Stolen Lives
By David R. McCalden aka PC Glenton

-Prologue: Birth-

Of all the possible blessings in life, the one commonly received, yet not really appreciated is being unable to remember being born. Waking up because you started suffocating, your food supply has just been cut off, and your only option is to escape through a faint hint of light. Panic overcomes you as you feel forced toward this life, thrust nude into the full view of strangers, embraced by the sudden chill of air, and welcomed with a harsh slap. The minds of a child would never be able to comprehend this natural trauma, which is why healthy children never remember.

Unfortunately, I am not so blessed… I remember my birth. I couldn’t forget it… I was physically twenty-one at the time, and my mind was no mere child’s.

It happened when my eyes opened, for the first time that I recall… and I found myself floating in a yellowish liquid. It wasn’t quite water… it was a little denser. Also, my lower face was attached to some kind of mask, with a length of tubing extracting upwards from the device covering my facial features. But, my immediate surroundings weren’t on my mind for long.

Something in my brain snapped, some trigger was hit saying that this was wrong, that I needed to get out. My arms thrashed wildly, and they quickly pounded against glass… very, very, thick glass. I had no idea how I knew it was glass, but I knew I needed to get out. It didn’t occur to me to look through the glass to the outside world first. Panic never allows for rationalities. But, it does help in other ways.

I couldn’t see or hear anything through the my liquid shell, but I felt the dull pain as my fists kept pounding the thick glass. It was that pain that urged me to continue, the sensation that I was doing something that let me continue trying to break free. The adrenaline in my body was building up, urged on by a desperate mental state, and heightened by mankind’s basic animal instincts. Finally, it got too much to bear… in one last act of desperation, I threw my whole body against my glass prison, and managed to force my way through, in a shower of glass and the mysterious water.

My senses became confused, quickly overwhelmed by all this information… they chained me to the puddle I was in, as I tried to comprehend what was going on… I was cold, very cold… probably because I was nude, and on a metal floor. Around me, people in white coats were screaming and pointing. I only caught a few of the words… “free”, “not yet”, and “impossible”. I dully moved my head a bit more… I was only beginning to become aware of what was going on, as the strength aiding in my escape flowed out. But I would soon return back to sleep, as more people, these in blue uniforms and wearing badges surrounded me… it was then that one of them pulled out a long, cackling black stick, and applied it on my back.

I never had time to scream out my opinion on the pain that was trying to tear my body apart. The soothing blackness mercifully re-claimed me again, sending me into relaxing oblivion.

-Chapter One: Awakening-

I am not sure when I finally recovered, or what woke me up, but when I did, it felt as though my body was worked on by an obese construction worker with a jackhammer. I tried to dull the pain by recollecting my thoughts, and adjusting to my surroundings…

I was locked in what looked like a small, metallic cell… There were no windows, but there were a few small slits giving me at least some illumination. Down lower there was a small hatch… pushing against it revealed it opened from the other side. Probably to feed the unlucky bastard locked in here. In this case, me.

Behind me was a coarse, spring-revealing cushion hanging from a suspended slab of stone that served as a bed for my tormented form. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few other sleepers in there, of the parasitic variety. Besides that, the only other hint of luxury was an obviously ill maintained, crusted over toilet… an ironic reminder to just how much shit I may be in.

Slumping down on the bed, I tried to look myself over as best I could… fortunately, I was not naked this time, but clothed in a loose fitting green coveralls, reminiscent of a prison outfit. I then looked over my hands, and for some reason noticed I was Caucasian, and had a lithe, yet muscularly sound build… why I noticed this, took a while to hit me.

I remembered nothing.

I had no clue who I was, what I looked like besides what I could see for myself. I felt like I was going to panic again, but this time I managed to take a deep breath, and try to think about my situation some more… fortunately, more clues about myself would be answered with my arriving meal.

Through the hatch in the door came a bowl of some mysterious nourishment… some weird combination of over-cooked brown rice, greasy and slightly wilted onions and peppers, coupled with a rusty cup of water. Despite the dubious quality of the food, I took the offered spoon and ate. I needed my strength, and taste be damned.

After eating my meal, I looked at the spoon, using its reflection to get a closer look at myself. The image was distorted, but I somehow managed to form a mental image that would later prove correct. For what may have been the first time, I looked at myself. My black hair was a mess, of course. To my surprise, however, I instinctively used my fingers to try and fix it. Seems my body remembered things my mind just can’t get a grip on. My face was rather squared and a little like a hawk. The eyes, however, seemed to conflict greatly with the rest of the face… they were beady, and rather cold, looking at them made me feel like I was looking at a very dangerous person. I told myself to wear sunglasses… those eyes were going to cause problems.

My reverie was interrupted when I heard the door to my cell open. It was time to get some bloody answers

-Chapter Two: Visitor-

The door opened widely, revealing what looked like a young, friendly face, wrapped in a typical business suit. His light-brown hair was neat, but not overdone. I could tell instantly he was your average management official… with heavy protection, as the door also revealed a security guard leveling his pistol at me, along with two other guards. No, not guards. Guards aren’t covered head to toe in ballistic combat armor, and don’t carry HK-47s. Must be some personal bodyguards, or I was considered a bigger threat then I realized.

Anyway, the businessman, whom I concluded was in charge of this little party, started to smile in a way that was supposed to be friendly, but deep down made me sick. I decided to do my stomach a favor, and get to the point. “What am I doing here?”

The businessman coughed, and then straightened his tie, before replying, still wearing that disgusting smile. “I take it I can forego the normal pleasantries. Anyway, I just want to ask you a few questions. Surely, you are well enough to do that?”

I didn’t want to appear vulnerable to this guy, so I decided to play along for now… but not without a few conditions of my own. “Yeah, I am well enough, but I got some questions for you as well. Who are you, where am I, and why am I locked in this cell?” I would strangle him for effect, but those guards looked trigger-happy.

It seemed I managed to catch my interviewer off guard with my attitude, and I felt a little surge of pleasure as he started to frown a bit. “Hmm… seems you are going to be less cooperative then I that. Anyway, my name is Arnold Phillips, a person of great importance for my organization. As for what you are doing here, that is confidential…” Damn, this guy was a little slicker then I thought… still, he left some openings.

“I think I have a right to know what the hell is going on to my person, don’t you?” Confidential my ass… more like convenient excuse.

Phillips friendly demeanor started to melt away, into something more menacing… a neutral expression, but one that demanded you pay attention to what he was going to say next. “As far as I am concerned, you have no rights here, Mr. … what is your name again?”

Shit… this was obviously some kind of test. He obviously knew who I was, or else he wouldn’t waste time talking to me, or even coming down to this hellhole. I was thinking furiously, but it seemed Phillips got impatient. “I see… I am done here.” And, with that, Phillips walked out the door, nodding to the pistol totting guard to lock the door.

I crept up to the slits in the door, hoping to see something, but I couldn’t see anything through the narrow openings, but they did allow sound to pass through. I put my ear to my only contact to the outside, to hear what I could.

“… scientists were right, something did happen. Terminate him in two days. The paper work should be cleared by then. Keep feeding him, though… we still want to keep our humanitarian face on.” Then there was laughter, followed by footsteps.

This dire prophecy of my future made me collapse in shock and despair… I only had two days to live? No, I won’t die! I need to get out! My eyes then fell on the food hatch…

And, I started to smile faintly. All I needed to do now was wait.

-Chapter Three: Escape-

I lingered for five hours, the time flying by as I processed different possibilities, and counter measures. I was amazed by how I was able to do this, as I could recall no experience of, well, anything. But, I had no time to ponder this irony. My life was at stake.

When I heard the guard’s footsteps, I positioned myself just in front of the door, my hand lowered, and near the meal hatch. I waited for it to open toward me, and then with my right hand, quickly and sharply thrust it through the now open door. My meal spilled all over the guard, but he didn’t have time to complain about the waste or any stains. He was too busy being strangled by his own tie.

Shortly afterward, I heard a yell from another guard that must have been nearby, demanding that I stop and desist. I obeyed, letting go of the tie, as well as flipping the bird to both of them, as I retracted my hand back into the door, but using the pinky of my other hand to hold the hatch open a mere centimeter. From what I heard among a mixture of grunts and coaxing, it seemed the strangled guard needed some water rather badly, and his “savior” offered to help him reach it. Good… he probably didn’t notice that I fingered the key card he wore around his neck.

I waited until the footsteps were faint, and then opened the hatch the rest of the way, and again slipping my hand through the hatch, only this time with the access card. I struggled in this awkward position for several minutes, relying on sound and touch to know if I was any closer to success. It was probably about seven minutes, but it sure felt like an eternity. Fortunately, this eternity ended with my salvation from my enclosed hell. Too bad the guards returned.

They quickly noticed that one of the cell doors was opened, and that a hand was sticking out of it. But, instead of taking any immediate action, they just yelled freeze. I just moved my hand back with the other parts of my body, and hid behind the door, yelling rather cruelly, “That all you can say? Must have done a better job on your throat then I thought.”

Of course, the morons started shooting; failing to realize that a steel door designed to keep inmates imprisoned would most certainly be bullet proof. I just kept hidden behind the door, until they finally realized just how futile their actions were, and decided to try an up close and personal approach. Probably not the smartest move, considering there was only room for one of them to squeeze between the open cell door and the wall.

The first guard moved in, his gun in front of him, in the usual defensive position. I waited until I could see the entire nozzle of his pistol, and then quickly pulled him in by his own gun. He was caught by surprise, and it was an easy matter to gain control of the gun, and knock the previous owner’s head against the iron door. He wasn’t knocked out, but he was dazed. Dazed enough for me to grab him by the collar, and hold him at gunpoint.

Of course, the second guard made his move, but he wasn’t expecting a hostage. Nor was he expecting that same hostage to be shoved against him. Too bad he decided to shoot at sudden movements… it must be hard to shoot and kill a buddy, especially seeing how close they must have been.

The shocked, saddened, and depressed guard just started at the corpse he created, not paying attention to the escapee that gave him a quick punch to the throat, and then shoved him into the cell with a rude shove, followed by a quick kick to the butt. He did pay attention to the cell door closing in on him.

I checked the magazine of the pistol I liberated from the now dead guard, and only counted three bullets. Damn. This was not going to be easy. But, no time to ponder the odds… it was time to make my exit.

-Chapter Four: Prey-

I turned toward the exit from this corridor of cells, but a burst of static caught my attention… it was the dead guard’s radio… sounded like someone was making a broadcast. “Attention, all security personnel. Subject G Nine dash Ninety-Nine has escaped from holding cell. Please send backup immediately.”

Damn! The source of the voice was clear to me, as I heard it not only from the radio, but from the slits from my former cell. I left the imprisoned guard with a way to warn the whole damn party!

There was no more time for thinking. Escaping by a door was now out of the question. They would be expecting me to show up that way, and the hall would be swarming with guards. I needed another exit, and quickly.

It was then I noticed some grating near the ground It looked hollow behind it, and I didn’t have any other options. It wasn’t on very tightly, and I was able to pull it out with some effort, and some quick pushing and pulling motions.

I was in luck… this grating was part of a system of air-ducts, and I could crawl my way through, hopefully without any more incidents. A few minutes into the ducts, a familiar burst of static told me I had sub-consciously palmed the corpse’s radio. The message following the static made me freeze

“All personnel, escaped subject has entered the air ducts. Requesting assistance.”

I then realized my mistake. By leaving the grate open, I pretty much left a big arrow pointing my way. But, the time to regret that mistake was soon forgotten, as I heard a reply on the radio.

“Don’t worry, security. We are proceeding to flood the ducts with the rat gas. Kind of convenient, since we were overdue for the cleaning anyway. Gassing begins in five minutes.”

I started to get anxious. Only five minutes to get the hell out of here, and I had no idea where any of these ducts led, or where the nearest exit was. I had no choice but to take this gamble, considering I had my life at stake.

Some time later, but definitely under five minutes, I managed to come across another grate. Having no time to be choosy, I pushed against the bars, and emerged in what looked to be something right out of science fiction.

I wasn’t sure if this was a lab, or an exhibit hall, or a nightmare. The room was up to the wall with shelves, all of them sagging under the weight of jars. Jars of different width, height, and texture. And all of them containing some kind of biological mistake.

Partly born three headed rats, human hands covered in scales,… this whole room a testament to oddities and unnatural existences. And, on every single lid of every one of those jars, was the same message: Property of Stalter, Inc.

My mind raced with questions. Who were these people? Obviously an industry, but why did they create creatures like this? And… was I made the same way? If so, why am I still mostly human? They obviously worked on modifications… so why wasn’t I modified?

My train of thought was interrupted by a shivering voice, filled with nervousness. “D-Don’t move! I have a g-g-gun here, and…”

I grinned, and finished his sentence for him. “… and you never shot from it before, right?” He didn’t answer.

I took advantage of his hesitation, and twirled around, knocking the gun out of his hands. I took a quick look, and judged from his white lab coat that he was some kind of scientist, and a very scrawny one, for that matter.

The man yelped, and started to run. He was slow, though, and I managed to grab him by his jacket.

I didn’t want to waste bullets on him, but I couldn’t let him warn others, so I just knocked him out.

I paused to check his gun, disgusted to find it wasn’t even loaded, and continued with my escape.

-Chapter Five: Elude-

I snuck a glimpse out the door, but didn’t notice anyone, just one security camera. Fortunately, it was one of those swivel types that move back and forth, looking for anything odd. I was able to time the camera’s movement, and move under the head, and out of its visual range. I thought about permanently removing the threat, but decided that would alert somebody looking through a monitor. I just waited for the camera to turn again, and kept moving.

The hallway I maneuvered through was painted white, with hints of gray peering through the paint. Probably an older building, made to be economical, yet pleasant and sanitary. Cheap and clean… nice people here.

But, I had no time for such thoughts, because I heard footsteps… and I doubt they would be anything like that lab scientist. They were getting closer… I then noticed an adjoining hallway, and quickly turned, keeping my back to the wall. Sure enough, a guard walked by, too preoccupied in his patrol to notice me… I waited for him to walk a little more, and then continued on my trek… though, I realized I had no idea where to go. I just needed to survive.

The radio blitzed again, a warning of an incoming message. “All personnel, medical attention to specimen storage! Dr. Isled is out cold… look like he got cold cocked.”

“Damn, the escapee must of gotten out before the gas! Security personal, resume alert status, over!”

Oh great… they discovered that scientist. And in a hallway, I was pretty much screaming to be found. I ran, trying to find a door, or anything… the best thing I could find was an elevator. An enclosed death trap, but it was my only possible escape. Only one thing to do: great creative.

I pushed open the door, like I was opening it, looking up at the numbers. Good, no unexpected stops. It may be empty. I pushed myself against the wall, taking a deep breath as it opened… and exhaled when nobody came out. Now, came the tricky part. Leaning partway in, my foot bracing the door open, I looked over the buttons. Hmmm… good, they have a basement. Odd, though… that instead of a lobby they had a garage. Oh well, still my best chance of getting out.

I hit the button for to go down to the basement, but didn’t enter the elevator. I stepped out, putting my hand in the way of the door. The door closed on my fingers, but they didn’t hurt them. The elevator stopped, though. Grumbling a bit, and looking over my shoulder, I used my mouth and ripped one of the sleeves of my green outfit, and stuffed the thing cloth in the doorway, folding it into fifths, and sticking it in the door instead… Yes, it was thin enough to let the elevator go, but still leave an opening.

After waiting a few scant seconds, I reached my fingers into the thin opening, and pushed open the elevator doors, grunting at the resistance they put up this time. Despite the age of the building, it seems they did their best to keep things safe for their employees. Looking down at the top of the elevator, I grinned… I had a way down, and no hanging cage. I entered the shaft, and noted the emergency release button next to the door… I just had to wait for the elevator to stop, and get moving.

-Chapter Six: Freedom-

The elevator continued down, its speed helped slightly by the added weight of the desperate man hitching a ride just outside, and on the top. It stopped at the basement, opening its doors for those that may be hoping to get a ride to the higher floors, but my stop was the garage. I hit the emergency open button next to the doors, and took a quick peek outside, hiding most of my body with the opening doors, moving as they did.

It seemed one guard noticed that the elevator looked different then before, and, true to his duty, went and checked. He was greeted by a pair of hands grabbing him in, and then knocking him out with the butt of a pistol. I was thankful I had thought of riding the shaft. Hanging in the main doors would not have given me enough room to remain fully hidden. I would be a sitting duck as soon as the doors opened.

I pointed my gun in the ready position, moving in a semi-circle straddle, making sure everything was clear, and getting a scope of my surroundings. No sign of guards, but a lot of boxes and equipment. I could sneak my way through, and find an exit amongst the maze of cardboard. As an afterthought, I called the elevator to the garage, and quickly sent it to the top floor. I couldn’t risk any more exposure, even if it meant crushing a man between a ceiling and an elevator.

I maneuvered my way amongst the jungle of packaged goods. All of them different sizes and colors, but all of them labeled with Stalter, Inc. all over. The same company that had their name on the vats of mutants I found. Well, the time for reflection had to wait… hesitation would get me killed.

I moved cautiously, expecting every corner to have a guard or a gun pointed to my head. but I was fortunate. There were guards searching the area, but they were moving in set patrol patterns. It was an easy matter to sneak by when their back was turned, and hide behind more boxes. Eventually, I came across a small semi. It was about half the size of most semis, probably used for moderate cargo runs. From my vantage point, I noticed two conversing men, walking toward the doors, both wearing hats and uniforms with that same Stalter logo. It seemed like they were preparing to drive on out. Well, they were taking more then whatever cargo they had planned. They were also transporting a fugitive.

I quickly looked both ways, and then jumped in the back of the vehicle, hiding behind more boxes. I heard the door close, leaving me in the darkness. I crawled toward the front, and tried to eavesdrop on the two drivers.

“Hey, Carl… mind if you take first trip? I just came back from a loner this morning, and really need to sleep.” This morning… must be near evening or night, then.

“Sure, Henry, sure… heh, too bad this cargo needs to be shipped ASAP. You could of got a couple of hours while they were searching for that intruder.”

“Actually, I heard he was an escapee, but who knows. Not like they tell us anything.”

“Yeah… too low on the ol’ totem pole. Anyway, let’s hit the road. This place gives me the creeps, and we won’t be stopping until morning.”

The truck’s engine started, and I felt the rumble of movement. I sighed, and started to relax. I was safe for now, and my body was swept with the exhaustion of relief. I drifted off to sleep, but it seems my sub-conscious had other plans.

I was surrounded by a penetrating blackness… a black wall that hid everything from a person’s sight. I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t move. Something transfixed me, keeping me from moving from this world of darkness.

Then, someone showed up, but I couldn’t see much. Only a faint outline of what looked human. He seemed to be staring at me, just observing me. I then heard a voice, but I couldn’t tell if it was this hard to see figure before me, or something else.

“So you succeeded… feeling confident, are we? Well, guess what… you didn’t do squat.” The voice seemed to be mocking me, a mixture of rage and amusement. Fear filled my heart with every sentence I heard.

“I… did… EVERYTHING!!!” The figure’s eyes appeared, and glowed red. He then moved back for a punch. I woke up in a cold sweat, a mere second before the punch connected…

What the hell was that?

-Chapter Seven: Pieces-

I breathed heavily, a feeling of panic coming over me, similar to the panic I felt when I emerged from that capsule. I didn’t understand… why would I be so scared? I managed to escape from a heavily guarded building, and only felt urgency. Why would I be afraid of something like my own dreams?

It was then that the two drivers of the truck started talking again… I moved closer, and listened in again.

“Thought you were tired, Henry… but it’s been three hours and you haven’t snoozed yet. What’s up?”

“Sorry, Carl. Thought I was going to be alone again, so I really overdid the coffee.”

“Heh… really strong stuff they serve us, eh?” I heard a buzz of static, and went to check the radio I borrowed from the company… but the batteries were dead… it must have been the truck’s system.

“Control, this is 14-PWT. Performing scheduled check-in. We have no problems, over.”

“We hear you, 14-PWT. We are reporting status change in previous alert status… escapee has been killed, over. Body found crushed by elevator on top floor. Everything returning to green, proceeding with information wipes. Over and out.”

A look of shock and confusion appeared on my face. That wasn’t me, it was the guard I got out of my way, via an elevator shaft! Even if the body was crushed beyond all recognition, wouldn’t the uniform at least tell them something? And what exactly was an information wipe? This stank… this really, really stank

Anyway; I took this piece of information as a warning to get the hell out of here. The two drivers stated they weren’t stopping until they reached their destination, and I doubt they would be accepting of a walking, talking dead man. Time to disembark this death train.

I crawled my way to the back of the truck, to avoid attracting any un-due attention from the two up front. It seemed the door to the semi was similar to a garage door… opened by lifting and pushing down, and locked on the outside. Fortunately, they didn’t think to lock anybody inside, so all I had to do was move a bolt, slide my fingers under, and lift with the effort of a weight lifter. I immediately fell out, due to the velocity of the truck, and practically skidded across the asphalt.

Fortunately, my hands and knees took most of the impact, and I managed to get up with some effort, though not looking any better. My hands were rather bloody, cut by the irregularities in the road, and my knees were scrapped even worse, as the whole world could see through the new kneeholes in my green outfit.

Despite my injuries, and the fact it was late at night, there was only one thing I could do.

I picked a direction, and just walked.

-Chapter Eight: Journey-

I have no idea how long I walked down the road. It felt like my whole life was lived on that stretch of asphalt, wandering to some unknown location through this highway in the barren desert. The pain in my legs and hands was slowly becoming a dull throb, but still noticeable with every step I took. My mind wandered as well during those many steps, asking me several different questions: Who am I? What am I? How did I manage to escape? Where did I learn to escape? What was with that dream?

Such thoughts were soon interrupted by a rather unusual sight, accompanied by a lot of cussing. It seems I was not the only one held prisoner by this desolate road. Looked like some traveler, a hunter by the looks of his orange hat and vest, was having a little car trouble. He kicked the tires of his pick-up quite harshly, muttering about shitty gas tanks, and damned asses that would probably loot his truck if he left it for even a second. I approached, thinking I could offer to help in exchange for a ride.

“Hey, looks like you had a little trouble… maybe I could help you out?” I exclaimed, sounding friendly as I could.

The hunter looked at me, his eyes narrowing a bit. I guess blood and torn clothes didn’t meet his fashion sense. “Looks like you need the help more, buddy. Hell, unless you have gas hidden somewhere in that green mess you call clothes, I think you better move on.”

Oh brother… this guy was obviously an ass himself. I decided to settle for information then. “Well, I am afraid I am all out of gas, but maybe you could give some info. I am new to the area, and have no clue how far I have to walk to get to the nearest town.”

The hunter eyed me suspiciously. “Hell… the only town nearby is Glenwood, about thirty miles down the road. And considering that is the CLOSEST town, the next one over a hundred miles away… Just where the hell are you from?”

I started to tell him the truth, and then froze before the first words hit my lips. Did I really want to tell him? I didn’t know him, and I had no idea what he would do… and, even if he did believe me, I doubted he would even consider helping me. Such thoughts were quickly interrupted by a quick blow to my jaw.

”Heh… I know what you are, now. Your some kind of escaped con, aren’t you? I bet there’s a good reward for your return.” The hunter turned around to enter his truck, his hands moving to his rifle. I quickly grabbed him by his collar, and yanked him backwards, knocking him down on the asphalt. I prepared for retaliation, but none came from the senseless hunter. I guessed he only acted tough.

There was not much in the truck worth taking, except for an extra T-shirt and some worn jeans. I quickly changed into them, more then glad to wear something more inconspicuous. His wallet only had about $50 and a license. I grabbed the cash, and dumped the rest. Unfortunately, he was right about being out of gas, but there was something in the back of the truck that made my whole day seem brighter.

It was a four-wheeled ATV, with the keys still in the ignition. I wondered for a moment why he didn’t take that to the nearest town, but quickly dismissed it to his fear of leaving his truck alone and unguarded. With no other thoughts, I opened the back of his truck with borrowed keys, and moved my new ride to ground level. I thought about taking the rifle, but then decided it was too bulky to carry around.

With no further thoughts, I turned on the gas and drove on.

-Chapter Nine: Identity-

Dawn started to break as I continued on the ATV. It wouldn’t be long before the hot desert sun started to roast me alive in this barren land. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before I saw a small city on the horizon. With a small grin, I pressed forward, happy to see some semblance of life.

By the time I reached the city, the morning sunrise was completed, and I felt the first waves of heat. At least I was near civilization, instead of crawling around in the desert waiting for vultures to feast on my remains. I parked the stolen vehicle about a few hundred feet from the town’s entrance, and walked the rest of the way. I already escaped from one cell… I didn’t want to repeat the adventure.

Upon entering the city limits, I paused to read the green welcoming sign, and checked the population. City of Glenwood; 5,721 people. Not bad for a place in the middle of nowhere. I walked a little further, noticing that most of the people I walked by seemed to give me some rather suspicious or curious stares. Either they didn’t like strangers, or there was just something about me. Maybe both.

The town was small, and it didn’t take long for me to reach the main street. I decided to pause in my wanderings a bit, and reflect on what to do next. I know what I needed to do… but I really had no idea how to do it. The only lead I had was the name of the company, Stalter, Inc. I didn’t expect to learn much about the company, though. Everything about them yelled secrecy, especially covering up my escape, or even wanting to kill me in the first place

It was then that a patrol car came up. I started to panic a bit, fearing that the ATV had been discovered, but then calmed down, seeing as the exiting police officer wasn’t in an aggressive stance… probably just wondering what a stranger was doing here. He checked me over, his grimace telling me he didn’t think me trustworthy.

“I haven’t seen you around here before… what is your business here?”

Considering that the last person curious about me tried to bring me in as an escaped convict, I decided to stop thinking and just jump into something plausible. “I was just passing through town, officer. Kind of a long haul between cities, eh?” Luckily, that hunter gave me some indication of how isolated this town was. I could tell a better lie.

The policeman, however, wasn’t all that satisfied. “How did you get here? There wasn’t any talk of any unusual vehicles.” That really surprised me. Was this town so isolated, that even a single deviation from the norm was immediately picked up? How did it even exist this way?

I replied simply, based on the truth. “I borrowed a ride from someone.”

The officer made a note in his notebook, and then asked me a question that seemed rather obvious, but caught me totally off guard. “What is your name?”

Oh crap… I thought quickly, my eyes scanning local businesses… Furniture store, convenience store, computer store… “PC! My name is PC.” Ok, a good start, though a weird name.

That wasn’t enough, though. “Your LAST name?”

Last name… my eyes quickly fell upon a nearby hotel: The Glenwood Hilton. “Glenwoodhilton… er, I mean Glenton. Yeah, PC Glenton.” Hopefully, he didn’t catch my first attempt.

The cop just stared at me, and then just shrugged, asking for ID. Of course, I didn’t have any, so I lied about losing my wallet. He glared at me, and gave me a warning about how this town looked down on transients and vagabonds, and told me to leave soon. He then drove off without another word.

I thought upon my new name… PC Glenton. I might keep it. It sounded feasible, at least.

-Chapter Ten: Casing-

I wandered around the streets of the small city, getting quite used to the stares of the town’s populace. I already bought something to eat from a local McDonald’s, and was just looking for a place to spend the night. Unfortunately, there were only about two hotels, both locally owned, and neither of them had rooms available on the cheap. Actually, I just think they didn’t want to give rooms on the cheap.

In short, I needed money. I couldn’t sell my ATV, as it could probably be traced, and I doubt anyone would buy it from me. My mind was racing with different options, but one came to mind as I found myself walking in front of the Glenwood National bank. I grinned, and suddenly decided I needed to use the bathroom.

I entered the building, taking time to notice there were laser eye sensors near the windows, and it looked like they were triggered to drop steel bars when activated, effectively making a prison. Too damn small to crawl through as well. I pretended to loiter around; noticing the steel vault in the corner was opened with just a big wheel. Must be a time lock. It was then a well-dressed bank worker approached.

“Can I help you, sir?” He acted professional, despite he had the same air and glance as the others.

“Yeah, I need to use your bathroom, but I can’t find it. Can you give me a hand?” I took time to notice there were a few cameras around, but they were poorly placed. I could probably sneak under them and pull their wiring.

“This way, sir.” Of course, I knew he really meant “Whatever to get you out of here, sir.”, but I didn’t say anything. He led me near the bathroom doors, and another that lead to a hallway, then left to attend his duties without even waiting for a thank-you. I just grinned, and tested out the hallway door. Locked. I looked through the window, and noticed a set of stairs at the end going down. Probably led to the basement, and the time lock. If I could get down there…

I went to the bathroom, and then exited the building. I walked around the bank , scooping it out. I noticed a curved piece of large metal protruding from the roof, and then grinned. The exit for an air vent. How convenient. I then turned my head a bit, and noticed that the flag pole was very close to the main bank building. Heh… not all that smart for a one-floor building. Now, I just needed to worry about getting to the basement, and what security might be there. The time lock doors were probably protected, but how, I could only know when I reached them.

“Oh, you will know… thanks to me!” The sudden voice caught me off guard, and I turned around quickly… only to find myself alone. “Heh… how do you even know about time locks? Cameras? Rather surprising for an amnesiac, isn’t it?” I had no answer… “Sure… I will help you…after all, I need you as much as you need me.” Then, there was nothing.

I just stood there in shock for a long time before I slowly walked away… that voice was the same one from that dream I had in the truck.

How could I hear it when awake?

-Chapter Eleven: Heist-

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening preparing for my little adventure. I gave myself no time to think upon the surreal offer of help, and set my mind on the task at hand. I wasn’t going to carry much with me, just a few useful, cheap items I could afford. A black, face-covering snow mask, a hairpin, a flashlight, pliers, a couple of small duffel bags, and some baby powder. All available at a local general store, with clerks who do not get suspicious at any purchase.

I wasn’t all that sure why I needed them, but something told me they would be useful. Probably literally, in my case. In the meantime, I just stuffed my newly bought items in the bags, and wasted time as much as I could… most of my time spent walking past the bank, trying to catch any odd details, or doing anything to keep myself busy. When it was about eight o’clock, I went back to the McDonald’s, and stuffed myself on coffee… gallons of coffee.

Finally, McDonald’s kicked me out for closing, after I took one more bathroom break. Catching a clock on the wall told me it was about ten-thirty at night… a little early, but the town probably fell asleep earlier then most. I felt certain… it was show time.

I tip-toed up to the bank, looking around, seeing if anyone was watching, but the town was quiet… like a switch was hit, turning off all of its life. I continued to sneak to the flagpole, and grabbed on the chain that raises the flag, nodding as I noticed it was secured in place, and then proceeded to use it as my support as I climbed up the thin, metallic tree. It didn’t take long for me to reach the top, and after one more look around, I pushed myself off, and flung myself on the roof, rolling as I hit the ground, flinching a bit from the scabs I got last night.

I quickly put on the black mask, and crawled to where I saw the metallic exit for the air-duct system. I peered in, and frowned when I noticed a metallic plate sealed it. It then hit me… air-ducts don’t lead outside the building; otherwise they would cause condensation all over the structure. I cursed my luck, and wondered why it even existed in the first place. But cheered up as I noticed the screws holding the plate down. They were old and rusty, but also more fragile. I took out my pliers, and then started to wiggle the screws back and forth, turning them every way possible. The rust made the whole thing one, but age made the hold weaker. It didn’t take long for me to break off the heads of the screws, and pulled up the plate.

I proceeded to enter, as planned. I crawled through the ducts, trying to find a way down. Thankfully, the bank was small, and it didn’t take me long to find a lower elevation in the metallic maze. I went toward the first grate I saw, and looked through, with help of the flashlight. I pushed the grating out of my way, and then jumped out and down, to the previously unexplored basement. I scanned the area with my only source of light, and took a look at my surroundings. Looked like the basement was used for storage, janitorial supplies, and old filing.

I continued blindly tripping through the unending darkness, and then found a door locked from the other side. A quick examination of the solid structure told me it was the way to the time lock. Thankfully, the lock was your typical door lock, and easily picked by those with skill. With the hairpin, I showed my ability. Kind of weak security for the entrance to a vault.

I shrugged, and almost took a step forward when I froze, and stepped back. I saw a black box just inside the door… flashing the light on it confirmed my fears. Laser-trip wires. This is where the company spent its security fund. Fortunately, it was possible to get past them.

I took out the baby power, and removed the lid, stuffing it into my pocket. I then tipped the bottle over into my hand, and knelt down with a fistful of the powder. I blew the substance all over the room, revealing a crisscrossing pattern of long, bar shaped lights. They were every way… to the top of the room, all the way down to the bottom, everyone of them waiting for some moron to come through and cross them, to make them scream in anger at the intruder. Good thing I don’t like loud noises.

I crawled, hopped and straddled amongst the lights, nervously doing my best to avoid breaking the lines. I performed movements that would shame even the most flexible gymnast. At times, my knees or hands almost sealed my doom, but I managed to move my way toward the machine in the center, with a sigh of relief.

The time lack mechanism was rather old, made in the 50s or 60s by the looks of it… small town banks usually don’t upgrade that often. There is usually no need to. Too bad tonight was an exception. I looked over the machine, and grinned at the simple analog display. This was going to be easy to over ride. I took out my pliers, and proceeded to chip away at the glass covering the current time display. It didn’t take long for me to break through, and remove the covering. I then played around with the dials until they matched the unlock time just above the current time. The sound of a heavy metallic door moving upstairs told me everything… the vault was open.

I again played Twister with the red lights, and again got myself lost in the dark as I felt around for another door. It didn’t take long, and thankfully this door unlocked from my side. I was again in familiar territory, the hallway and main bank area I saw this afternoon. But, I had one more obstacle left… the cameras.

The digital sentinels were moving back and forth in their vigilance to catch intruders. I didn’t know if they were wired to send alarms, or just record thefts, but either way, I couldn’t take any chances. I timed the closest camera until it turned away from my general area, and snuck underneath it. I quickly took the pliers, got on my tiptoes, and pulled out a wire connecting to the wall, quickly moving back to my starting area, trying to avoid the next camera. I took a couple of breaths, and looked up at the camera… it was no longer moving.

I repeated this exercise of timing, running, pulling and running for the rest of the security cameras, until there was nothing between the bank’s treasure and me. I tilted my head in, and grinned. The small airtight room was covered in banded together cash, and packaged coins. Even with only two small bags, I was going to leave here rich. I entered and quickly started to grab cash to stuff in the duffel bags, but my greed was soon interrupted by a sudden high-pitched squeal of anger. I quickly looked down, and noticed that I forgot to check the vault for traps… and I stepped into another set of laser-eye alarms.

And, for the second night in a row, I knew I had to make a run for it.

-Chapter Twelve: Fugitive-

I quickly grabbed a last minute bundle of money, and then pretty much fly outside the vault, just in time to see metal bars fall over the windows with a definitive and angry clang, preventing any quick and desperate exits… it wouldn’t be long before the cops got here… I needed to take what time I could to escape.

I immediately ran toward the basement hallway, the screams of the alarm chasing me toward my last refuge, only to end up mocking me when I found out bars slid down over this way too. I ran toward the transparent main doors, only to find bars over those as well… and the red and blue flashing of police lights in the distance. Shit… they were already on their way.

I quickly ducked in the only room not barred off… the bathroom. I tried and find a place to hide, but I doubted stalls would provide much protection for long. Looking up, I saw a grate. Of course… the smell has to go somewhere. I pulled open the grate, not worrying about noise, give-aways, or anything else but getting the hell out. I tried pulling the duffel bags with me, but one got caught on the corner of the metallic structure, spilling the money all over the place. I cursed, but had no time to get it back… money is no good to those in jail.

Again, I crawled through the metallic maze, grateful for the building’s simplicity, along with the simple pathways of the ducts. I finally reached the roof point of the ducts, but froze when I heard a voice: “Roof team reporting nothing odd, over!”

This wasn’t good… they somehow knew I would be on the roof… maybe they found the missing money? But why would they check the bathroom so quickly, minus the fact they got in quickly.

I quickly took a peek, noting about three different uniformed guards on different angles around the roof, and then quickly moved back down. Three guards… I might be able to do this. I knocked on the edge of the duct, making a resounding noise obvious to all those nearby. The guards moved from their spots, and tried to peer down. I scooted back a bit, keeping myself hidden. One guard peered down even more, gun at the ready, trying to find out what caused the noise… and made a lot more himself when I grabbed the long barrel of his automatic weapon, and pulled him into the duct. He fell in head first, revealing his neck to a quick rabbit punch, knocking him out of breath, and soon out of consciousness with repeated blows. I heard his two friends call in… they were getting permission to use flash-bang, and voicing concern over hurting their partner. Touching.

I removed the helmet of my captive officer, knowing he would not do as a hostage when my own position was rather precarious. I needed a good distraction before I could consider getting out. But, it was then a ray of light flashed over the helmet, and my heart beat ten times faster.

The logo on the helmet wasn’t for any local police… it was for Stalter, Inc.

-Chapter Thirteen: Surrounded-

My feelings of impending doom were soon shoved to the side, as I heard the Stalter goons get the confirmation for more aggressive measures. I then took some of my own. I waited to see the barrels of two semi-automatic weapons peer down into the metallic hole, before I threw the guards helmet up at one of them. They were distracted and very surprised by this sudden movement, and more surprised when I grabbed both of their legs and pulled them toward me, knocking them on their back.

I used the opportunity to quickly straddle myself back on the roof, and grab one of the officers by his collar, and pulled him in front of me, just in time to catch the bullets fired by his buddy. When he paused to reload, I threw the corpse of the guard toward my attacker, again knocking him on his feet. Moving quickly, I grabbed his weapon, and proceeded to point it in his face… but got distracted by the sight I saw down on the ground… the whole area was covered by police officers and well-armed units… they looked more like soldiers then cops. They must have been part of Stalter. The whole lawn, if not the whole city, was filled with men ready to kill and capture. This was overkill to the max.

The remaining guard took advantage of my lapse of attention, and tried to grab his gun back. We played the game of up-close tug of war, with a full crowd witnessing our struggle. But, it did not last long, for a bull horn blared up at us. “Let go of the gun so we can shoot him!” What… no offer of surrender? Rather unusual, but I was getting used to that lately.

The guard obeyed, and let go. I quickly flattened myself against the roof, preventing them from getting a clear shot, landing right on top of the guard. The force of my landing forced him to utter an “Oomph”, exposing his neck for a second… which I instinctively grabbed. I tightened my fist as much as I could, as he moved his hands up to try and get me to let go. His grip was forceful, and I knew I couldn’t succeed in choking him to death. Two hands are better then one, in this case.

I decided to do something desperate. I knew I couldn’t stay on this roof forever, and that I would eventually be over whelmed. I pulled the guard forward, and in front of me, making sure he faced the crowd below. In effect, I made him my hostage. I knew they wouldn’t risk killing their own man for long, so I managed to buy myself some time. I looked around the bank, trying to find a weak spot in the flood of officers… and my observations paid off. There was a small alley next to the bank, well shadowed and probably not protected very well. I couldn’t jump across, but I may be able to hide for a while. I moved my hostage and myself to the edge of the bank, and flung both of us over the edge, taking the last chance at escape I could.

-Chapter Fourteen: Race-

Both of us fell into the shadows of the alley, but only the guard made contact with the ground. I made a last minute grab on the side of the building, and hung on for dear life, straddling myself into the darkest part of the building I could. The Stalter army was smarter then I gave them credit for. Instead of a unison check, they only set a squadron of five officers. Organized bastards, to say the least.

The five circled the guard’s unmoving body, with one soldier pausing to check the stiff’s vitals. It was then I made a sudden and rash move. Knowing they could be looking up any second, I dropped down, making sure to land behind one of the goons. Before they could even gasp in surprise, I grabbed the semi-automatic rifle of the soldier in front of me, only to find the soldier was equally as strong as I was. I could get his gun, we both struggled for control, but instead set off the firing mechanism, filling all of the guards and the buildings bordering the alley with bullet holes. Though… I was surprised. Though the fight over the gun lasted several seconds, more then enough time for anyone to recover from an ambush, none of the guards even fired a shot, even when a comrade’s life was in danger.

But, such mysteries were quickly shoved out of my mind by a loud shouting and tons of movement. The firing of the gun definitely gathered unwanted attention, and alerted everyone to the little skirmish I started. It wouldn’t be long before more came over, this time ready for action. I put my back to the wall, and took a quick peek around the corner leading out of the alley. It was about ten yards to the nearest street, and about thirty yards from the soldiers. It would be a close run, but I really had no choice.

Again, I ran for my life. Seemed to be a common habit for me lately, just running blindly, knowing I had to get away without any idea of where I was going. The bullets from several automatic weapons drowned out my speeding steps, as I rushed toward something that was my only chance at life. It seemed the world went in slow motion as I sprinted away on the grassy lawn. And when I felt hard concrete under my feet rather then the soft grass, I knew I just won the race of my life.

I ran down the street, and into darkness, losing the soldiers and my attackers, and when things finally seemed safe, I had another problem. “Idiot! Why the hell didn’t you clear the vault? You had a fortune, and you lost both of the bloody bags!” It was the Voice again… sounding as if he was right next to me.

I knew he was right, but I just got done escaping from a freaking army… no way in hell I was agreeing with him. I was about to voice my opinion, but his retort shot out first. “I know, you just got done escaping a war party of Statler sheep, but here is a question for you… you saw how well-trained those grunts were. Do you really think they could of missed a man running in the open? Think, shithead, think!”

I had no idea where this formless tormenter came from, but he was really starting to get on my nerves.

-Chapter Fifteen: Getaway-

But, the irritation of my insulting and formless companion quickly evaporated with incoming footsteps telling me one thing: it was time to go. I ran further down the dimly lit street, avoiding any shine cast by the light posts standing guard. My path was crooked, but unnoticed for the most part.

I managed to sneak my way to a collection of houses, almost like a suburb, if this town was big enough to have them. Staying low, I shuttled myself across the street, and behind some bushes, covering myself in the leafy foliage, and peering through the prickly, yet reassuring green leaves. I saw several Stalter troops illuminated by the one of the streetlights I was avoiding, as they paused and took a look around.

I held my breath as the helmeted faces looked intently down the neighborhood street, closely examining the contours of the pavement, trying to see through the dark sheet covering the whole block. The group of them then split up, half continuing down the street, and the other half exploring the street I was currently seeking refuge in. My face was going blue, fighting the air aching to escape from my lungs. The three soldiers marched toward the house across the street, and quickly explored every hiding place, their guns shifting through bushes and around corners. They were cautious and alert, looking like they were ready to kill. I just waited, hoping they would go away…

Eventually, they stopped looking around the house, and then repeated their maneuvers on the next one. While spying on them, I thought it odd that no one came out to question what was going on, or that anyone was looking out a window. Surely, a whole squadron of armed men tromping through one’s lawn would attract some attention? Were robberies really that common?

Again, such thoughts were quickly torn from my head, as the three soldiers continued the search… it was then, on the second driveway they searched, I noticed it… a shiny, black sports car, originally unnoticed due to the choking night. This fancy car was my escape out of Glenwood, and from the soldiers. All I had to do was reach it, and hotwire it… hopefully; my disembodied annoyance would help me with that, at least.

I waited for the soldiers to go down to another house, and then, with the best balance of speed and stealth I could manage, I shot across to the other side, again hiding in a bush, and crawling behind the plants on the side of the house… only getting up once to see if the soldiers noticed me. No, they were still looking for me, but they crossed to the side I was previously on… ironic, that they would end up searching the first place I was last…

Keeping low, and behind any obstacle I could manage, I made a short zigzag to the automobile, and snuck inside. I was greeted by comfortable leather siding, about as black as the car itself… and, on the passenger side of the car, were a set of keys! Elated by how easy this got, I quickly started the engine, and prepared to speed out of town.

I should of known then that nothing was easy.

-Chapter Sixteen: Mayhem-

The three investigating soldiers were immediately alerted to the sound of the car starting, but didn’t have much time to react as I quickly sped away, and out of their sight. I knew they would probably radio for back-up, and, from the lack of traffic in this town, any speeding car was destined to be attacked. I made the decision to drive very offensively.

A unit of five Stalter soldiers appeared, illuminated by the prevailing street lights. They got their machine guns ready to fire, and issue the ultimate speeding ticket. I quickly ducked, while turning the steering wheel in their direction. Their shots managed to shatter the windshield, and scatter the units. I felt the curb rise under the car’s wheels, and I quickly turned the wheel the other way, but not before hearing a thud, and a metallic clang hitting the concrete. I didn’t bother checking what it was.

I straightened myself up, and my eyes widened in surprise as I saw a Stalter solider hanging on to the hood, still alive. His gun was still in his hand, and pointed in my direction. Before he could fire, I quickly grabbed the weapon, and struggled with him for it. I made it easier on myself by quickly hitting the brakes, and sending the stowaway flying, only to see him land at the feet of more soldiers.

I quickly hit the gas, and turned the gun around… trying to strike down as many of the pests as I could while I made my getaway. I heard zings and pings off the metal siding, close to where the tires are. Well, at least they were trying to be smart.

I continued on my race, knowing that things were going to get even more desperate, confirmed by the appearance of ten soldiers. It was then I noticed a very, large wooden door... and decided to be desperate myself. I turned the car around quickly, and floored the gas… heading right for the wooden barrier. The sound of metal crunching against the wooden frame was loud and prevalent, but I got through. I found myself driving down a long hallway of a mini-mall.

The hallway wasn’t as long as it looked, quickly ending at a narrow staircase. No way was I going to be able to get up those, but I did manage to fit right through the large glass window showing off wares. Fortunately, the crystalline shower that enthused only gave me a few scratches. I drove on the carpeted floor, black tire marks permanently ruining the carpet, knocking down racks and displays of various items to sell. I was planning on retracing my steps, but smiled as I found there was another exit… a display window leading to the outside.

Again, I nailed the gas, and drove toward the window, surviving another shower of sharp glass pouring through the windshield. Unfortunately, it seems my earlier escapades were quickly noticed, as I saw that my pursuers brought out the big guns: A huge army truck, armed to the teeth with gun-wielding Stalter psychos.

As I turned a corner with the speed a racer would be proud of, it came to me how desperation led to more desperation.

Chapter Seventeen: Race for Life

The squeal of rubber filled my ears, but it was not enough to cover the sound of gunfire erupting from the company soldiers. I don't know how I avoided getting hit, but the bullets only managed to hit glass and metal, and not skin and bone.

Turning was a complicated matter in the dead of night, even with the help of the head lights I turned on, knowing that surprise was no longer at my side. I needed to get out, and get out quickly. Unfortunately, I had no working knowledge of the town... and no way of telling dead ends from safety. It was then that my invisible companion interacted.

"Turn Left, moron!" I had no other choice... I squealed left, leaning with the turn as gravity pulled on me, giving me time to see a the bark of a tree being peeled by hot lead. "Another Left!" This time, the screech I grew accustomed to was followed by a bright light and a explosion... the rear-view mirror was shot out, so I turned around, only to see a four foot blackened crater in the middle of what was once a sidewalk. The bastards had explosives!

"Face forward, and turn right!" I quickly obeyed, surprised by the loud clunk of a knocked over stop sign. "Look, jackass... you want to live? Then pay attention and make on more right." I did, forcing myself to ignore another blast... focusing instead on another ray of hope... straight road, leading out of town. Not caring about anything else, I stepped on the gas, and went for the home stretch.

I ignored everything... the gunfire, the explosions... I was only focused on getting out, to safety. But, as I got closer... I saw something wrong with the road... it was then I realized there was a spiked chain across it! The bastards really didn't want me to leave town.

Fortunately, they had to handle the thing, so it had to have some gaps. Using what little light I could, I maneuvered the car, trying to avoid both bullets, explosions, and the incoming spikes, threatening to throw me to the same dogs I was trying to escape. Closer and closer... my world getting absorbed into just my three obstacles, until reality demanded proof of my results.

I didn't disappoint. I heard the clank of the chain, and held the steering wheel with sweat-drenched hands, expecting to hear the sound of my tires being popping like a balloon... but, instead. The silence came as relief to my ears, a melody more beautiful then the angelic choir I nearly heard. I took the time to turn around, to check on the truck hunting me down, and got a spectacular show for my efforts.

The beast kept chasing me, oblivious to the spikes I just avoided. The last explosion they produced was that of all four of their tires rupturing in a four-note symphony of bangs, accompanied by a bow that emptied itself out of all its passengers and weapons. With a smile of relief, I left the show, and drove on.

After a half hour of driving, and some time calming down, a very important question came to me... how did the Voice know the town so well? He answered with more questions.

"You should ask yourself more questions: like why there were only soldiers, and no citizens... Or maybe why the only car available was this one. And, how about considering why so many soldiers have such bad aim? I sincerely doubt it was budget cuts..."

I got fed up at his mocking, and just yelled, to myself and no one at the same time. "Damn it! You know something, just tell me!" I was only answered by a fading laugh, its end punctuated by a screech, and gravity taking the wheel, forcing me to spin out. Curious, I exited the car, and noticed that my back right wheel was flat, I turned around in frustration, but that quickly got replaced by sheer terror.

I was no longer alone... from the desert, all pointing their guns at me, were more Stalter troops. All of them still like statues, waiting expectantly for some cue. I tried to ponder a new course of action, until a click from behind me told me I was out of time... I slowly turned around, to see the slick mug of my executioner, Arnold Phillips.

"You are damn lucky I care about public relations." Those words were the last thing I heard, before a sharp blow to the back of my skull knocked me into dream land.

Chapter Eighteen: Mysteries of the Enemy.

I was walking in the darkness, and I couldn't see where I was going, nor did I know why I was walking. It seemed natural to walk through the unseen, for some reason. I quickly shook my head, not liking this unexplained instinct, this calmness I had about just being in this unnerving darkness.

I tried to stop, but my body kept walking. I yelled at myself, like a director to a rebellious actor to stop walking, even though I somehow knew I wouldn't be able to... it was like this happened several times. A reoccurring nightmare, forgotten with every waking moment.

It was then I saw a stirring in the darkness, a shimmer that was hard to see, but easily recognizable in my gut, and from the same feeling in the back of my skull... it was him, the silhouette of my tormentor and benefactor... the dark figure of the Voice.

I suddenly stopped, and found myself turning to face him, trying to look at him, form a shape in my eye. But every detail, every glance just fuzzed out, and seemed to be enveloped by the darkness. Why was this egotistical demon hiding from me?

He laughed, in that damn sadistic chuckle usually accompanied by his bragging and mocking, and then finally spoke, in that damn arrogant tone of his. "What's wrong, puppet? I thought you would be used to lacking control!"

His laughter got even louder, each chuckle like a cold finger flicking my ear. His laughter, though, seemed to stir something inside me. Something bottled up, desperate to escape... begging, forcing itself to escape. And I let it.

Another demon seemed to appear, but only inside me, taking over, but with my blessing. We both yelled, and punched the shadowy figure in front of me, but only to have my enraged liberator flee in surprise, leaving myself frozen in shock.

My fist hit nothing. No skin, no bone... nothing. It was like I was trying to knock out steam, with wisps forming around my hand, keeping its shape despite the arm in the middle of its face.

The shadowy figure just stood there, not minding the improvements I made, until he uttered just one word. "Interesting", followed by returning the favor I just gave him.

Unfortunately, this one did connect, knocking me out from this nightmare, and back into another.

I awoke to more blackness, and a feeling of tightness around my face. At first, I thought it was from being punched by my inner assailant, but when my senses finally recovered from the trip to nightmare central, I felt the cloth texture around my face... I was blindfolded tightly, like someone was trying to cut off the blood to my brain.

Of course, the first thing I tried was to remove the blinding fabric, but a sudden metallic pull on my wrists, and the jingling let me know I was handcuffed, and my hands wrapped around a metal post. I struggled a bit, hoping something miraculous would happen and I would have my freedom, but of course it didn't, and all I got for my effort was knowing the concrete I was laying on was hard, and damn painful on the ass.

The only thing I could do now was groan in frustration, and do nothing.

The cruelest torture to a guy who knew his unwanted fate was no doubt waiting for it to come.

Chapter Nineteen: Voices in the Darkness

I sat there, the cold cement adding a throbbing to my rump, my mind in turmoil over several panicky questions. Questions I should've asked earlier, if I wasn't in such a rush to escape with my life, or wasn't so caught up with survival.

Who was I? Why did these Stalter people want me dead? And, perhaps the most irritating, who was this internal tormenter that claimed to be in control of everything I did? The only answer I received was a dark chuckle somewhere in the back of my mind.

My silent reverie was quickly interrupted when my ears, doing double duty thanks to the blindfold, caught up on the light taping of footsteps. I forced my tense body and muscles to hang limb and loose, and tried to look like I was still in dreamland.

"Sir, he is dangerous." I forced myself to remain still, despite my surprise at this voice. There was no doubt; this was the cop I meet in Glenwood, the one that forced me to name myself. "He has already killed several troopers, and caused enough dam-"

"I know. Unexpected problems." I prayed neither of them heard my heart beat faster, or noticed the shiver down my spine. I was hearing Phillips speak! "But, we continue as planned. Prepare the deal."

I had no idea if the cop, guard, trooper... whatever he really was saluted, nodded, or just walked out silently. I just heard footsteps. Though, I swore they sounded slightly quieter... almost reluctant. That thought was quickly driven out by a loud creak, and then the echoing of footsteps on concrete. Then, a few seconds of silence, before I found myself on the receiving end of a half-inch of thick patent leather, Fortunately, I was at least alone this time when the lights went out.

I regained my senses, only to find myself in more darkness, the cloth over my eyes still cutting me off from seeing my surroundings. Considering my luck so far, probably a blessing.

At least I was no longer on cement. No, it seemed I was now laying on a pile of wood, from the thousands of small pokes I was getting on my backside, and the texture my still imprisoned hands screamed to me.

"You give us the stuff, and we just work him over? You shittin' us?" A new voice... young and rough. I could picture the muscles behind the words.

"Yeah... break his bones, shoot him... just make sure he is alone when he breathes his last." The officer again... no, I doubt any cop would be dealing with thugs like this. Guess I should just call him the flunky.

"Man, this is too easy... but hey, its quick dope, man. Let's do it." It was about then my hands noticed a slim metallic object... probably a nail. I felt instinct, or something else take over... as my hands automatically grabbed it, and started to wiggle it in the lock of the cuffs, dividing hearing duty between the deal, and the clicks of my progress.

"Good. Here is half of the drugs. We will bring the rest when we find out you are done. Until then, gentlemen." And then more footsteps. I hastened my progress. If the flunky was leaving, it would mean that these thugs were soon to be upon me.

"Man, beating up a bound guy... seems almost weak, don't it?" A third voice, also thuggish. "Oh well, getting enough to be a player here... lets get to the whacking, bro!." A loud click from behind... and I knew I was free. But, I only moved my hands a little. To grasp what felt like a solid piece of wood... and waited, listening again.

Heavy, purposeful footsteps, getting closer, each one sounding with malice. Then, a looming silence. I took the quiet as my sign to strike. Like a cat hiding in the grass, I lept up and attacked, swinging my crude weapon in the direction of the footsteps. My efforts were rewarded with several sounds. A loud oomph, a loud crack, and a loud ringing in my hands.

"What the fu-" I quickly punched in the sound of the voice, ignoring the stinging pain in my hands, and then getting a quick and painful shock when the fleash I aimed for quickly turned to brick. Not caring about surprise anymore, I threw off my blindfold, and faced my foes.

No doubt about it. They were thugs. No brain, all muscle, and not afraid to show it. Not like they would have any serious money for good clothes anyway. But, no doubt they were formidable, considering I broke a piece of heavy wood across one of them, and he was joining his "bro" in rushing me.

I did what anyone would do when faced with such odds. I ran like a cat being chased by a Doberman. Too bad for them they weren't equipped with the brains or equipment used by my previous pursuers. Hiding from these goons was no problem. Just duck in a convenient dumpster, and dig in. The trash muffled sound from the outside, but there was no disguising the muttered curses. They gave up.

Still, I spent more time in the trash, despite the odors, and the roaches freeloading amongst the garbage. Not because I wanted to... no sane man would. Still, I doubt sanity would apply to me right now. No, I did it because I heard "him" speak. It was time for another counseling session with the Voice.

"Hehehe... the mouse runs to safety. And what an appropriate place to hide." I said nothing, certain he would hear the cursing echoing in my head. "Still, you are alive. That is... enough. It is time, anyway. Find out about yourself."

I just exploded. "Find out? Why the hell don't you just tell me, you piece of shit! You obviously know so damn much! Why-"

"Circumstances, puppet, circumstances... I have my reasons. And yes, I know the ways. Its in your blood."

I thought, despite my anger and frustration at these games, and reached a conclusion. "DNA... you mean DNA?"

"Yes... DNA. Not bad for a man who can't even remember his name." I growled inwardly. "Anyway, its way too expensive doing it at hospitals. But, there is a cheaper solution... and probably safer, considering you are so used to running."

This was really grating my nerves, and I felt my cool being shredded to pieces. "Stop with the games, already! Just tell me!"

I could FEEL him smirking. "As you wish. Go underground. Find those that live outside of the laws of society. They live in secret, but earn their trust, and they can lead you to those who sell their skills far cheaper then degreed professionals. And, you know how to earn their trust, don't you."

I nodded, as I moved out of the trash, and back into the outside world. To earn their trust, I would need to become one of them. Live like them.

I would need to start a life of crime.

Chapter Twenty: Life in the Darkness.

Cities always cast shadows. I learned this lesson quickly. Shadows made by ordinary people, turning their eyes away from what they only fear is true. Not that you can blame them. After all, if they knew what their city was hiding, most of them would probably panic, or flee their homes in utter fear of the "monsters going bump in the night."

But, there are some who live in these shadows. Mostly because the norms of society drove them here, or they just can't get the money to live in the daylight. To survive in a darkness only reminding them of the little they have, some choose to pray on those in the light. Their goods, their money... targeted to be theirs.

And now, I was such a hunter. Seeking my victims in a city where the shadows were brightened only slightly, thanks to public awareness movements. For two weeks, I taught myself to prey on those in the City of Angels, both High and Fallen: Los Angeles.

A pickpocket here, maybe a mugging every once in a while, scaring Mr. Briefcase out of his hard-earned cash. I only earned a little money, however. The fear of the shadow made people more aware then ever, and cash was not abundant in the city. Most people carried checks or credit cards, both needing ID and easily traced. Neither of which I could afford.

The little money I earned was mainly used for food, anything I could find, anywhere I could find it. The rest was used to help me sleep, but not spent on a shelter. No... I spent the rest in sleazy, run-down bars. Info spread to those that supplied the drunken desires of the gang members and low-class whores that frequented these joints, but I also drank my own fair share of liquor.

Every sober night I spent, I only slept for two hours, at most. My dark tormentor, the Voice, made my dreams his playground, his dungeon for my soul. Every time I fell asleep, every time I entered dreamland, I found myself mocked by his sadistic, mocking voice. "PC... Puppet Control? Who's life, who's life, who's life?" And such cries and calls of control. It was too much for a tired mind to bear. The only solution I found for the dreams was an unnatural sleep, found only in the bottom of the bottle, and brought on by hangovers.

I awoke in alleys several times, often robbed of the little change I had left, but at least I got some sleep, and the only discomfort a pounding headache. Better that then enduring the nightmares.

But, bars were also a place for info, where those drunk as I would be in a few hours babbled on about their plans, their deeds... and any rumors worth telling and laughing over.

And tonight, it paid off. A gang leader was celebrating with his boys after a successful rumble with a rival. From a dark corner of the bar, I overheard them brag on about a protection deal they got with a collection of store owners on a certain block, how they got discounts for beating on thieves that tried to make a move.

That night, I cracked a grin, and only settled for some overly strong sludge called coffee. I would be staying up late tonight. The protection crew would be too drunk to be effective. It was time to go shopping.

Continue to Part 2