.

And, in contrast to the mostly empty corridors and offices I saw so far, this place was crawling with guards, working on consoles, observing monitors and tapes, even chatting. At least I knew where they all were now.

This whole mess just got harder. I needed to somehow sneak in, and sabotage all THIS? Well, I only had to get inside a console, so maybe if I could work my way around, just next to a machine… there was an edge just next to the door. I hope none of these goons had to make their rounds.

I crawled to the end of one of the huge systems, only a few feet into the building. This was dangerous, but I had no choice. Besides, they all looked busy. Good, it had screws, and from the looks of things, it looked like this side has been accessed several times, most likely by these guards. Only the dumber Triads would ask for outside help, and risk spies and possible informants. Probably did the work themselves. As a result, they had to have easy access to the insides, as they lacked specialized tools, like the stronger power tools. Well, made my life easier.

I nervously looked out into the floor, sweat covering me like a second skin. I was low on my belly, my feet outside the room, past the metal door, using my hands to crawl forward. My gloved hands were pulling my full weight, and the strain of picking all those locks earlier was coming back. But, I had to be as silent as possible. Anyone looking in this direction would see me clearly.

Like I expected, the panel came off easily, and the insides were exposed. I took one nervous look over my shoulder. Good… no one was looking this way. Inside the device were a mixture of wires and circuit boards, of all sizes. For what I was planning, I would need something big, so I took the widest wire I could find. Taking a pair of huge clippers from my jacket, I then proceeded to cut into the beast, sawing into it, while taking another cautious peak. Good, everyone was still absorbed in their work.

Cutting this would definitely shut down something, most likely something that could be noticed. I could already hear the crowd stir. Quickly, I rammed each of section of the cut cable onto one of the smaller boards. The sizzling effect, accompanied with the ever-increasing smell of melt plastic was quickly overlooked by the chaos that ensued.

Everything happened quickly. The machine hissed; smoke coming from the dials, like a ghost leaving its mortal body, leaving only a cold, empty shell. I knew onlookers would come, so I quickly scooted myself back into the darkness of the small hallway. The guards swooped upon the sabotaged device like vultures on a corpse. It wouldn’t take long to find out what was long, so I had to work fast.

When the crowd reached its peak, I snuck into the room, and against the wall. With everyone distracted, I got near another set of dials, and moved them to the right, all to the right. The labels were in Chinese, a language I was hopelessly ignorant in, despite my time in Hong Kong, but I knew the same constants apply. If a dial increases power, it goes to the right.

I proceeded to the other machines, turning all the dials I could to the right. And, after I turned the last one, it became the Hong Kong Independence Day. Purple fireworks burst in the room, let out in joyful celebration by the all-seeing equipment in the room.

The screams of panic let out by the guards were parallel to the screams of excited children as they ran among the sparkles and smoke. Hell, even the floor was celebrating, though it was obviously having trouble lighting the matches, and was suffering heavy burns.

And, just as soon as it started, darkness fell, and the party was over. The room was completely black. And, I chose to make my exit as well, not worrying about the guards, as they were evidently not used to the inky black like I was. From the bumps, yells and thumps, it was obvious they couldn’t tell a computer from a wall, much less a sneaky thief from a loyal guard. Though, I was concerned. I only wanted to shut down the machines, not destroy everything.

In the safe blanket of natural concealment, I decided to call my backup. “What happened? The whole room blacked out.”

“The room? PC, whatever the hell you did, took out the whole building! All the lights are off, its like the only thing there is a big, hard to see shadowy blob!”

In my zest to shut down the surveillance, I must have burnt out several fuses, at the very least. “So, I take it the other station is out as well?”

There was a few seconds of silence, but the irritation behind it was screaming out. “Yes, you took out the other station, the lights, and the vending machines. But, you turned on one light. The big neon sign screaming that someone’s been fooling around!”

I didn’t think of that, and internally agreed that she did have a point. But, hell if I was going to let her win. “So, I just work faster. What is the fastest way to the basement?”

“The stairs are the only way. This place has no elevators, so you have to WALK down there. And, with all the commotion you caused…” I got the point. The place would be crawling with armed guards. I may have darkness on my side, but the numbers would eventually catch up.

It was then something came to me. “Mia, on my way here, I saw something that looked like a small door… what would that be?”

“Probably a garbage shoot. A place with this many secrets would have to be careful what they threw out. Don’t want some homeless person discovering something they can trade for food.”

“So, it leads to a disposal facility? Where is it located?” I was silently pleading, to whoever listens to amnesiac thieves, that it would take me where I needed to go. The one place that all those wires were leading to.”

“The basement… wait, you’re not actually thinking of…?

It was too late. I was beyond thinking. I quickly sprinted toward the cute, and jumped in. I had my shortcut, and was not passing it up. This would be just what I needed to avoid the guards. But, my hopes were dashed as soon as I began my descent.

“NO! The basement has a backup generator that adds power to certain functions. Like immediate, basic security and sanitation functions like the TRASH INCINERATOR!”

As soon as she said that, my elation turned sour, as I thought why the hell she couldn’t tell me that SOONER!

Chapter Thirty-Seven: Entering the Dark Maze

The ride down was what I pictured the trip to hell to be like. Falling in a dark tunnel, tortured by the knowledge of where I was heading, knowing that this fall was probably the only respite before it all came to an end.

But, it would take more then a fall before I gave in to the devil. I took out my grappling hook, and quickly brought it against the edge of the tunnel. A long, lingering screech of the hooks edge against the cold metal of the chute hit the brakes on my descent, silencing only when it hit a recess, most likely another garbage door. But I know anyone outside would hear the end of my little trip, and would only provide a shortcut to the final destination.

A roar of flame, and a sudden illumination of orange quickly told me I had no choice but to get out of here. It seemed I was closer to the end of the road then I imagined, or I fell faster then I imagined. Either way, it was either certain death being burned alive, or a chance to live with the guards. I took the choice any sane mind would, and quickly catapulted myself through the nearby door.

I leapt into the darkness, quickly turning in a circle as I flung myself out, quickly scanning for any obstacles to my escape, and quickly found two nearby, but not quite recovered from the flash escaping from the garbage. Two typical guards, only different in one thing: they managed to find me.

I had to make it the last thing they ever did, and fast. Working on instinct, and a near panic state, I drew out a pistol, firing before they could say, or fire, anything. Adrenaline focused my aim, and sped up my arm, and the first bullet hit true. Using the momentum of the gun’s kick to speed the draw, I turned my sights on guard number two. I could practically hear his finger tense, as he prepared to fire, to kill me, and to let his buddies know where the bastard thief was.

But, I quickly turned such fears moot, as the blur I had become outdrew him, and ended this skirmish, and thankful I had the foresight to add silencers to my weapons. But, I now had to eliminate the evidence of my gunplay, before the bleeding did.

Fortunately, the silencer lessened the impact, so there were no geysers of blood. Just holes through the brain. As for the bodies, I already had my disposal. The same one I already escaped from. I dragged both guards over to the chute, and shoved them in. The smell would definitely linger for a long time, but I wouldn’t. I was back in the shadows, and on my way down. If I was that close to the incinerator, the basement was just around the corner.

There was only one flight of stairs, and that lead to an unguarded door. Well, was unguarded. The ones designed to protect it with their lives were probably the corpses I gave the devil in exchange for my escape. Well, at least they did their job.

Another keycard lock, but nothing the card picker couldn’t handle, and soon its code was in my possession, despite the numerous loops programmed in. But, as I was entering the door, I got a call from Mia, but it sounded like her voice was being crammed with pebbles and mouthwash. “PC…. Careful… Security…” Were all the words I could get before she just cut off. This place must be shielded from radio waves. Well, the only way to go was forward.

I entered the shadowy room, and noticed everything was outlined in red, giving off minimal light. Must be the work of the backup generator, supplying only the bare essentials. I knew the bleeding illumination would give off shadows, but my features would be distorted, so I was better off, in the long run. Hopefully, it would also mean the more mechanical guardians would be starving as well.

I entered into the new room, letting my eyes adjust to the new tone. This was the last challenge to the sword, and my past. I just hope all this trouble was worth it.

Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Mental Domain of Hell

Even in the faint crimson light barely illuminating the walls, it was easy to tell this place was a maze. The first few steps led to a divide left and right, and not far from those turns, were other turns. I started to feel like a rat, waiting for some cheese. Well, I couldn’t smell the bait, but I could think my way to it, starting with the universal maze solution.

I turned right, keeping the blood colored stone on the same side. The only noise were my own footsteps, quiet thuds on the stone floor, as my toes were touching first, avoiding the heavier mass of the heel. An awkward way to walk for the beginner, but for those who live in the shadows, it is the step of survival.

But, even the quietest movements couldn’t do everything, especially when the obstacles had eyes, but not ears. Like the miniature spies that guard hallways without a need for breaks or rest. Surveillance cameras… they didn’t fight back, but they could start a commotion about what they see, and scream at any intruders, until someone came to do the fighting for them. And, you couldn’t just shoot them, either. Someone would eventually notice that something was wrong, and that same alarm would be raised.

And it was those annoyances I faced around the corner. A total of four, each one swerving left and right, in time with each other, so at least one was spying a part of the hallway, technically leaving no stone unturned. But, like every guard, these too had a weakness. They could only see.

So, they could not hear the movements of a thief walk underneath one protruding guard, and patiently waiting for it to turn, eyes on the second. Nor could it hear that same thief quickly move to the next camera, outside of its line of sight. And it was totally deaf to that same sequence of camera dodging, repeated to each of his brothers. If it saw anything, it was a brief flicker of black in the sides. Nothing to be alarmed about.

I grinned, and continued making my way through the twisted hallway, and found another type of obstacle, this one attached to something deadlier then just a siren. For, in front of me, was a steel shield with a barrel pointing out. It looked cheap, but I could make out the form of the weapon from behind. It was a standard issue machine gun. It looked like it was made into a turret. An automated one, from the looks of the wires coming of the sides… and into several indentions in the wall. I saw these holes before, during a bumbled bank robbery in Glenwood. Laser trip wires.

Well, I was better at this now. I didn’t have any talcum powder, but thankfully this hallway was old. I could make do with the collected dust. I picked up a pinch, and sprinkled it amongst the eyes. It was fainter then the white baby powder, but the faint outlines could be seen, twinkling, so it wasn’t too hard to catch their location in this atmosphere.

I took a deep breath, and took a step forward, landing my foot between two beams. This was the easy step. The lasers were only inches apart, barely enough room for my foot. I had to cross my legs to get the other foot in. I held this uncomfortable position for several seconds, then brought the first foot in front of the second. I only teetered a few millimeters, spreading my arms like wings to maintain my balance.

I steeled my nerves, and repeated this tedious balancing act. Left foot, right foot, my face drenched with sweat as I avoided even the slightest teeter. I was literally at gunpoint to succeed. But, soon, silence was returned. I was out of that trap, though I had to rest my legs. I was a little sore and tense from that little tightrope act.

I repeated these processes in this labyrinth for hours, pausing only to peek into the many different doors I found scattered around, but the only interesting thing I found so far was a break room. But, I kept looking. This place was well protected and confusing for a reason, and I knew I would find something suspicious sooner or later… and, I did, but not at a door.

Going down another hallway, after sneaking past more cameras, I noticed a thin line of dust that seemed a little thicker then most of the hallway… like it was shoved here by something heavy, or often. Curious, I took a closer look at my surroundings, pausing only to make a little adjustment on a camera, switching the feedback to make it loop over and over. A powerful, trick, but one best not used often. Too little activity can cause suspicion to mirror that of too much. But, I didn’t want to be interrupted.

Free of any distractions, I observed the walls… and noticed a few smudges along one panel. Just ordinary black smudges, but the fact they congregated on that one point seemed rather peculiar. I moved my hand amongst the dark spots, but felt nothing unusual. But, a quick knock confirmed my suspicions: there was something weird about this wall.

I changed my angle of approach, and tried applying force around the sides of the panel. Yes, it felt loose, like it could move. And, after my fingers took a trip around this new world, it finally gave, and opened up to show its treasures: a digital numeric keypad. While a deterrent for most, I had the luxury of being prepared. I reached again into my jacket, and pulled out they keypad pick. I put it over the keypad, making sure the small wires at the bottom of the squares fit snuggly into the numbered buttons.

As I hit the switch, and saw the flashing yellow LED light indicating the device was working, I paused to think a bit. I found it ironic, after changing and improving locks, they all had the same principle: a set of tumblers that needed to be bypassed. Sure, a simple lock and key lock worked differently then a keycard, but they still had a series of “tumblers”, be it digital information, or a metal pattern. And, even more ironically, they were picked in the same way. Bypassing the pattern by tricking it into believing the key or code was being entered, one step at a time. But, a green flash from the picker interrupted that train of thought. The code was deciphered.

And, right on cue, a part of the wall to my right moved into the hallway, revealing the secret behind. And, it revealed to me the only light in this dark tunnel. It was a laboratory, bristling with modern tools, and probably tools not yet on the market. I kind of regretted the sabotage I did earlier at this point. I would of loved to see these in action. But, disappointments aside, I had a hunch my quarry was here.

There were no cameras, and nothing out of the ordinary. Just an empty lab, most likely closed for the night while the scientists slept, dreaming of formulas and new gadgets. This was too easy, but I kept pushing on. After the security in the hallway, I could use a break.

It turned out to be a short one. For, in the center of a room, in a shining blue platform, was a long silver bar, with a red dragon on its side. I strode forward, and took a quick look around the device housing the device. It was more high technology, and beyond my knowledge. I threw a bolt I found near the bar, but nothing happened, so the weapon wasn’t shielded. But, there had to be something about this… nobody wastes time on a machine that does nothing. And, there were no panels, no keyboards. What was this?

Then, it happened. A slight hum, and the bar moved to the side. And, in a flash of blue, streaming upwards, an intense, laser like light, only existing for a few brief seconds. But the bolt I threw in was in now in two separate pieces, burned on the inner edges, and smelling of molten steel.

So much for too easy. It seemed that unwanted hands were not welcome here. Well, that display told me how it worked, so it was only a matter of finding a way around the deadly light. I moved my focus from the table itself to what my gut told me was the sword, careful to avoid touching the inner table. It couldn’t be a magnet, or else the bolt would be safe as well. And, it hit EXACTLY at the bolt. Took a few seconds, though. How did that pull work?

I grabbed something longer from a nearby table, and prodded it against the sword. I was millimeters away when the sword rolled away again, but in an opposite direction as last time. And, the laser of death appeared again, slicing the end off of my metal pole. So, it seemed it was proximity trigged. And the sword rolled quickly. I doubt I would be able to catch it barehanded. Then, when the trap reset, I noticed something… a bit of dust left by the bolt moved as well. So, it wasn’t the sword moving, but the tabletop. The whole thing was similar to a silent conveyor belt.

I figured out how it worked, but that left the problem of disarming it. The table was solid. I couldn’t break into it like the security panel. I had to work around it this time. Out of curiosity, I moved the metal stick closer to the sword, this time following it with the prized weapon, but parallel, so as to not move my hand over the table, and end up having it sliced off. The laser hit, but this time in a wave, one laser for each area the stick was at. There was the weakness. The trap could only activate once per intrusion. I could distract it, but I would have to be quick.

My primitive tool was now in pieces, so I get a new one, and repeated the multiple pokes. And, while the blue wave of doom was heading toward my prey, distracted by the metallic decoy, I quickly grabbed the weapon from the side, and moved my had, feeling a quick searing sensation as I did so. I paused to look at my prize, and the hole in my glove, revealing newly burned skin. It hurt, but I would recover.

Looking at the decorative bar in my hand, I moved my fingers over it, catching on an eye of the dragon that seemed loose. I pushed against it, and jumped back a bit when I saw the blue light, very similar to the trap that nearly claimed my hand, but a lot more intense, suddenly appeared. I knew from experience how sharp this was, and what it could cut through. I waved it a few times. It felt awkward in my hand, but not from the way I was holding it. No, I was so used to guns and triggers, holding a weapon like this was like switching a kid from a tricycle to a ten-speed just after ten minutes of practice. Still, I finally got it, and felt an overwhelming sense of relief.

But that second of joy was completely forgotten by the next sounds I heard. A yell to freeze, and about a half dozen guns getting in position. Like a shot, I turned my head, and saw a small squadron of five guards, all in firing position, ready to execute anyone daring to get in their way. In this case, me.

I knew I had to escape; that what little I had of life would be full of pain and torture if I surrendered. But, my chances of getting out alive were summed up by the next thought in my mind.


Continue to Part 3