Stolen Lives
By David R. McCalden aka PC Glenton

Chapter Fifty-Three: The Heart of my Friend

The storm outside was slowing down, but the own inside me was still raging. I had learned a lot, but I still had a few questions, all revolving around one entity: Stalter. I knew I was important to them, and that they brought me to life before, after I was shot. Why I was shot was not important. As far as I was concerned, it was past history. But, why I was brought back again, that begged answers. It did hint at the power behind my foe, and just how much they had at their finger tips. But, why be secretive, then… immortality was a gift that would given even the most backward nation the power to bargain with God.

God… were they playing God? They obviously had a lot of clout, and the ability to play games behind the scene, if what Charlon told me about the Path was true. Would also explain how DNA Doug was able to get such a machine from a Triad. It was probably one of Charlon’s manipulations. Hell, considering how conniving the bastard turned out to be, I am surprised he was so forthcoming with information. Was he that confident? I only won that fight by a very random chance.

I shook it from my head. I had to think about the now, the present. And what I was going to do next. Thankfully, Mia gave me a clue when she died. Unfortunately, it was again the ONLY clue I had, and after that talk with Charlon, it made me nervous. One way paths, it seems, were Stalter’s strength. Giving no choice, no alternative, but to follow the trail they chose for you. And David, the one before me, accepted that?

“There was power in loyalty, and success. I chose to have strength, and influence.” Oh great. HE was still there?

“Thought I killed you off, finally. What the hell are you still doing in my mind? I doubt a tumor is this painful.”

“MY mind. I don’t care what you think, I am the original, I am the one they wanted. You have no right to steal-“

“Hold it right there. Don’t tell me you forgot already. I’m a THIEF! I steal what I want, laws and property right be damned. Don’t tell me what I can or can’t do, for I will tell you right now I won’t, nor ever, give a shit.”

“I will, PC! You can’t remain in control forever!” And, with that, I felt him leave. Good riddance. Though, it was nice playing with my new found control, and getting the upper hand on Schrizo in there.

But, that brought up another question... I knew very little about him, except he had a past with Stalter as well, one the bastards wished to hide like everything else, even on paper and in computers.

Well, it was time to see if Mia’s clue had anything to offer. I knew it was probably another forced path, another single choice, but the only other option right now was to do nothing. Something I would not do, ever again. So, I played their game with their rules, but kept my eyes open for chances to play a hand my way. I followed the address on Mia’s keys, wondering why she felt so open about advertising her location like this.

I arrived at one of the older buildings in the dock area, made of stone so it wouldn’t warp, but still look rather run-down and ancient, shadowed by a red Chinese lamp hanging outside the door. I went up to knock, but never had the chance. For the door opened before I could even get a single rap off, and I was pulled in by a very eager, very old, hand.

“Welcome sir! Welcome! We make comfort, yes? You enjoy night, yes?” I just stood there, stunned, at the bowing, excited matron, bobbing up and down enthuastically. I then heard the ruffle of eager feet from the hallway to my right, and then saw the corridor filled with several young Asian ladies, all scantily clad, heavily made up, and standing seductively, winking and mouthing kisses in my direction. Now I was really surprised. Mia lived in a brothel?

“Choose girl, sir? Be happy, sir?” Ok… I was not suspecting this. But, I supposed I could turn this in my direction. Though, it would be tough to play THIS one cool. “Y-yes, actually. Do you have a English/Chinese girl called Mia?” I wondered if she really was a worker here.

The sudden change in the madam’s attitude told me no. “No! Mia not rent! Choose another!” Ok… probably some other living arrangements. This building was large, and obviously had other floors. Guess I had to play John for a while.

“Oh… um… are all the girls on this floor? I saw other stories as well…” Ugh, I hated sounding this pathetic.

The elderly woman was getting even more frustrated. “No! Only first floor! You no go up!” Well, that was interesting. At least it told me where to go. Now, the tricky part was to get out of her without attracting attention.

But, it seems the prostitutes were kind enough to give me that. “Hey, why go up, honey? The real party is down here!” She then pointed down between her legs, to the laughter of her co-workers. I used this opportunity to play the wimp, and run out, stuttering.

But, once I was outside and back in the shadows, I shook my head to clear my thoughts, and proceeded to scan the building, looking for a new way to the higher floors. Thankfully, the foreboding stone structure was current with fire safety regulations, and contained a fire escape. The ladder was currently up and normally out of reach, but nothing a grappling hook couldn’t get by. And, since such exits are public access by nature, I only had to pry the window loose, and I was in the second floor, and into a small studio room.

Seemed Mia live on microwavables and pre-packaged soup, judging from the scattered plastic trays and Styrofoam ramen cups. Not much decoration, just a cheap TV/VCR combo and a couch, no bed. With the money we made, I wondered why she lived so cheaply, and renting out from a whore house. The most likely answer that came to mind was she was hiding her true wealth, an act everyone in our business performed. Money, with its serial codes and electronic tracking, could be traced. We tried to launder it as best we could, but those in the illegal occupations, like murdering and stealing, it was best to keep our earnings under wraps. Hell, most of my money was hidden in my jacket, and a loose panel in the back of my crumbling closet.

I went to the TV, pushing in the VCR slot, hoping the video Mia was talking about was in there. I pushed aside moldy wrappers and shredded boxes, and shoved my fingers in the slot, finding the cassette already in place. Then I noticed there was something missing: controls and a power button. This device must be completely remote controlled. Leave it to Mia to make things interesting.

Well, best to look in the most obvious place: around the coach. Under it, behind it, and around it, and finally, within it and behind the cushions. Putting my hand in the soft interiors detected several layers instead of the spring cushion system. Ah, that explains the lack of a bed. Mia used a futon, one of those bed/sofa combos. Didn’t feel like a comfortable one, though.

I expanded my options by pulling out the bed, and the hidden remote popped out, and onto the bed cushions. A little too much trouble for such an antique device. Well, I sat down on the rough mattress, turned the power on, and pushed the PLAY button. It was time to see what convinced Mia to turn on me.

The video itself was not exactly the highest quality, just your typical black and white security video, mixed with static and a horizontal line appearing every second, and the image itself was locked in one place, dawn a long, very familiar looking hall. But, after a few seconds of inactivity, the frame of a man, lithe and clothed in a Statler uniform, but a version that was a lot lighter, made for quicker movement appeared. Off-camera, I heard a man yell in surprise, yelling a loud “You!” in Chinese. One of the few words I learned.

But, the conversation was cut short when the man on camera fired off a few shots with a silenced SOCOM, a modified pistol favored by members of special operations teams. After the gunfire echoed throughout the room, the man’s voice was replaced by a young woman’s, in her late teens, yelling out in a sobbing voice: “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”

The man turned, his head was not wearing the helmet I saw with other Stalter soldiers, so I was able to recognize him instantly. He was a lot younger, barely into the twenties, but those eyes gave it away. Those piercing, unnatural eyes.

My eyes.

Chapter Fifty-Four: The Devil's Interview

The tape ended, as I just sat there, in utter silence, but not out of surprise. No, it was rather obvious I killed Mia’s father. Her rage, the strange attacks by Stalter, and its attempts at concealing facts. I had to have some connection, and being one of their stooges, albeit a rather valued and skilled one was the most logical answer.

Nor, was my silence due to guilt. As far as I was concerned, whatever happened before I broke out of that liquid filled container was not me, but David, my doppelganger, or my previous incarnation. All in all, a completely different persona, and one I rather keep my distance from.

No, it was the silence of contemplation, of pondering my next move. Watching the past of my very personal inner demon was interesting, but I had to think ahead. I had to know where to go next. The obvious step was to find out where Mia got the tape, and follow the trail from there. I sincerely doubt this was leaked on accident, and was probably another trail of crumbs. Well, my goal was to find and destroy the loaf, so for now, I would eat the bread. Now, if I could only find some clue as to where the baker was.

I scavenged around Mia’s apartment, looking for any clue, any scrap of information about the provider of the tape. I dug around in the cups of moldy noodles and trays, glad I started wearing gloves to avoid fingerprints, even though I knew they could only be compared to other jobs and never found if looked up. I was not one to take chances. But still, I kept digging, eager to get this dirty business behind me.

And, I finally found something worth all this trouble: a simple printed letter, with a quick, to the point message, mentioning the tape as the information ordered, as well as asking… well, more like demanding the other half of the money due. Owed to a man I did business with before, but with worse results. I wondered if he watched the video himself… if he had, he probably had more answers, and a lot more questions. Still, he was my best lead.

But, my thoughts were interrupted by a crawling sensation down my spine; a slight feeling of unease that indicated trouble was coming. My trained and borrowed instincts took over, and I pulled out a gun, getting in a quick combat stance, my senses getting primed for any sudden surprises. Surprises like the crash from the window, and a Stalter soldier materializing amidst the shower of broken shards.

But, I was ready, and returned the surprise with a bang, sending the goon to the floor, still alive, but in pain, and unable to defend himself, since I used gunfire to disable his elbows. From there, following my feelings and giving into the need for survival, I used the momentum from the quick attack on the new cripple to fire at the now emerging second soldier, sending this one out the window and off the fire escape, and out of my sight.

That left me alone with a severely wounded grunt at my mercy, unable to even crawl away, thanks to the fact his knee caps got shattered as well. Looked like a couple pieces of hot lead got through his uniform at the vulnerable strips that allow his joints some movement. Hot lead provided by me, of course

The door to this room was chained and locked shut several times over, so I know that would keep the brothel hostess out for a short while. This quick struggle definitely got some attention, with the glass shattering. So I had plenty of time to get some answers, as I picked up and threw the guard on the faux bed, ignoring his cries of pain at the wounds being opened wider, thanks to the quick and sudden movement. “Listen, asswipe, you jackasses have been giving me hell for a while now, and its time I return some. So, I am going to be asking questions, and you will be answering, or else Stalter will be losing another man.”

“Yeah, right. I am worthless to you dead, you aren’t going to… AAAACCCK!!!! HOLY FUCKING MOTHER OF GOD!!!” That last statement punctuated, amidst an explosion of blood and flesh suddenly appearing from between his legs, that he was halfway toward a forced gender change.

“I didn’t say you would die. I just said they would lose a man, literally. Now… where is Stalter located?” I only knew it was in California, in a desert, but I couldn’t be sure that was just a deception. Besides, I could save a lot of time this way.

“No… you’re insane. Crazy… what type of… AAAAAAAAGGGGHHHH!! GOD, NO!!! WHAT THE HELL TYPE OF FUCKED UP PERSON ARE YOU!!” Now he was no longer a man, he even had new blood red makeup on his face.

“Welcome to womanhood. Now, what else could I blow away… I haven’t touched that long man between them.” I pointed my gun, my intentions more then clear.

“Wait, wait.... I do not know directly, we all live in its town, Glenwood. We just fly the copter to the States. The autopilot takes over from there, evens darkens the windows so we can’t use landmarks. And the path to it is purposely crooked. You need a copter to get there.”

I pulled back the safety, grip tightening on the trigger. “Not much use to me then, are you? Guess I better finish this.”

The bastard screamed and then started begging. “Wait, you can try the copter. We took it to a bar, something about raiding a Bazaar. A Kappa Bazaar.”

The Kappa Bazaar... they where taking on the black market? But, it was no surprise, and only confirmed my suspicions about how easy this was. For the provider of the tape I just watched, pulled out and now held in my hands was Iban, who worked in that same Bazaar. This had trap written all over it.

But, my mind was already made up. I would walk in, and get what I need. After all, disarming traps was a specialty of mine. But, part of the job was also covering my tracks, and I had a big, bleeding one right in the middle of the room. I pondered letting him live as I liberated valuables from his crippled and deformed body, namely credit cards. Not because of any mercy, but because to live life in his current state would be hell, and definitely would be a cause of suffering. But, I had to be pragmatic this time. I liberated a few grenades, and then grinned as I looked at his helpless body. I knew just the thing. I wrapped my hand in a sheet, and started to work…

I jumped out the window quickly, hitting the street just as a loud explosion came from Mia’s room, destroying or damaging its contents. I grinned, as I walked away, and threw away the now befouled sheet. I guess I proved that anal cavities could not conceal an explosion, no matter how deep the grenade was inside a human being. Oh well, live as an asshole, die by the asshole.

I turned toward the bar, and started sprinting. I had work to do in the Bazaar, before it was closed down due to gunfire.

Chapter Fifty-Five: The Road to Ruin

The roads of the city were wet, covered in puddles still left over from the rain, a drying reminder of the storm. I weaved through the puddles, keeping dry to the best of my ability, but paused when I happened to spy my reflection in the dirty, yet shimmering, image.

I saw myself, but I seemed somehow different. The features were the same as before, made non-descript by the sunglasses I wore. But, removing the dark shades revealed something behind the eyes. They were the same hawkish orbs as before, but know there seemed to be something behind them, a flicker of light, like a fire that just sparked, and was spreading across the land, consuming the old wood around it, until it was all gone. I smiled as I put the shades back on. I knew what was burning, and I hoped that bastard suffered for it; though I had a feeling the flame was eternal.

I shook my head, and continued toward the bar, only to run into a roadblock guarded by heavily armed soldiers, in Chinese military armor. A little eaves dropping on concerned citizens revealed they were planning on quelling an underground rebellion. I knew it to be a farce, it was too damn convenient, thought it was also surprising. I knew Charlon infiltrated a Triad, but how they hell did they get the government on their side? Was it a tip, or more infiltration?

Not that it really mattered; I would still need to get by them. Thankfully, a curious crowd was forming, despite the armed show of force. There was no denying a mind that demanded answers. A thankful trait, as it gave me the cover I needed to get closer. There is no better camouflage then a crowd, provided you kept your head low, and weren’t a basketball player. I used the backs of the onlookers to get closer, before making my way to a sidewalk, a corner where very little attention was paid, as the eyes between police and civilian were focused on each other, ignoring empty spots that gave no tension that showed no threat. Spots that people like me knew could be the most dangerous, as I proved by melding into the shadows the nearby buildings cast down.

I crept through the concealing blanket of darkness, slowly walking toe-heel, to minimize the sound of my steps, pausing only if it seemed I was about to be spotted, and continuing when the coast was clear. And soon, I was near a very descript Black Copter, near a very familiar bar, known for serving sake and scotch, and having a very open, and very spacious VIP room. Well, that explains the borrowed security… they probably didn’t want anyone touching their equipment.

Well, too bad I planned to much more then touch… but, I doubted I could just hot wire it and fly away. There had to be some key, some special instructions, no one would be stupid enough to just leave an expensive piece of machinery in the middle of the bad part of Hong Kong. Well, I knew where the pilots where going, so I made my move. I belly crawled under the copter when the patrols were turned away, and slid into the shadows the hanging roof provided, before crawling into the usually empty bar… only to find out I missed the mother of all brawls.

Shattered glass was everywhere; a lot of them obviously contained booze. The barkeep was on the floor, covered in a red liquid I sure wasn’t brandy, too rich and thick, and scattered across his chest in blotches, with a deep red hole in the center. The bouncer was in pretty much the same state. It was definitely something out of the Chinese version of Scarface, only with a budget cut on actors playing the corpses.

I stood up to avoid cutting my hands on the shards of glass, and tip-toed my way to the back, where the entrance to the infamous black market lay. I brought out both my guns, and armed them. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had to be prepared. This time, I know the guards were primed for battle. I would sneak my way in, its how I operate, but I had to prepare for a fight, and even to kill a few unaware, just in case.

Either way, the roads of the Kappa Bazaar would flow red with blood.

Chapter Fifty-Six: Blood Trails

Reaching the end of the stairs leading to the catacombs, I found myself no longer welcomed by the signs of life and commerce that once filled these stone tunnels. Just the opposite. The shoppers and merchants were on the hard ground, lying in an ocean of blood, painting the stone streets red. And, considering the several boot prints appearing on the few untouched spots still shined, it was very new as well.

I hoped on a nearby body, and carefully made my way through this mess on the corpses littering the surroundings. I was afraid the marks from blood would show through, and make footprints of my own, not to mention the splashing sound. My job was risky, especially when it got personal, or when the reward was huge. But, that was all the more reason to be careful, and forget about things like humanity or ethics. In the end, the only thing that mattered was living and dying. Morals only let people feel good about themselves, and justice was just a way to impose a majority’s view. And, I never really cared about either.

“Then why are you doing this? Why are you risking my… your neck in this idiotic act? Him again… figured he would pounce on my doubts. I quickly answered with the obvious.

“Because it’s the only way I can live. The final encounter with Charlon showed me just how controlled my life really was, and that my own freedoms, my own choices, were only illusions. Hell, I’m probably playing their game right now. But, if I try to go against their rules, do something unexpected, or turn my back on the opportunities given, I only know they would try other methods. Or, if they gave up on that, just kill me. I need to ends this, for my own life.”

“… The same argument. You know what, go ahead and get yourself killed. Your death will only bring me back. Enjoy your worthless existence while you can thief.”

I grinned. Yes, I was a thief, and I knew I was a damned good one. That was no insult to me, a man who lived his life off crime.

My inner dialogues were soon interrupted by several loud bangs, echoing through the stone walls, coming in a series of rapid bursts. I plugged my ears, and continued forward. I recognized the sound of gunfire, but it was coming much to fast for automatics, and the booming echoes hinted at a much greater caliber. I peeked around the corner, and verified the source: a large Vulcan anti-aircraft Mini-Gun, proceeding from a formerly hidden hole in the roof, and showering a squadron of Stalter soldiers in lead, returning the favor they performed earlier. A closer look at the armed store revealed my destination: Iban. Heh… figures the maniac would have a crazy self-defense mechanism.

But, even the greatest wall had its weakness, and this one was revealed by turning from a killing machine, to a useless spinning one, telling everyone watching it ran out of ammo. On top of that, there were still a few men left standing. One stood guard while the rest stormed in, taking readied combat stances. Figures… they would be after the same target. Well, I handled their ilk before, and it wouldn’t be any different this time.

I kept low; my body hunched forward as I crept on my toes, taking wide, slow, strides, my footsteps not even a thump on the hard pavement. I got closer to the focused guard, until I was only a few precarious feet from him. And, with a quick pistol whip to the back of his neck, he become a lot more distant, allowing me to continue my trek inward without any more obstacles.

The assault team was moving quickly, with the confidence of anyone who believes they have the armament advantage, and proceeded toward to rapidly search the joint, probably hoping to liquidate anyone living. I stayed low and out of sight. It was obvious I needed to get them out of the way, either by knocking out or killing, but I couldn’t take them all on. I had to wait for my moment.

They scattered around the store, guns pointed in a search position, waiting to obliterate any rats they could find. Well, some rodents were smarter then others. I crawled back outside, purposely making noise while doing so, and lying on my belly, staying low. I know they would investigate this, but not as a whole unit. They would send two men. One to search, and another to cover his back. The rest would continue searching. And, sure enough, I saw the front end of an M-16 poking through. I quickly grabbed the barrel and pulled, throwing the soldier off balance, and tripping the goon behind him. I gave myself a little more distance by crawling backwards before they both got up, and started heading in my direction.

I quickly grabbed a pistol in one hand, and the machine gun from the knocked out guard in the other. When my two pursuers turned around to face me, I retaliated with a quick headshot from my pistol, while firing off a burst from the heavier gun, making it sound like it was there weapons being fired. The two goons collapsed on the ground, out of the way of the door, and I held my breath, waiting to see if more would come.

And more did. Two more soldiers ran through the door. Damn it. I was hoping firing off the other gun would at least make them think the shots were from their own men. I backed up more, while these new obstacles checked the status of their comrades, their compassion distracting them from the true threat. The two looked back up, and spotted me, partially covered in shadows. But, before they could get a shot off, I ended their lives, adding their bodies to the pile created by Iban’s fancy gun. I guess that attitude wasn’t just for show.

By now, the other two should realize something was up, and I doubt they would be stupid enough to repeat the same mistakes as their friends. I went to the edge of the store, and took a quick peek, and saw nothing, the building was completely empty. That meant either one of two things: there was another exit, or the two soldiers were hiding, planning to ambush me this time.

I didn’t take any chances. I got on my stomach again, and crawled toward the entrance. Once I reached the door, I forced it open with all the might I could manage from the underside, but staying down and out of site. And, like a closet sloppily stuff to maximum capacity, lead spilled out, showering anyone unlucky enough to be just outside. Good thing I opened it from such an interesting angle. I was alive, but still needed to get by these goons. Unfortunately, they were waiting for an ambush, and I doubt they would go and investigate unless they were certain I was either dead or dying. An illusion I was happy to provide.

I grabbed a body of a guard I just shot, and pulled out the Dragon Tooth sword, and then opened the door again, to the loud greeting of automatic fire. This time, I continued the noise by screaming out, in phantom pain, while cutting the hand off the corpse with my futuristic blade, forcing his blood flow toward the door; while I let my screams fade away.

I heard the stomping footsteps, getting louder and closer… looks like they fell for it. I back up a bit, and got my pistol out, waiting for the bait to be taken. And when the rats went for the cheese, they found it attached to a surprising and quick death. And with those two pests out of the way, my rodent problem was solved.

I entered the store with a lot more confidence, and a lot less caution, but that folly was soon scolded by meeting Iban, and a very large shotgun. He looked angry, as usual, but I could tell he was still something of an ally: He didn’t shoot me yet.

Chapter Fifty-Seven: Plannning a War.

Iban and I just stood frozen in time, our weapons drawn, the barrels staring intently at the target, matching the eyes. I scanned the chubby Arabian’s face for emotion, to get an insight of what was on his mind… and I found anger and rage, piled on in spades. He was obviously prepared, judging from the huge gun he had outside when I arrived, but I don’t think he knew the whole story, just what was obvious. Else, I doubt that his trigger finger would be twitching like that.

I was about to talk, give my side of the story, but any excuse I could make was soon interrupted by several loud shatters of glass broken violently, causing a deadly rain of glass to shower over us, and giving cover for a small army of Stalter soldiers. The odds turned against Iban and I, increasing to about 30 to 1. We looked at each other, and then made a dash for it, to Iban’s back room, the bullets of several high-caliber automatic weapons nipping at our heels.

Iban worked the door, while I fired a few shots around the corner, hoping to thin the horde even a little bit, and give us room to at least breath. A loud crank indicated everything was ready, and the two of us poured in, closing the heavy metal door behind us, and heading down Iban’s elevator, to his workshop.

We heard the squad pounding at the barrier, but it would take some time for them to get down here, thanks to the elevator’s descent. This gave Iban and me plenty of time to talk, and reach some sort of understanding. And hopefully soon; the bastard was holding me at gunpoint again.

“I take it this is about the tape?” As I focused on the shotgun, trying to remain calm. Iban may not be a marksman, but he knew how to pick his weapons. That gun could carve a hole in my chest, especially at point blank range.

“About the… damn right it’s about the tape! You lying bastard! You had me looking for information you already knew, and were working with the girl whose father…”

I quickly raised my hand, to silence him. “Listen, Iban… I don’t care what the hell I did, or what happened. As far as I am concerned, it was all someone else.” I felt my head start to ache as I said that. Ugh… determined bastard. Can’t he just stay in there?

Iban, in the meantime, looked like he was about to not only fire the gun, but fire anything he could out of his mouth. “You fucking, ugly dog! You think you can just fling your past away like it was no matter? Take responsibility for your actions, you sniveling pig!”

If only he knew. “Its complicated… but they weren’t really mine. But, you can complain about the past all you want. Why not do something about the now, the present? Those bastards are trying to get to you, because you uncovered something. And, they are after me as well. You saw their shots. They were aiming at both of us.” I paused, letting my suspicious interrogator think this over, as the elevator ended its journey with a loud clunk.

Iban just stared at me for a few seconds, and then sheathed his gun, with a heavy sigh. “What do you have in mind?” Excellent. I knew he would see things my way.

“They parked one of their copters just outside a bar leading to this place, in the middle of Teijin Road, and somehow got the police to cover for them. The copters have automated instructions to their base. We… I can infiltrate them from there.” From looks alone, Iban was not much of a sneaker. This would be much easier as a solo mission.

Iban mulled this over, but I knew he would accept. He was in the same boat I was now. He knew too much about those that wished to be secret. Until their lips were sealed, he would be running as well. “All right, I know another way back to the street. But, how do you plan to finish this? You just going to shoot them all?”

Good question. To be honest, I hadn’t thought that far ahead. But, what ordnance could… and then, my eyes fell upon a blueprint from earlier: the orbital laser he made earlier, and piggy backed from a news satellite launch. “You got that done, didn’t you?”

Iban followed my gaze, and just nodded. “Yeah, everything is ready, just haven’t given it a test fire yet, nor found a buyer. Why?”

I didn’t answer immediately, but just asked another question. “And you still have that machine that forges credit card charges, right?” When he nodded, I pulled out the wallet I liberated from the soldier in Mia’s apartment, the one I gave an explosive case of the hemorrhoids, and pulled out two squares of plastic.”

“Do you prefer Visa or Master Card?”

Chapter Fifty-Eight: Eyes About Glenwood

The cruel desert sun blazed its unforgiving heat into the cockpit of the newly-acquired copter, forcing both myself and Iban to shield our eyes, forcing us to see the far-away glimpse of a familiar small town through our fingers. If this thing’s autopilot was working, that would be Glenwood, the town where I took the first step into becoming the man I am today.

Albeit a very angry and vengeful one right now.

Iban had a back door escape route back to the streets, which took us only a few feet from Stalter’s prototype stealth helicopter. From there, it was only a matter of inserting the soldier’s card into a slot replacing the key ignition, and wave to the panicking officers as we made our ascent. No one fired at us, which was not surprising. How would they know this was now stolen property? The worst they could assume was a hasty, unplanned departure.

I looked at the GPS looking device Iban gave me after he processed both credit cards, saying the limit on one wouldn’t cover the needed expense. I think he just wanted more money, but I didn’t argue. It was easy to pretend to be someone else when it came to credit, but if someone caught on, the next spending trip included free room and board at the luxurious Prison Hilton, not a vacation spot I ever planned to visit.

According to its maker, I held in my hands a direct link to a devastating weapon of destruction now orbiting the planet. All I had to do was input the latitude and longitude coordinates into this device, and it would fire, leaving a searing hole in the earth. Thankfully, the tracking option of the GPS was still intact, so I could easily lookup that information.

But, I was also concerned about a few things. Iban said he never had a chance to test the weapon, not even a simulation. So, when I activated it, it would be the first time it was ever launched. He only reassured me by quoting theory and formulas. The effect was similar to cheering up a strict vegetarian with a steak dinner. Not very reassuring.

Well, I wanted to infiltrate Stalter anyway. I knew I worked for them once, and killed Mia’s father. But, I also knew they were not always direct, that they switched between overly aggressive to overly manipulative, and back again. In fact, I still had suspicions that they wanted me to come here.

But, there was more I needed to know. I had to know why I did not exist in records. I had to know why they wanted me. I had to know about their secrets. And, even though I already received a good idea thanks to Charlon, I had to know about that annoying bastard in my head. And before I could feel his presence, I gobbled another aspirin before he could attack me with another headache.

Iban quickly deactivated the auto-pilot, and proceeded to land the craft some distance out of town. Someone probably saw the flight, but I had a hunch they were common enough to not warrant any suspicion. But, I just couldn’t enter the compound by the front door either. I had to find a back way in, and I had a hunch this town hid the door.

I waited until night, about ten pm, getting some rest as we waited for the sun to set, leaving nothing but shadows in the town. I then left the copter, and made my way toward the small, desert town, and once I reached the first building, I dived behind it, and started sneaking through the alleyways.

I knew this town and Stalter were connected. Why else would a secret corporation operate so freely here? How else could several thousand guards just storm the place after a botched bank robbery? But, I only saw the surface of this partnership. I wanted to dig deeper, find the true ties in this.

I figured the best place to store secrets would be where keeping them would most likely be enforced. And, in a town run by secrets, silence is a law. So, I looked for what would most likely be the fortress containing the dirt that kept this town running: the police station.

I was glad this was a small town, consisting of only a few thousand. Towns this small usually die after eight or nine in the evening. Not enough to do late at night. Meant the streets were empty, and people were getting ready for bed. But, a good guard would still be on duty, patrolling the streets; making sure things were in order. And, it would be these patrols that would lead me to the station.

I continued down the streets, staying under the shadows, my ears opened for anything moving, my eyes peeled for trouble. And, my patience was soon rewarded. I found a squad car moving at a slow pace, most likely checking the surroundings, but I doubt he was looking for me. I dove into a bush, and waited for him to pass. He was a good little officer, stopping at intersections, never going faster then the speed limit. Too bad his vision wasn’t as good, he could have seen the thief trailing him while he took his leisurely route.

Soon, he arrived at his station, after several minutes of driving around this small village, he pulled into an official looking, yet small, building. The sign out front declared it the sheriff’s office… such as it was. But, I noticed the security was a little tight. An old section of the wall pulled away to reveal a retina scanner. After the flash of red covering his face, the door opened, and I got a peek at a full-on security system. Hidden secrets indeed.

It looked like the whole town was covered in cameras, turning an average suburban neighborhood into a real life Orwellian experience. A security policy the United States government was working on.

Well, I decided to make my move, but not from the front door. I had no idea what was wired, and what was offline, so I stuck to the shadows, keeping low. Secure rooms were usually locked down air-tight, so ventilation was needed to keep your employees from suffocating. And, after circling the building, staying against the wall, I saw it… a generator with a fast moving fan, connected to a long, metal pump, on the far side of the roof. Nothing a quick shot from a grabbling hook couldn't take care of.

Not want to waste time on precision work, I just pulled out the Dragon Tooth sword, activated its bluish deadly beam, and sliced the generator before quickly putting it away. The machine quickly died, and I crept to just above the entrance. Sure enough, a suspicious officer opened it up; probably see why the fan stopped. I pounced down, then sprung toward him, forcing the door open, and sending him sprawling. He hurried to pick himself up, but I was already on my feet, and was able to grab his collar and force him against the wall, allowing a good look of my prisoner.

This was interesting… it was the same officer that confronted me when I first arrived in town. No wonder he was so quick on the scene. Probably saw me walk into town when I first wandered in, before I named myself PC Glenton.

Well, it was time to see if Mr. Eyes had loose lips, for my ears were itching for some information. Hopefully, I wouldn’t have to slice off either of those parts.

Chapter Fifty-Nine: The Price of Knowledge

The little weasel was definitely not a fighter, and I handled him like a limb rag doll that has seen better years. After his time against the wall, I dragged him to a swivel chair in front of the all-seeing screens, and turned him about face, so I was looking directly in his wide, fearful eyes, surrounded by sweat and tears. Guess he wasn’t so tough outside that squad car.

“Ok, jackass, guess what? You’re on a remake of that favorite game show, Truth or Consequences! You know that old show where you either tell the complete, honest truth to my questions, or get penalized for lying to my face… and, to remind our studio audience, penalties are permanent, unless you invest in prosthetics.”

He screamed, loudly and in an octave that was almost beyond human hearing, but in good range for human annoyance. “Just a warning, ass face. I have trouble controlling my motor reflexes when exposed to high-pitched girly screams. Especially the trigger finger, if you know what I mean.” The room then became silent, except for the fearful sobs of a bully getting a taste of his own medicine. Ok, maybe something stronger then his own medicine.

“Now, let’s get down to it, shall we? What does this town have to do with Stalter? Why the hell are you working together?” Best to start with the basics, and work my way up.

The baby stared at me, eyes swelling up with tears, but visibly turning the safety off my gun persuaded him to answer. “Stalter wants to keep everything secret. Even who works for them, and where they work. Their employees work here. Engineers, security … everyone. This whole place is just a front for the lab.”

My, he was being very cooperative. Well, that was an easy one. Time to get a little harder. “Why the hell does Stalter want me? Why am… was I being controlled? Are you guys trying to use me, or kill me now?”

I heard him swallow, before quickly answering, the sweat building up on his face. “I don’t really know. A few days after you appeared in town, the brass got heated up. Some wanted to terminate you, not wanting to take chances. Others thought you still had a use. When we finally got you, Phillips wanted to kill you, was certain you had brain damage. But, the top suits wanted to wait, see if you could be recycled. We tested you, with those goons, see if you would escape.”

And I did… so that is when they went from full on chase to manipulation. When I proved I still had some guts left. They must judge by success, and not do your bests. I would have to make sure I met their standards in the upcoming raid.

“Another thing… I don’t exist in any records, any databases. No Social Security Number, no birth certificate, not even a fingerprint to my name. Why?”

He just started at me, obviously pondering if he should answer, or hold his silence. The barrel of my gun pointed to his nether regions decided for him. “Standard Operating Procedure. Agent goes rogue, we cover his existence. Any semblance of a normal life is wiped, completely. Or, what goes on record, at least.”

The information wipe… makes sense. But, still… “What about witnesses, anyone who saw said agent alive?”

He made one look at me, face turning white, before whispering one word: “Terminated.”

Ouch… did explain a lot, though. Well, that should do it for loose ends. Now, it was time for the final knot. “All right, shit head. How do I reach Stalter?” I fell asleep on my way here, before escaping the truck, and meeting the hunter… who I am certain was a Stalter employee, come to think of it.

He licked his lips, moistening them, before biting down with such force, a river of blood was flowing down his chin. Oh, now he was trying to be loyal. Just had to make sure the last warning got my point across. And it did, right through the kneecap, shattering bone and preventing any future that involved walking. That seal on his mouth shattered with another loud shriek, which he quickly silenced when he saw me looking at his other leg with a lot of interest.

“Please…. No more. There is an automated tram for night employees underneath… underneath the courthouse, on Third Street. But… you will never be able to use it. Its protected by a handprint scanner… wait, what are you doing with that?

What he was referring to was the Dragon Tooth sword. What I was doing was slicing his arm off, at the elbow. Just needed a key to proceed and he happened to have one handy, and he offered it without protest. Well, physical protest, at least.

I was almost done here; all that remained was covering my tracks. Namely, the moron who spilled his guts. I was tempted to make that literal, but that would be too messy. I decided, instead, to do something about his all-seeing eyes.

I dragged the whimpering baby to the side of the counsel supporting the cameras, and used my futuristic blade to rip open the side, and pull out a thick wire, which I then cut in half. I then ripped some cloth from my victim’s shirt, and wrapped my hands in it, before grabbing the wires, and using my knees to make the idiot face me. And, when I saw the white of his eyes, he saw the metal points of a connection about to go through his skull.

There was no screaming, there were no shrieks. Only one man shaking violently, like he was having a seizure. Smoke was coming from his skull, and I pushed even harder to make sure they stayed in. It only took a few more minutes before the movement stopped, leaving only an internally charred corpse, with huge metal cables coming from his eye sockets. I then made my exit, and looked for Third Street. It was time to finish this.

Chapter Sixty: Present, Past and Future

The building was easy enough to find, since it was about the tallest in town, the tower blocking out the moon, hiding the only light even the darkest nights could provide, imprisoning this town in an even harsher shadow. But, its function was obvious; its stately architecture reeked of politics, and law. A seat of government, through and through.

I made my way through the streets, sticking to bushes and avoiding the roads and streets, in case there were more eyes on the town, waiting for me to pounce. But, the trip was uneventful, and my destination was reached in record time. Walking around the building revealed a set of stone stairs leading downwards into a barred off basement, framed by cracked windows and a peeling paint job. It was supposed to divert attention, another age spot of an old building. But, it lacked one thing: junk.

The stairs themselves were cleared of dust. There were no leaves, and what garbage could be seen was off to the side, roughly shoved out of the way. There was no doubt about it: this door was used often. This had to be the way in.

I approached the door, only to find it locked. I pushed against the windows, but they were solid, despite the cracks. And bulletproof to boot, since I gave them a couple of shots with a silenced magnum. I guess the cracks were only camouflage.

I then spotted a handprint in the cement, about waist high, and just across the door. It looked small, like a child was having a little fun before it dried. But, like its surroundings, it was also unusually clean. I grinned, and pressed the arm I borrowed from the camera man against the impression, and was greeted with a loud click behind me, followed by the rusty hinges of an opening door. Without further hesitation, I hurried in, and the door closed, sealing my escape.

I found myself in what looked more like a subway station then a basement, thanks to the railing running through the fare end of the room, and the turntables lined up against it. I crept slowly toward the oddity, and jumped back when I heard a loud rushing noise, and kept tense until I saw what it was: a small subway system, containing just three cars.

The doors automatically opened, and I peeked in, making sure it was empty, before slowly entering, and positioning myself under a bench, but maintaining a good view of the train’s entrance. Best not to take chances, especially when heading into enemy territory.

But, my concern was unwarranted, and the ride was uneventful. Several minutes later, the tram had stopped, and I crawled out, peering out into a security lobby, with two guards sitting by the main entrance, both heavily armed, and accompanied with cameras over their heads. No getting in that way.

I stayed near the corner, eyes focused on the only visible entrance into the compound. I scanned the room, and the only other way in was over the desks and between small, four foot wide openings in the metal screen holding the gatekeepers. If I could squeeze through, I could get behind the cameras unnoticed, since their attention was turned toward the solid iron door. I just needed a distraction.

I could just shoot the guards. It was a simple enough task and I pulled off harder sneak attacks then this. But, I wanted to save my ammo for bigger threats. And besides, there was no danger of these two exposing my presence to the rest of the building. No need to risk a frontal assault just yet.

My mind kept puzzling, as I stayed in the shadows, thinking of ways to continue when the tram left and came back. I then got an idea. Next to my hiding spot was a small tree, meant to liven up this cross between a boarding station and security checkpoint. I quickly, yet quietly grabbed a few solid branches, and then rolled to the other side of the door, holding the foliage between the automated doors, and waited. The sliding doors met, and gave my arms a break, allowing me to hide away into the other corner, sticking to the dark shadows.

And, the tram left, holding its wooden cargo right in the pathway of the narrow tunnel. There was no resistance offered by the branches, but the cracking noise was loud enough to get even the most laid back soldier up and ready for war. And, the smoke left behind as what was left in the door was dragged across the tunnel walls, burning up thanks to friction, would also be cause for alarm.

The two guards left their post, exiting through the same door in my way, rushing toward the noise and smoke, preparing for the worse. I took that chance to make my move, and crept toward the new empty receiving area, deftly slithering through, and officially in enemy territory.

I lost no time taking advantage of the break-through. I exited into a hallway, and proceeded to creep, staying on tip-toes. And, just like the last time I was here, I found an air duct. Not wishing to deal with any security that would probably be patrolling, I jumped in… making sure to replace the vent and seal it tightly before I started crawling.

I crawled in this metal tunnel, ignoring the claustrophobic tightening of the cramped quarters. It wasn’t like I hadn’t been this way before. At least this time I shouldn’t have to worry about rat poison.

My journey ended when I found another grate, leading to a dark, open room, with several computer screens on the walls, accompanied by several dimly lit consoles, barely providing illumination. I just started, mesmerized. I couldn’t explain it, but this all looked somewhat familiar… chillingly familiar, yet hopeful. A contradiction of emotions.

I opened the duct, and walked in, drawn in by fear, and nostalgia. A memory that no one can, or should remember. My sight was drawn to a row of human-sized capsules on the wall, all empty, but I knew the once held something. How I knew, I was not sure. I was about to swallow another aspirin to keep David at bay, when I noticed one of the capsules was broken, a good section of the front missing, leaving only jagged edges. Then, it hit me, what this was.

Surrounded in yellow liquid… drowning, wanting to escape. I needed to be free. Naked, cold on the ground. No warmth, only shocking pain. Yes… this was my memory. My first true memory, one not stolen. I reached out, tentatively, to touch the tube. I… was myself for the first time…

“So, the failure has returned. So desperate to visit your history you would jump in with the sharks, David?” I turned, shocked out of my trance, and shocked to see a very familiar, yet unwelcome, face. A face that I know, perhaps by some base instinct ignored by my “predecessor” I was here to kill… why I came to this place. I needed him dead, by my own hands. Not for Mia, not because of Charlon, or their relentless pursuit, but for myself. I knew, if I could just get rid of him, I could get Stalter off my back. I freed myself from my past identity… it was now time to do something for my future.

I needed to kill Arnold Phillips.

Chapter Sixty-One: Methods of my Foes

I only stood in silence, observing my well-dressed enemy, waiting for him to spring, or make an attack. But, he just stood there, relaxed, hands in the pockets of his suit, leaning against the main door to this room, like he didn’t really expect anything. If I didn’t know any better, I would say he was trying to be friendly.

I was caught off-guard by his approach, but decide to see how well-meaning he really was, and start asking a few questions. “These tubes… why was I in one?” I already had inkling why, thanks to my last conversation with Charlon, but I wanted to know for sure.

Phillips just shrugged, and answered, dead-panned, but still in that annoying I-don’t-care position. “We are a bio firm, as you knew once. Studying the secrets of the human body, how to repair it, improve it. That included ways to bring it back. These tubes contained the formula for energizing the cells, making them reproduce at a faster rate. It’s just a small part of the operation, but I don’t think either of us have the time for the full explanation.”

Four times… Charlon said I died four times. That must have been from the last time. “So…death really isn’t permanent? You can bring anyone back, if you wanted to?”

“If you are only counting bodies. The mind is a different story.” He started walking closer, hands still in his pocket. “While we can patch the holes, the electrons making the mind are still too complex. At first, we thought we could just stimulate that as well, send a small current into the grey matter, jump starting the brain, but we should of realized there is more to it… it’s the most complex organ, after all.” He paused, releasing a sigh, before he continued.

“You were never meant to awaken in that tube. Hell, you were still dead at that point; we were just working on the body, not the mind. After you broke through, and scared the shit out of us, we scanned your brain, and found a mutation through the section that controls the personality. It was like new cells were taking over while the dead ones rested, like a microscopic surprise attack. What was even more surprising was when we found those cells were always there, but inactive. The last three times they even showed activity was, and this is when doubts about the project set in, when we were in the middle of reviving you.”

Arnold shook his head, as if he still didn’t believe it all. “We thought it was a virus, or a tumor. We thought that you would have died anyway.” He stirred a bit, as if he was uncomfortable. “That is why I ordered the termination. You were a proud one, David. I figured you would want to go out with some dignity. But, then… you did something unexpected.”

And I knew what that was. “I escaped, and managed to survive.” For several months, actually.

Phillips just nodded. “I was amazed. Usually, the mind instinctively knows when it’s done for, and just gives up. But you had a strong will to survive, and even more surprising, you had the same instincts and reflexes before the mishap. Raw instincts, but effective all the same.”

“Charlon took over then… tried to manipulate you, use you to strengthen our Hong Kong ties. That seemed to work, until the Path raid. Our own fault, really. I figured the old Head’s brat would lead you away. Been sore at the new guys since we took over her daddy’s little gang.”

Wait a second… “Mia… was a Dragon Head’s daughter?” So that video tape… was from the mentioned take over? Explained a lot, though.

“Yeah, his beloved little Anya. She only changed her name to hide her illustrious past from the common thugs on the street. We kept taps on her, and managed to procure her services with a little blackmail every now and then. She left that compound with a hell of a grudge.”

That was interesting. I doubt she knew about Stalter though. But, it seems I wasn’t the only pawn here. “Let me guess. When I left the Triad, you planted that tape to turn her against me, and to proceed with your termination?”

“Yes. As a rule, we do not interfere directly, only if things are not working the way we planned. We do work in secret, after all. But, it seemed you survived that as well, and you managed to get by Charlon, my soldiers, and come this far. I expected as much from one of our agents.”

He was awfully talkative, odd for a secret organization. And, I remembered him being much more cut-throat, ruthless. “Why are you telling me this? You have nothing to gain by blabbing. Hell, we should be fighting by now.”

“I want to make you an offer.” My eyebrows rose. What the hell would he want to sell? “You were one of the best we had, and you were a valued employee. Agents like you are far and few between.”

I glared, and countered his flattery with a growled comment. “Get to the point.”

Again, he just shrugged. “I want you to return to us, take the same position, with all incidents… accounted for.” Aka, covered up. “I am offering you a job, security… and, something every man needs.” He finally took a hand out of his pocket, revealing a 3.5 inch floppy, with no label, and pure black. “A past. This disk contains all your records. Childhood, training, etc. We even have your favorite foods and hobbies. Everything about your life, from birth to present, is in here. All you have to do is resume your future.”

I just stared, unsure what to say. He was offering everything. A normal person in my position would probably just say yes and get on with it. But, still… “Whose past are we talking about, just out of curiosity?”

Phillips got a confused look, and then blinked twice. “Yours, David. Why would you ask that? Who else is in the room?”

Ok, that did it. “There is no David here. My name is PC, jackass.” With that, I quickly pulled out a pistol from my jacket, and aimed it toward the suit, only to find a similar gun pointed at my face, the wielder’s face transformed into rage.

And, at that moment, the world froze, as two combatants looked at each other, waiting for the other to move first, and preparing to react when they did. This was a test of patience and will, and only one would walk away.

And there was no way I would die to a conniving bureaucrat.

Chapter Sixty-Two: Hostile Negotiations

Phillips and I remained unmoving, just staring at each other’s face, our guns firm in our grasp, fingers tight on the trigger, waiting for the chance to strike, waiting to fire the one shot that would end it all.

But, one does not achieve goals by just waiting, and I had a slight edge. I quickly twirled to the right, away from Arnold’s gun, and pulled out my second pistol, giving me a two to one advantage on my opponent, but I saw we were once again in a stale mate, for he pulled out a second magnum as well, and again, we found ourselves locked in place, evaluating the other. It seems this suit was more then some over-confident CEO.

“… Not bad, paper pusher.” The more you know about an opponent, the better.

“We both had the same training. I just advanced in less physical fields.” This turned interesting. He had my speed and reflexes. I wondered what else he had…

I pushed forward, using my weapons to form a wedge between his, and get an open shot. Only to have the force returned against me in equal form, as he attempted the same. I put all the muscle I had against him, arms starting to strain, and I noticed he was doing the same. But, not even an inch was wielded on either his or my end. Matched in strength too, it seems.

I then moved to my left, leaving Phillips to push against nothing but air, while I again twisted to follow his body, only to see him take the fall, and handspring back on his feet, before twisting to get a lock on me. Great… that was one thing he had on me. He had the skills of a very fast gymnast. This was going to be difficult.

Well, playtime was over. I learned what I needed, so time to figure out how to deal with it. I fired off a shot and dived backwards, hearing a zing as a bullet flew over my head. On my back, I rolled to the side, hiding behind a narrow console, just about my width and height, sitting down, and took a quick peek.

There was no sign of my well-dressed foe. If he was smart, he would be doing what I did, and seek cover, any shield from bullets. But, that present a major problem for me. He had home field advantage, and knew the hiding spots of this building better then I did. I couldn’t stay in one spot, despite the need for shelter. He would eventually find me.

I had no idea where he has, but had to do something to draw him out. Making him lose his temper was out. I could tell he was a cold one, and rather unemotional. In the end, he would track my voice, and get the jump.

There was nothing around the room that looked explosive or gaseous, so flushing him out like a rodent was out of the question. While the equipment here was in good shape and polished, the darkness of the room made using reflections to see him almost impossible. Indeed, this was to his advantage.

There was only one neutral party in all of this, only one thing I could use in this one-sided arena. I closed my eyes, tightly, blocking out sight, blocking out anything I couldn’t trust, and instead opened up my ears, letting sound be my primary sense.

I focused; staying still least I confuse myself, and listened… The quiet was eerie, but comforting. It meant Phillips was nowhere near me yet. Even with a gun, considering the angle of approach, he would need to get closer to get a clean shot. To miss now would be a loud yell to get attention. But, I seen tensed, as I heard a small, metallic sound, barely audible. It got louder, and louder, even though it never passed a truly audible stage. If I wasn’t concentrating, I would most likely have missed it, or dismissed it as natural noise. But, it sounded like he was getting exceptionally close and was now… right over me.

Realizing that broke me out of my trance, and I dived away from my makeshift barrier, just in time to avoid another gunshot, but not before giving three in return, in the direction I last sensed Arnie’s careful steps. I paused, looking up, hoping to see the red river indicating my victory, but everything up there was dry. I also realized now, I was now in the open. Suppressing panic, I ran to the other side of the room, and hurriedly knocked down a solid-steel table, making an obvious, but effective shield, borne out of desperation.

I worked on slowing down my breathing, forcing myself to calm down. I could not lose my head... This was a deadly game of hide and seek, and the only home free was over the other’s tomb. Ironically, he was using my main strength, stealth, against me, forcing me to be the prey, instead of the hunter.

Well, it was obvious where I was. Time to turn that blaring weakness into a strength. I doubted Arnold would be able to see me yet, so I quickly took off my coat, and grabbed a small chair, making sure that everything I did would not be visible from the other side of the table. I quickly laid my coat against the metal chair, and pushed it against the shelter, laying the back of the jacket against the floor.

I rolled back behind another console, and looked at my handiwork. In this light, it looked like a figure kneeling. I hoped Phillips saw the same thing.

I waited, but not very long. Another shot was fired, right at the decoy. I grinned, and returned fire in the direction of the incoming bullet. This time, no escape plans got in my way. I got a bead on the shot’s location, and riddled the area with lead. I only stopped when my arms were depleted, and then only to quickly reload with the clips I kept in my jacket. There was no counter attack, only a man in a dirty suit falling from the ceiling.

Arnolds stood up, and got in a combat position. It seemed I only corralled him out of hiding. But, I had my jacket back on, using the time from Phillips recovery to recover my coat, and locked in on him as well. This time, we only spent a second waiting, and both of us dived to our rights, guns blazing as we tried to avoid and kill each other at the same time. This was indeed the great sport of synchronize shooting.

Again, our clips were depleted, but I decided to do something slightly different this time. I only loaded one gun, and jumped across to where my enemy hid, loading his second gun. He was caught off guard by the speed of my attack, and only managed to dive out of the way before he got hit by the onslaught. He wasn’t wounded, but he lost his grip on his pistols, losing them in the darkness.

I tumbled on the ground, quickly righting myself as I hurried to load my guns, but instead ended up catching a flying tackle from my right side, knocking me on the ground, followed by several rapid, angry punches to my gut, each blow forcing pressure on my ribs, threatening to break them.

I struggled to breath, as Phillips continued playing Chopsticks with his knuckles. I desperately dug around my coat, looking for anything to use against him. I felt something metal against my gloved fingertips. Not wasting any time thinking, I brought it out and swung it at my assailant, my eyes surprised by the sudden appearance of a glowing blue beam piercing close to Arnold’s stomach. Both of us froze in surprise, as our eyes simultaneously traveled down the beam to an oriental handle, depicting a dragon opening its mouth. It looks like the Dragon’s Teeth just had a meal.

I took advantage of the surprise, and Phillip’s obvious pain to kick the bastard off me, right into a certain shattered tube that still had very sharp pieces of glass sticking out, long enough to pierce human flesh if someone landed right on top of it. Like a paper-pusher’s stomach, as Arnold’s was when he finally came down.

I got back on my feet, and pulled out a third weapon, as I recovered my pistols. A longer one, currently folded, and stored in a tear on the back of my jacket. A sniper rifle, designed to be portable and accurate enough to hit the wings off a fly, the only marking was a name engraved on the handle, in a feminine script: Mia.

I strode over to my foe’s body, as it even now struggled to hold on to what life it could, despite the coughed sputters as he choked on the blood pouring out his mouth, and despite the red flow covering the remains of my artificial womb. I gave him something else to think about, however, when I aimed the barrel of my borrowed weapon at his face.

Normally, I would prefer to let him suffer, but someone else deserved a piece of him, even if it was indirectly like this. He just stared, hatred brewing in his eyes, as I pulled the trigger, ending his suffering, and literally splattering his brains all over the wall. As I put the gun away, I pondered on the irony of his death. My womb, where I started to live, became his tomb, where he finally died.

I grabbed the disk he showed me earlier, and pocketed it. I knew what to do with this, but first I had to get out of here, to somewhere safer. Which became just a little harder, as a loud siren started blaring, drowning the room in its warning tones, letting everyone know an intruder was here. Aka, me.

Chapter Sixty-Three: Ashes to Ashes

I didn’t waste a moment in hesitation, and quickly dove behind one of the tubes, my eyes on the door, waiting for the inevitable squad to come in, and start looking for trouble. If I just rushed out, I would be out in the open, the hallway outside leading down a corridor to whatever hell I’m destined for. And since I was in no hurry to burn for all eternity, I waited, and bid my time, staying in the darkest shadows, blending in with my surroundings.

And the goon squad came, their presence hinted by the mirror on a stick, an old trick to scout out a room safely, and make sure no one dangerous was around the corner. Not that effective in a dark room, but it was understandable why they weren’t use. A beam of light shown in here would be a beacon to anyone in here, letting them know predators were on the prowl.

The stick left, and in its place a squad of five peered in, their automatic weapons on the ready. They knew someone was in here, and that he was armed and dangerous. Two stood guard by the door, while the other three started searching the room, checking out possible hiding spots.

Efficient bastards. Wouldn’t be too long before they discovered my location. And, with guards on the only known entrance, they were practically forcing me to fight unfavorable odds. Damnit, it couldn’t end like this.

But, fortune smiled upon me, and one of the searching goons got a little too close to the tubes. I noticed part of their armament included flash-bang, an explosive device made to blind the enemy before you attacked, letting the thrower get an advantage on the enemy. Knowing this, I quietly reached between the tubes, and pulled on the activator, withdrawing my hand quickly, before adverting and covering my eyes. This could scorch a few retinas.

I heard the dull bang, and felt the room light up, even in shell of darkness I put myself in. I heard the other guards yell in panic as the flash overwhelmed their sight, and I took advantage of their blindness, and made a dash for the door, firing off two shots at the guards stationed in my way.

Their bodies collapsed, as my bullets entered their internal organs, unable to seek cover thanks to the speed of my attack. The duct I entered in was closed off, thanks to the guards in the way. I was in the open, in a well lit hallway. I got my weapons ready, and strode toe-heel, doing what I could to avoid any more deadly attention. I kept my eyes open for more ducts, but all I saw was plain white, like the first time I saw these halls. I knew it would only be a matter of time before I faced more attack squads, and find myself pined down. Most likely, they would have the exits sealed as well. But, I had no immediate plans. I had to play this by ear.

With the way I was running, minimizing my own personal noise, I was at least able to keep my ears open for footprints, or any steps I could hear over this loud klaxon. I kept my stride, continually going down halls with the least amount of noise, or didn’t look like dead ends.

Soon, I found myself in what looked like a collection of offices. The first one was empty, but contained a rather large metallic hatch, with the words “MAIL ROOM: PACKAGES” painted on in white paint. I found my way out. Mail for a large building like this is usually near an exit for quicker delivery. Without a further thought, I opened the office door, and dived right into the hatch.

After a few harrowing seconds on a metal slide, my ride was broke by a rough cushion of labeled cardboard, all waiting to be processed and sent out. I swam my way through this paper ocean, glad to see it was mostly maintained by machines and conveyor belts, and there were only a few cameras. I dived out of out-going mail bin, and ducked under a moving belt, keeping out of the camera’s range. I crawled my way to a door marked delivery, never moving from my cover, in case something unexpected was around.

The door was a card-lock, but I brought my tools along, needing only a few seconds with the electronic card decoder. I entered in, and immediately took cover underneath the closest of many semis. I had no idea how to drive these monsters, and considering the current state of alarm, I doubt I could hitch a ride like the last time I needed to escape. I scanned for something else, and spied a very familiar looking ATV. Looks like that hunter WAS working for Stalter, after all.

The garage doors leading to the outside world were shut, and most likely locked, but I made myself a small entrance with the high-tech blade of the Dragon Tooth, looking over my shoulder for any hostiles, and then rode out into the night sky, pushing my ride for all it had. I kept my eye on the odometer, and waited until I was four miles away from the compound, before finally looking back and seeing for myself, for the first time, just how big the whole place was.

It was amazing… a white Behemoth, at least four stories tall, and twice as long. THIS was kept secret from the world? I had a hunch Stalter did more then regular American contracts, at that point.

But, I pushed such thoughts from my mind, and pulled out the small GPS out from my jacket, and, following Iban’s instructions, inputted the code for a three-mile radius attack, with the Stalter building at its center. Three beeps confirmed the input, and I waited.

I was rewarded a few minutes later by a bright white light glowing from the sky, like the wrath of God firing down upon the earth, bellowing in anger at all of the world’s creatures below him, all compressed into a single beam, focused at the home of my foes. And, when it hit the earth, the world shuddered from the blow, like a vital wound was made upon the planet. And the beam expanded, growing in intensity, increasing its area of destruction to one…two…three… miles. But, I finally felt fear when I realized that it wasn’t stopping, and coming right toward me.

My eyes expanded in panic, as I turned around, and pounded on the accelerator, desperate to get the hell out of death’s ray, refusing to die from my own attack. I pressed forward, willing my mount to go faster, begging it to increase speed. Not wanting to look back, but feeling the harsh wind from the ray getting closer, the heat almost searing me, as the white circle grew larger, and soon, the hum of its requiem was drowning out my curses at Iban and his untested gadgets. If I lived, I would really be hurting him.

But, I felt the beam dissipate, and weaken. It seemed I would live, but my back tires sounded funny. I turned behind me, and saw they became a huge chunk of melted plastic, barely hanging onto the axel, and just barely handling the speed. Before I could even touch the brake, the tires flung off, and the rest of the bike reacted to the sudden loss of balance by lurching, and at the speed I kept it at, anyone on it would be catapulted off the bike like a torpedo.

And I was. It only took me a second to fly through the air, tumbling as I was flung several feet away, landing on the back of my unprotected head, sending me to the dark oblivion of unconsciousness, putting me to sleep.

And to one overlooked detail...

Chapter Sixty-Four: Silencing the Voice

Darkness. I was again surrounded by the total darkness I visited in my sleep. But, this time I was not afraid. There was no uncertainty, nothing unknown. I was no longer weak before his presence, for his control of me had shattered. I turned around, and faced him.

He appeared, but now there was nothing hiding him, no shadows obscuring his features. And, I saw him for all he was. He was wearing blue armor, with the name Stalter across it in black letters. Less protected, but also less cumbersome then the other soldiers I faced. He wasn’t meant to be a grunt after all, but an operative, and freedom of movement was a must. I should know, we had the same skills.

We just stared at each other, standing silent in the void, the other wondering what to do next. After several minutes, I spoke first. “Haven’t given up yet, I see.”

He snarled, his upper lip curling. “This is my body you’re in, my skills you are using. Do you honestly think you can live like this, knowing your whole existence was stolen from someone else?”

I stared at him, and then smiled slightly, rewarding him with a cruel chuckle. “I’m a thief, moron. Everything I own is stolen.”

He then growled, and charged toward me like a rabid animal, preparing to connect his fist against my face with all the strength he could muster. I held my grin, and crouched low, my legs tight as I prepared them to act like a spring. Then, when he was just inches from me, I countered his charge with a low jump punch to his gut, knocking the air out of him, and breaking a few ribs. Or I would of, if he was physical, at least.

I stood over him, looking down at his quickly defeated form, again in silence, as the smile disappeared from my face, and my expression turned to cold stone. I felt something form in my hand… something long, heavy, and cold. I lifted my arm, and discovered Mia’s rifle.

Without another word, I pointed the gun at my former tormentor, my finger tightening on the trigger. He just stared, and then looked back at me, yelling familiar words, a phrase I heard from another man I killed, with this same rifle. “Death isn’t permanent, crook!”

I said nothing, and just fired, watching in satisfaction as he crumbled, falling back into the shadows, becoming one with the emptiness. And soon, he disappeared.

I was quickly blinded by a white flash, as the inky blackness around me gave way to a sudden exposure of sun light, and I found myself no longer standing in my dreams, but lying on my back, the heat of the desert burning down on me, waking me up.

I lifted my head, and found myself covered in black ash and white sand. I moved my right hand to dust myself off, only to find the sniper rifle pulled out, and in the ready position. My brows creased in puzzlement… how did I draw this out? Did I somehow grab it during my impromptu flight?

But, I soon found another mystery: footprints, just a few steps forward. Was there someone else here too? I followed them with my eyes, and noticed a black object sticking out of the sand. I put the heavy gun away, and ran, grabbing the mystery item out from the ground.

It was a black disk… or was. I immediately recognized it as Phillip’s; he gave it to me as incentive to come back to Stalter. Only, there was a slight change: a bullet hole, right in the middle of the plastic, rendering it useless and unusable.

Again, I found myself puzzled by all this. I planned to destroy the disk, but I didn’t mean to do it while knocked out. Looking down at the foot prints, I noticed I stepped right next to one… and it was the same size as my own. Lifting the shoe up, I also noticed the impression was a match as well. Did I walk in my sleep, somehow? But, all this… the gun, the steps… is it even possible?

I turned around, and soon the mystery left my mind, and was replaced by the overwhelming sensation as I looked upon the fruit of my labors. The large Stalter complex was gone. All that was left was a five-mile wide crater, filled with ash, and surrounded by scorched sand. The building, the soldiers, the experiments… all destroyed, wiped off the face of the earth, literally. I did it. I won.

My reverie was again interrupted, this time by the sounds of a descending chopper, and an orange rope ladder. I grinned, as I climbed upwards. Indeed, it was time to go home. Back to Hong Kong, back to my life as a thief. Alone, and with no one controlling me, or using me. I was free to do what I want.

And, I no longer had to drink just to fall asleep.

When I entered the black helicopter, I was greeted by Iban’s sour face, and a gruff grunt. But, nothing else, not even one cuss word. I guess, deep down, he was surprised by all this as well. I just smiled, as I sat back, and relaxed. “Just go home, Iban. Just go home.”

As the helicopter flew away, Iban turned on the radio, and the song “It’s My Life” echoed through the machine, as we flew into the newly risen sun, as morning first appeared.

I found it highly appropriate.

Epilogue: Death is Not Permanent

Later, that night, another helicopter approached what was left of the Stalter complex, and landed just outside the newly created circle of ash. Escorted by a man dressed in a white kimono, an elderly gentleman appeared. His pony-tailed hair was white, and he carried a fancy cane, but his steps suggested a strength that belied his apparent age, a spring that hinted at agility you would find in much younger men.

His companion and he started at the destruction, lost in silence for a few minutes, before getting down to business. “He did quite a number, didn’t he?”

The man in the kimono nodded, and replied in kind, in his English-Chinese accent. “Yes, but we were planning on abandoning Arnold’s branch anyway. He’s gotten much too involved in money and business. He was on the verge of going corrupt.”

The older man chuckled. “So, he practically did us a favor, saved us a fortune in demolition and removed a few undesirable elements from our ranks. We’ll cover this up as a meteor strike.” He took another look at ground zero. “A very large meteor strike. As for Glenwood, I take it the settlement will be abandoned?”

He was answered by a nod. “Yes… just another desert town, left to rot. Thankfully, most of the employees were in bed at the time, so we still have a large force. Will need to spend some time training more soldiers, however.”

“No problem. If you need more workers, just go through the usual channels. Also, I am changing your assignment. I want you to keep an eye on PC. You and I both agree he has skill, and he could still be manipulated. And, to be honest, I have personal feelings in this, and rather not have him go through another extraction/”

“I understand… I really do. He was a great student, even if this current version is a rogue. It’s a pity we couldn’t bring David back, but you never know. He’s a clever one, despite his temper. Somewhere in that skull, he’s probably plotting a way out. Don’t worry, Mr. Stalter. Somehow, we will get him back.”

The older man chuckled, and then stared at his companion. “Yes, but … if PC has taken complete control, if all hope of getting him back is lost, you know what you have to do, Charlon.”

The younger man nodded, his black pony tail moving with him, fingers nervously playing with an elaborate oriental hilt. “Yes… I do. If my student is gone, I will end his life.”

“I will kill your adopted son.”