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"A Gathering Storm"

02 August 2042 - One day later

The fifteen-year-old brown sedan raced across the darkened Nevada Free State highway.

Jack McGee did the math in his head. At this rate, they'd reached the border crossing in under three hours. He glanced at the rearview.

Empty highway. Just stars and the dim red glow from the sedan's tailight.

He silently prayed there'd been enough time to leave.

Must've been. There must've been enough or they wouldn't have gotten this far.

A week ago they'd been in their house on Laurel Lane, enjoying a beautiful August day in Virgina.

Had it just been a week?

And then Katie. Oh, god. Katie. What they did to you--

Focus, Jack. Focus. For Danny's sake.

He clenched his teeth.

They just needed to get to CFS.

To get to Bay city.

"Daddy?" said a muffled voice from the passenger seat.

Jack glanced over. "Hey kiddo," he said. "I thought you were sleeping?"

"I couldn't sleep." Danny McGee, ten years old, poked his head out from beneath a gray wool blanket. "I kept thinking about those men."

"It's gonna be okay, Danny," Jack said.

"I'm scared."

"Me, too."

Silence, save for the rumble of the road beneath the sedan's tires.

After a while, Danny said, "We'll be at Aunt Mo's soon?"

"Soon."

"That's good."

More silence.

Then: "Daddy?"

"Yeah?"

"Did I kill those men?"

Jack felt his mouth go dry. He coughed and licked his lips, willing moisture into his throat. He said, "You did what you had to do, Danny."

Silence again.

Then: "I don't wanna anymore."

"You won't have to, Danny," said Jack.

"Promise?"

"I promise."

"Okay."

And the sedan continued along the highway.

* * *

03 August 2042 - Two days later

Sakura answered her phone. "News?"

The voice on the other end said, "Someone's after your girls."

It was Simon.

"Oh really?" she said.

"One's some ganger. Lowlife. Making noise about dishonor and retribution and that sort of bullshit."

"Will he or she be a problem?"

"He. And I doubt it. He's a grunt."

"Keep an eye on him anyway. I don't want any distractions. What about the other one?"

"This one might be trouble," said Simon. "Mob daughter."

"Can't be Righetti," Sakura said.

"No. Vittorio. Blow up from the Renaldi thing."

"Ah, yes."

"Yeah. Word is she's scouting for big guns."

"Any takers?"

"Not yet. Invitation only. And the bounty's pretty nice. Twenty million. Each."

"What does Don Vittorio think?"

"He's telling her to forget about it. Doesn't sound like she's listening to daddy, though."

"She might make the same mistake as last time. This could be a problem." She thought for a moment, then said, "Think she'll listen to reason?"

"Highly doubt it."

"Maybe she'll hear my side."

* * *

04 August 2042 - Three days later

The man stood in front of the fourteenth floor office window at 1100 Peachtree, looked down at the passing Atlanta morning traffic, and listened to the buzz of a phone on his headset.

A click, then: "Hello?"

Low pitched and hurried.

The man adjusted the headset's boom mic, gave a small, thin-lipped smile. "Good morning, Mr. Jeffries. Do you know who this is?"

A pause.

"Yes," said the voice on the other end of the line. "I do."

"Good. Then you know why I'm calling."

"Yes," said Jeffries. "I'm sorry it's late. I can explain."

"I hope you can," said the man. "I'd really hate for things to happen."

"Nothing needs to happen. Just a little glitch on my end. No worries, really."

"I'm not in a position to worry. That would be you."

Jeffries sighed. "Yes. You're right."

"Of course I'm right," said the man. "When should I expect it?"

"Tomorrow morning," Jeffries said. "Eight a.m."

"You love your family, don't you, Mr. Jeffries?"

"Eight a.m. I swear to Christ--!"

"Don't blaspheme, Mr. Jeffries."

"I'm--I'm sorry. Eight a.m. You have my word."

"And you have mine," the man said and cut the connection.

A door creaked open behind him. Footsteps entered. Then a woman's voice said, "Brother Malachi, they are ready for you."

Brother Malachi half turned and inclined his head at the brunette standing in the doorway. "Thank you, Sister Rebecca. Go forth to love and serve the Lord."

* * *

Revell picked up his pace as he neared the corner of 39th Street and Steiner Avenue, on the eastern edge of campus.

They'll be here in just a few moments--

He crossed the street, turned north on Steiner, and saw them ahead, walking toward him.

He slowed.

Three twentysomething coeds chatted animatedly as they walked down the sidewalk. Two were dark-haired. The one in the middle was blond and statuesque and wore a gray BCU sweatshirt.

Revell focused on the blond and felt a stirring of emotion in his gut.

Ten seconds later, they walked past him.

Revell fought the urge to turn around and continued walking north on Steiner.

But he smiled.

Little Raya has grown up, Tamara. She has her mother's eyes.

Your eyes.

You've done well, sestrionka.

You've done well, Little Sister.

--END--

NEXT TIME: "Peek-a-Boo"


"Here, Kitty Kitty" - Part Three

Three Wyld Boyz.

One at the alley mouth, big, black and dreadlocked, wearing a mesh shirt, a MAC-10 machine pistol leveled down the alley.

Two more further in, near each wall. One on the left, bald with tattoos up both arms. The other, leanly built with a red-orange mohawk, wearing a sleveless denim jacket. Both hefted a half-meter length of pipe.

At the far end, the alley ended against the back of a four story building. Mouse waited in a fighting stance, her back to the wall, a wakizashi--Japanese short sword--at the ready.

Two meters to her left, in the corner of the alley near a pile of flattened boxes and garbage bags, next to a big blue dumpster, the cat stood, fuzzed out. Ears flattened. Tail whiplashing.

Had to finish this quick.

These three had to be lowman or firsties because they didn't hear me walk up to them.

Doom on you, as Murphy would say.

I stepped up to the Wyld Boy at the alley mouth, set down the cat carrier, and shoved Bonnie--the other Twin--into the back of his neck.

"Hi," I said.

He stiffened. The other two Wyld Boyz whirled then froze in their tracks.

"Nobody move," I said. "Unless you really want to."

Lead Wyld Boy didn't.

Bald Tattoo on my left did.

Bad move.

Clyde leaped out of my shoulder rig, roared, and spat four slugs into his chest. He staggered back one step, surprise on his face, and crumpled, dropping the pipe.

Mohawk Guy started toward me, pipe raised.

Then yelped and pitched foward to his knees, dropped the pipe, and clutched the back of his leg.

Correction: his ass.

Mouse had put three throwing blades into one buttock.

Nice shot.

I put Clyde into the back of Lead Wyld Boy's neck, pointed Bonnie at Mohawk Guy, and took off the top of the mohawk with one round.

He screamed and held up a hand. "Okay okay! I give!"

I prodded Lead Wyld Boy's neck with Clyde's muzzle. "Drop the gun."

He opened his fingers and the machinepistol clattered to the ground. I reached out with one foot and slid the weapon toward me.

"Good," I said. "Now take your girlfriend and fade."

He turned a pockmarked face toward me, eyes slitted, mouth working as if to say something. Then he saw something past my shoulder and his mouth became a thin line. He looked at me, then at the Twins. "Not over, girlie," he said in a sandpaper voice.

"Never is," I said.

Then he picked his whimpering companion up by the back of his denim jacket and they took off west on 47th.

Mouse walked up to me and grinned. "New friend?" she said.

"That's me," I said. "Miss Friendly-Pants. You okay?"

"Five by five," she said, bent down, and grabbed the cat carrier. She gestured past me. "You got an audience," she said, then turned and walked back to the end of the alley and the cat.

I turned.

Across the street, three Razors sat astride their bikes, watching.

From the end of the alley behind me, I heard a protesting yowl followed by a pair of loud metallic clicks.

I holstered the Twins in the double-holster shoulder rig under my jacket and went across the street.

The Razor in front of the other two was a woman with close-cropped dark hair.

The woman from earlier.

Something clicked.

The same woman from two months ago.

"Casey, right?" I said.

She nodded. "You remember."

"I'm good like that."

Casey grinned.

"You scare them off?" I said.

"Nah," she said. "We wouldn't do that. We know better. We just watchin' the show."

"Yeah," said one of the other Razors. "Mick would skin us if he heard we poked in."

I smiled. Good ol' Mick.

"'sides," Casey said, "Johnny and Mick got a treaty.

"Johnny?"

"Wyld Boyz honcho. Johnny Thunder. Razors get a free pass through Parkside if we need it. If those yobbos mixed it up with us, they'd have to deal with Johnny." Casey grinned again. "After they dealt with us."

The other two barked a laugh.

"Show's over now, Casey. We gotta run."

"Wiz." She pulled on her helmet and started the bike.

"Tell Mick we said hi," I said over the rumble of the rockets.

Casey nodded, dropped the helmet's visor over her face, and tore off down the street.

The others followed, the whine of their engines echoing off the surrounding buildings, then fading into the distance.

Mouse stepped up next to me, the cat carrier in hand.

I looked at her. "So what did you do?"

"The Boyz?"

"Yeah."

"One of them got in my way just as I was about to catch up to the cat," Mouse said. "Used him as a springboard. He didn't like that."

"No shit. Which one?"

"Mohawk guy."

I shook my head. "And I'm the one making friends?"

"They just chased me. You got threatened."

I thought back to Lead Wyld Boy, with his pockmarked face and mass of dreadlocks, heard his sandpaper voice in my head.

Not over, girlie.

Great. One more reason to watch my back.

I sighed. Deal with him when the time comes.

Just like I dealt with the Lightning rider.

"How we doing?" Mouse said. "For the cat."

Checked my optic clock. "Half an hour," I said.

Then gestured toward the cat carrier at Mouse's side.

"Good?" I said.

"Good," said Mouse.

"Mrowr," said the cat.

Never a dull moment.

--END--

NEXT TIME: "A Gathering Storm"

"Here, Kitty Kitty"
Part 1 | Part 2


"Here, Kitty Kitty" - Part Two

Ten minutes later, I turned the Shelby onto 48th Street and headed west.

"Mouse," I said into the transmitter.

"Yeah," came the reply between puffs of breath.

"Sitrep."

"Little shit's fast."

"Where are you?"

"47th. Hancock. You?"

"48th and Cameron. Block down, two over from you."

A pause. Then: "Visual."

"Where?" I said.

"North. Baker"

"Don't move. I'll be right there."

"We'll lose it."

"Mouse--"

"Hang on."

"Mouse!"

No reply.

Shit.

The cat was now on Baker Street.

In Wyld Boyz territory.

Wyld Boyz (and their female halves, the Wyld Grrlz) funneled Aguila rec drugs to BCU students and were rumored to drink the blood of their enemies. They tended to dress in tattered clothing like streeters--if streeters sported tattoos and piercings, ran in packs, and hunted tresspassers on their turf.

Could be bad.

Still, it was daylight and chances were pretty good that they wouldn't be roaming.

But they did have eyes out.

And they liked taking random shots.

I reached my foot toward the accelerator--

Then took another look.

Brake lights in front of me.

I slowed to a stop.

Red light ahead. Four cars back from the intersection at Wisher.

Crap.

Needed to find another route--

An idea.

I craned my head over the hood. Just enough space to flip a U-turn. Checked the other lane. No incoming. Glanced over my shoulder.

And saw them.

Three pairs of crotch rockets pursuing each other through traffic. Coming up my six. Fast.

One set decked out in blood-red. The other in neon-green and black.

Scarlet Razors and Grease Lightnings.

The Razors were in pursuit.

The first two pairs slalomed past the Shelby and roared through the intersection. Traffic halted with a squeal of brakes.

The last pair came up directly behind me, darted onto the sidewalk to my left, scattering peds and 'booths, then zipped between the stopped cars at the intersection.

Wyld Boyz and a joyboy turfwar.

Never a dull moment.

I flipped a U-turn and headed back the way I'd come.

* * *

I crossed 47th and Baker heading north, pulled to an empty spot at the curb, and looked around.

Quiet on both sides. Parked cars. Storefronts. A scattering of peds.

No sign of the cat.

No sign of Mouse.

I keyed the bud. "Mouse?"

No answer.

"Mouse, what's your twenty?"

Nothing.

Not good.

I checked my optic clock.

One hour until the call.

Tried again. "Mouse. I'm on Baker."

Still nothing.

I put the car into gear and began a slow cruise up the street.

Pan and scan.

A couple of shopkeepers tossed wary glances in my direction. One glared at me from behind a window.

The peds ignored me and kept walking.

Got to the corner of Baker and 46th.

The cat darted in front of the Shelby, headed west.

I slammed on the brakes, jolted to a stop.

A second later, Mouse vaulted onto the hood, trenchcoat tails flaring out behind her, leaped off, and tore after the cat.

I started to pop the driver side door open when two pairs of booted feet bounded across the hood and raced after her.

Wyld Boyz.

Sonofabitch.

"Mouse!" I said into the bud. "Two on your tail."

"I know," she said. "Where are you?"

"You just cleared my hood."

"Shit!"

"Coming to you," I said.

"Make it fast."

I floored the accelerator and yanked the wheel hard to the left.

The Shelby fishtailed into the intersection.

Something slammed into the right rear corner and the car lurched.

Jammed the brakes and the Shelby skidded to a stop. Heard thumps across the roof. Saw a figure in full-body neon-green and black leathers tumble down the windshield, bounce off the Shelby's hood, and smack the pavement a meter in front of the car.

Joyboy. Grease Lightning.

I glanced behind me.

A Razor rider skidded to a stop at the back of the Shelby and pointed past me.

Turned back.

The Lightning rider surged to its feet, whipped out a set of implant blades from the back of each fist, and turned a helmeted head to me.

Fuck.

I slid out of the car. Clyde, one of the Twins--my pair of Colt-Springfield M2001 .45-caliber high-capacity pistols--was already in my left hand, tracking.

The joyboy bolted toward me.

Clyde roared five times. The joyboy stumbled, four rounds taking him high in the chest. The last round punched through the helmet's visor. His head snapped back, haloed in a red mist. He hit the ground, bounced once, then lay still.

I let out a long breath.

The Razor, a woman from the cut of her leathers, came around the Shelby's right side and pulled up next to the Lightning rider. Prodded the body with a boot toe.

Then looked at me, saluted, and took off west.

Static crackled in the bud, then: "Kat?"

Mouse.

"Yeah," I said.

"Little help here."

"Where?"

"Alley next to Chan's Express. Make it quick."

Then a burst of automatic weapons fire.

Shit shit shit shit.

(to be continued...)

"Here, Kitty Kitty"
Part 1 | Part 3

"Here, Kitty Kitty" - Part One

"You're kidding, right?" said Mouse.

I slid into the driver seat of my re-fitted gray 2008 Shelby GT500 and pulled the door shut. "Nope," I said.

"What in hell do we know about that?" She jerked a thumb toward the Shelby's backseat.

From inside the dark blue pet carrier came an energetic mrowr-mrowr-mrowr-mrowr.

Another day in the life of a ronin.

Street mercenary. Gun for hire.

Me. Name's Kat.

I started the engine, put the car into gear, drove past the Halliday Pavillion's wide geodesic dome, headed out of Civic Park, and turned south on Center Street.

"All we have to do," I said, "is sit on the little guy for two hours. Then we get a phone call. We follow instructions. We get paid."

Mouse jabbed a finger at me. "Don't you dare say it."

"Say what?"

"That it's gonna be cake."

"Why not?"

"Because it's never cake."

"Point taken," I said.

Mouse said: "So how much?"

"Hundred fifty K."

"Each?"

"Total," I said.

"Damn."

"At least we won't be eating kibble."

"This month."

"Cynic," I said.

"Realist," said Mouse.

"Mrowr," said the cat.

We drove past a throng of BCU students heading down Center Street, across from the park, and turned east on 47th heading back to the Red Dog Bar. The mid-morning sun managed one dazzling blast of light over the building tops before it ducked behind a wall of graying clouds.

"Look on the bright side," I said, maneuvering through traffic. "It can't be that hard to take care of one little cat."

* * *

Revell, the burly and bearded owner of the Red Dog, nodded. "Wait here," he said in his Russian-tinged basso and went out the back.

I took a seat on a barstool.

Specs, everyone's favorite infobroker, perched two stools over, turned round-framed mirrorshades toward me and arched his eyebrows. "A cat?"

"A cat," I said.

"I send the two of you to pick up a fucking cat? The hell kinda' job is that?"

"Job's a job. "

"Yeah yeah," said Specs. "I just thought it was bigger'n a freakin' cat."

"Bigger usually involves things blowing up," I said. "And small armies of mooks. Really not in the mood for that right now."

"I just wanna make sure you two ain't wastin' yer time."

I smirked. "You're worried about your take."

He put a hand on his chest and gave me a look like he'd been shot. "I'm hurt."

"No, you're not."

"Okay, I'm not. And yes, I am checking my cut."

"Don't worry. It's decent."

"Define 'decent'."

"Hundred fifty K."

Specs whistled. "Pretty good for a cat."

"Yeah, it is," I said.

He tapped the bartop. "By the way--watch yer asses out there. Word is Razors and Lightnings are havin' issues."

The Scarlet Razors and the Grease Lightnings were two of the seven joyboy crews in Bay City. Joyboys were punker gangs who liked fast bikes and sported blunt impact weapons--both hand-held and implanted. Every few months, one crew always tried to grab more turf. Never on any kind of schedule but you knew when it happened. The trail of damage was usually hard to miss.

"That time again?" I said.

"Yeah. So you two watch it."

I nodded but wasn't too worried.

The first time the Scarlet Razors met me and Mouse, we greased six of them. The second time, they tried to grease me.

The third time was moments after the second and we came to an immediate--though loose--understanding that began with a hand-held howitzer.

Alliances, even loose ones, are always a good thing, as Murphy often said.

As for the Lightnings, I'd deal with them when the time came.

Revell came out from the back carrying two ceramic bowls. "Water and dry food," he said. "For the little one."

"Where'd you get those?" I said.

"Next door. From Wang."

Specs blanched. "They have a cat?"

"Two," said Revell.

"I better not hear they had more," Specs said, "'cuz I ain't eating over there again."

I took the bowls. "Thanks, Rev."

* * *

I stepped through the door of our shared second-story flat with the two bowls just in time to see Mouse dive for our striped orange four-legged client and miss.

She ate floor.

The cat bounded out the half-opened window and down the fire escape.

"Shit!" Mouse pounded a fist on the floor.

I put the bowls down and pointed at the window. "Go!"

Mouse nodded and scrambled after the cat.

I spun and bolted out of the flat and down the stairs, through the bar, and burst out the front door, scaring a couple of peds. One of them yelped.

Typical reaction. Not everyday that a meter-ninety of dark-haired Amazon in black leather bursts through doors and onto sidewalks.

Quick scan.

Peds and portabooths packed the sidewalk. Some puzzled and curious stares thrown my way. Most on ignore.

Then: "Kat!"

I whirled.

Spotted Mouse round the corner of the alley next to the Red Dog and barrel toward me.

"Cat!" said Mouse and jabbed a finger at me.

"What!" I said.

Then a lithe shape brushed past my feet.

Crap. That cat.

I spun. Saw the cat dart toward the underside of a parked sedan.

Lunged and reached out, missed, crashed into the side of the car. Pain shot up my shoulder.

Mouse tore past me, up Garner Avenue, gaining on the cat.

I went after them.

The cat zipped past ped feet and bounded into the intersection of Garner and 47th.

Tires squealed. A westbound ivory Metro Cab swerved, plowed into the side of an eastbound white utility truck, and shoved it into the signal post opposite us.

The cat raced west on 47th and disappeared from view.

Dammit.

"Shit!" said Mouse.

"Carrier," I said. "We'll need the carrier."

"Get it. And the car. I'll go for the cat." She turned and sprinted across Garner toward 47th.

"Ear bud!" I called out.

I saw Mouse reach into her coat pocket, pull out something, and wave it in the air

Good enough.

I took mine out of my jacket pocket.

A tiny plug. Subvocal transmitter.

Fitted it into my right ear canal.

Then ran back toward the Red Dog.

(to be continued...)

"Here, Kitty Kitty"
Part 2