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"Mean Streets"

21 August 2042 - Two days later

Danny stood in the saferoom doorway and looked up at me, brow furrowed. "Why can't I be just a normal kid?"

"I'm sorry, Danny," I said. "It's the way things are now."

"Yeah," he said. "I know. I'm sorry, too."

Then he plunged his fist into my chest. The impact rocked me back a step and my sternum parted with a shriek of metal

I gasped. Blinked.

And Danny was standing in the middle of the Shack's living room, head down, his arms coated in blood. A pile of cyberlimbs lay at his feet, twitching like fish out of water.

He looked up at me from beneath lowered brows. "Please make it stop," he said.

Then someone screamed--

I bolted upright in bed, drenched with sweat and gasping. I clutched at my chest, felt a wash of relief when my hand didn't find a gaping hole.

A lamp flickered to life across the room.

Mouse was sitting up in bed, looking at me. "You, too."

Statement. Not question.

I brushed hair out of my eyes and nodded.

"Doc gave me some pills this morning," she said.

"How long?"

"Started the day after. After it."

"Do they work?"

"Haven't tried yet." She reached toward her nightstand and grabbed a white plastic bottle. Popped the lid, shook out a pill into her palm, closed it, and lobbed it toward me.

I caught the bottle, did the same, and swallowed the pill. "Hope they work."

"Me, too," said Mouse. She turned off her lamp.

I set the bottle on my nightstand and lay back.

Light from the alley outside crept in through the edges of the shutters and threw weird shapes against the wall and ceiling.

One of the shapes started to morph into a figure.

Then it went fuzzy.

And everything became dark and quiet.

* * *

22 August 2042 - One day later

"What do you think?" Michelle said over the phone.

"Both of them," said Jade, leaning back on the battered couch in her flat.

"It's what the lady ordered. Invitation only, too. She looking for the best of the best."

Jade scratched her chin. "Twenty million?"

"Yup. Easy twenty for you, girlfriend. Minus my fee, that is. High-powered rifle. Hit 'em when they ain't looking. Bam! Kat and Mouse be outta your hair for good. Ain't that what you want?"

She looked down at the pair of SIG SAUER P250 .45-caliber pistols on the cluttered coffee table in front of her.

"Jade?" said Michelle.

"No," said Jade.

"What?"

"Tell them no."

"But don't you want those two out of commission?"

"I do."

"Then I'm signing you on--"

"I said no."

"But you just said--"

"My way, Michelle. I'll do it my way. They die when I say they die. And it's gonna be slow. And it's gonna be painful. And I want to hear her scream."

* * *

A few miles south of the San Luis Obispo city walls, the rented white ChrysFord sedan came around the bend of Highway 101. Past the low-lying hills ahead, Sakura could see the skyline of Northwood, the buildings of the airport and, in the near distance, Bay City and San Marino Bay.

She smiled.

Home again.

Forty minutes later, Sakura stepped out of the bathroom of her Ascot Arms suite wearing a thick cotton bathrobe, a towel wrapped around her head, her cell phone to her ear.

"Yeah," said Simon.

"I'm in town," she said.

"Already? Thought it wasn't until the weekend?"

"Decided to come in early. Meet me in downstairs in twenty minutes at the restaurant. Veronica's. I want an update."

"Sure. Be nice to eat good food for a change."

* * *

Simon slurped from his wine glass and smacked his lips. "Now that's some good stuff."

Sakura shook her head. "Manners, please." She patted the base of her neck.

Simon glanced down at the red cloth napkin hanging from his front collar. "Oh," he said, pulled it down, and placed it on his lap.

"Much better," said Sakura. "What's the story on our punkergang friend?"

"Haven't heard anything recently. But I'm checking into that tomorrow."

"Have you heard back from Miss Vittorio?"

"Nope."

"You called."

"Called. Vmailed. Emailed. Personal visit to the house." He shook his head and speared a piece of steak. "Zip."

"A shame."

"What now?"

Sakura took a sip of her wine, then said, "Spread the word. I'm bidding."

Simon stopped with the piece of steak halfway to his mouth. "But I thought--"

"I am. This will ensure nobody else gets in the way."

"And if Miss Vittorio disagrees?"

"She'll have to take it up with me."

* * *

23 August 2042 - One day later

Kincaid said, "A piece of advice, friend--"

The dreadlocked WyldBoy looked up from examining the weapon, bared his teeth, and growled at Kincaid. "I'm paying for goods, not advice. Friend."

Kincaid shrugged. "Fair enough."

"One week?"

"One week. And half the money in one hour."

"Don't worry," said the WyldBoy. "You'll get the money." He looked down at the weapon again, sleek black death on three legs. He stroked the long barrel like a pet and grinned. "Then the bitches will die."

He flashed a grin at Kincaid, turned, and sauntered out of the warehouse, dreadlocks bouncing against his shoulders.

Kincaid watched the WyldBoy leave. When the door closed behind the ganger, he shook his head. "Boy's gonna die a horrible death."

"You think so?" a voice rumbled next to him.

"Yes, Dwayne. I do."

"Even with that thing?" said Dwayne.

"Even with that thing." Kincaid turned to Dwayne and smiled up at the big man. "He picked the wrong ladies to tangle with."

"No way," said Dwayne. "You owned them. I was there when you gave them the deadline."

Kincaid clucked his tongue at him. "You gotta learn this, son. That was biz. They knew that."

Dwayne's brow furrowed. He gestured to weapon. "And this?"

"Is not biz," said Kincaid. "This is that boy's death sentence."

* * *

Sakura recognized the number on her cellphone's display. She smiled and thumbed the TALK button.

"It's me," the voice on the other end said. "We are complete."

Sakura sat up in bed. "Everything? Done to my specs?"

"As you ordered."

"Excellent. I'll want a look, of course."

A chuckle. "Of course. I expected it. How does tomorrow morning sound?"

"At the site," said Sakura. "10:00 hours."

"Done."

--END--

NEXT TIME: "With Cat-like Tread"

"Little Boy Lost" - Part Eleven

I stood in the doorway, hands on my hips, looked out onto the back porch, and swore under my breath.

The back door lay on the ground, ripped off its hinges.

That was how that chromed mook got in.

"The cars were a decoy," said Mouse, coming up next to me. "Sneaky bastards."

"I'll talk to Tinker after all this," I said. "For now, let's finish loading up and get to the airport."

"Check," Mouse said, turned, and walked off.

I turned to follow and found Donovan standing in front of me. She'd cleaned up and was wearing a change of clothes I'd found in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Her right arm hung in a sling.

"Danny?" I said.

"In the car," she said. "Cleaned up. Sleeping."

I nodded. "You?"

"Don't know," she said and looked at me. "Pretty standard for you all, right?"

I shook my head. "Not this," I said.

Donovan frowned, looked back in the direction of the living room, then at me. "There was another one," she said. "A woman. Came into the saferoom. Almost yanked off the door to get in. She went for Danny. I tried to stop her."

"The shotgun," I said. "Four shots."

She nodded. "Didn't even faze her. Then..." She stopped a moment, gripped her right wrist, and gave a small wince. "She had blades that came out of her fingers. Knives, really. She stabbed me in the shoulder. I dropped the shotgun. She was going to stab me again when..." Donovan's eyes went distant. "Danny grabbed her hand," she said, then looked directly into my eyes. "And he twisted it off. Then he started to hit her. Hit her hard. Over and over and over. Punched holes in her. And I heard screams. Hers and Danny's." Donovan's voice tightened and went up in pitch. "And blood. So much blood--"

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let out a long, shuddering exhale.

Then she opened her eyes.

"The body's still in the room," she said.

And she turned and walked away toward the garage.

* * *

Mouse, Jake, and I stood by the Shelby and the Range Rover as Donovan and Danny walked toward the civilian aerodyne--like a sleek city bus-- parked on the tarmac.

It was nearing sunset and a cool wind had come up from the east, bringing the smell of wild grass.

I was watching Danny.

A little boy.

A little boy with the power to bring down a skyscraper.

I started to feel sad for him.

Danny was about to step into the aerodyne's main cabin when he stopped, and turned toward me.

In his face, I saw a little boy trying very hard to stay a little boy.

Danny held my gaze, then gave me a small smile and a wave.

I waved back and silently wished them luck.

Then Danny went inside the cabin and the doors shut behind him.

"You okay?" said Mouse.

I let out a very long breath. "Yeah," I said with a nod. I inclined my head at the aerodyne. "Hoping they'll be."

"Won't be easy," said Jake. "But I'm sure they'll manage."

"Yeah," I said after a moment. "I think so, too."

Then I felt a hand slip into mine.

Jake's.

He squeezed my hand and our eyes met and he gave me a long look.

Then he let go and walked toward his Range Rover.

Mouse and I got into the Shelby and drove off the tarmac, Jake following right behind.

I turned onto the main road and, in silence, Mouse and I headed west toward the red-orange glow of a slowly setting sun.

Back to Bay City.

--END--

NEXT TIME: "Mean Streets"


"Little Boy Lost" - Part Ten

He crashed into the couch and knocked it over.

Danny stood in the bedroom doorway. Clothes disheveled and stained red with blood. Hands at his side, balled into fists. Looking at the mook from beneath lowered brows. "Leave them alone," he said.

Again, that tone of voice, and the hairs on the back of my neck saluted.

The mook rose from the fallen couch. "Nice trick, kid."

"You'd better go now," Danny said to him.

The mook shook his head. "Not without you."

"I'm not going anywhere," said Danny.

" 'Course you are," said the mook and started toward him.

Danny's face contorted with rage. He roared.

Then leaped at the mook, clearing the two meters between them, his hands grabbing at the collar of the man's tac vest. The mook grunted when Danny landed on him and stumbled back.

Danny rode him to the floor.

The mook bounced once on impact.

Danny straddled the mook's chest, picked him up by the tac vest collar, then shoved his head and upper torso through the floorboards with a sickening crunch.

The mook reached up with both hands, grabbing for Danny's throat.

Danny knocked one hand aside, grabbed the other wrist, and yanked. The arm parted from the mook's shoulder with a shriek of metal and a wet ripping noise.

The mook screamed.

Blood sprayed from the torn shoulder socket and arced over the living room carpet.

Felt a few droplets land on my face and my gut tightened. My mouth went dry, and I tasted bile in the back of my throat.

Danny tossed the arm aside then shoved the mook into the flooboards again and again and again, blood spattering across Danny's face, the man's screams turning into howls then tired gurgles.

Then it stopped.

Danny stared at the mook for a long moment, then let go of the man's vest. He stood, staggered away from the half-buried body and collapsed to his knees by the overturned couch, his back to us. Then he dropped forward on his hands and threw up.

"Shit..."

Mouse.

I turned.

She was on her knees looking at Danny, eyes wide. I met her gaze, saw her brow furrow.

Jake stepped into view just behind Mouse, his eyes narrowed, also looking at Danny. The muscles in his jaw clenched and unclenched.

Then: Movement by the bedroom door.

Swung the FAL up toward target. Jake drew his pistol and Mouse drew a wakizashi and they both turned.

Donovan clung to the doorway with her left hand. Her right arm hung limp at her side, covered in blood.

I dropped the rifle to low-ready position, forty-five degree angle pointing down.

"Danny," she said and stumbled toward him.

"Donovan," I said, taking a step in her direction and shaking my head. "You'd better--"

She shot me a look I recognized. It said: "Try it and I will end you."

I stopped in mid-step.

She held that gaze on me for what seemed a long time.

Then she went to Danny, dropped to her knees next to him, her back to us, wrapped her good arm around his shoulders, and pulled him toward her.

Danny said: "Aunt Mo?"

"Yes?" said Donovan.

"Can we go home now?"

Donovan looked back over her left shoulder at me, her face still serious, but no longer the look she'd given me earlier. Now it was tempered by something else.

Tempered by Danny.

I nodded at her.

She gave me a short nod and a quick thin smile and said to Danny, "Yes. We can."

"Okay," Danny said. He let out long sigh. "That's good."

Donovan pulled him closer to her and began to rock slowly back and forth.

I lowered the FAL to my side and turned first to Mouse, then to Jake. Saw concern etched on their faces.

"Your call," said Jake.

I looked at the half-buried figure in the floor, then back toward Donovan and found her looking at me.

"He's still a little boy," she said. "And you're still alive."

(to be continued...)

"Little Boy Lost" - Part Nine

We all sprang to our feet.

"Go," I said to Donovan and Danny.

Donovan grabbed Danny's hand, then snatched the Benelli and shell bandolier off the table.

I grabbed the extra M4 rifle and held it out to Mouse.

She made a face but took the rifle and some spare mags and followed Donovan and Danny toward the safe room.

Jake was shoving spare M4 magazines into tac-vest pockets and the drop-leg pouch.

I grabbed six spares for the FAL, shoved them into a pair of open-top triple-magazine pouches, stuck those into a thigh pocket, then picked up the rifle. "I'm headed up."

Jake nodded. "I'm down here."

"Keep in touch." I pointed to the throat mics.

"You got it."

I bolted into the foyer, down the hall, and up the stairs, two steps at a time.

* * *

From my spot in an upstairs bedroom on the right side of the house, I peered out the partially opened window. I could see the main gate and the road beyond leading out toward the main highway.

"Mouse?" I said over the mic, still watching the road.

"They're locked in," she said. "I'm below you."

"Copy."

Then I saw them. A pair of vehicles rumbling up the road, kicking up dust in their wake. Dark SUVs.

"Here they come," I said.

"I see them," Jake said.

"Got a bead," said Mouse.

The SUVs closed on the gate.

"Gonna ram," said Jake.

The lead SUV lurched forward with a burst of speed and crashed through the gate, knocking it off its track, but still attached at one end. The second SUV followed a few meters behind, then shot forward until both vehicles were side-by-side.

"Light 'em up," I said.

And squeezed off a rolling burst of fire at the second SUV, walked it from the car's front grill, up the hood, into the windshield. Sparks, metal, and glass exploded from the car and the windshield shattered.

The SUV slewed to a skidding stop, angled toward the house.

From below me, another burst stitched holes across the exposed side of the car, then blew out the rest of the windows.

To my left, the dull whump of an explosion.

Jake's grenade launcher.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw dirt geyser. The lead SUV caught air, flipped onto its side, and skidded several meters across the dirt with a shriek of metal.

Movement from the second SUV.

A shape. Other side of the vehicle, near the hood, half-hidden by smoke and flames pouring out of the SUV's interior.

The shape slid out from cover. Mook. In black fatigues. Crouched. Assault rifle tucked into his shoulder, leveled toward the house. He started forward, staying low.

I caught him with a three-round burst, high in the chest. His feet flew out from under him and he dropped.

Spotted another mook coming out from around the back end of the car, sprinting for the house, rifle raised, muzzle flashing.

I swung the FAL toward him.

Heard a long burst of fire from the room below. Rounds caught the mook in the middle of the torso, stopping him in mid-stride. He jerked and flailed as bullets tore through him and shoved him backward.

Something crashed into the driver's side window of the second SUV and the top half of the vehicle exploded.

Grenade.

Then another explosion, to my left.

Looked, saw black smoke rising from the burning hulk of the lead SUV.

"They're down," Jake said over the comm.

"Here, too," said Mouse.

Then four distant peals of thunder.

Shotgun blasts.

Coming from inside the house.

Donovan and Danny.

Then a scream.

* * *

I bolted downstairs. Two steps at a time. Three.

Then Mouse crashed through the banister railing and slammed into the wall next to the stairs less than a meter in front of me.

Low ceiling. No clearance.

Shit shit shit shit--

I dove forward. Over Mouse. Hit the foot of the stairs, tucked into a shoulder roll, skidded to a kneeling stop, the FAL swinging up to target.

A figure in black fatigues, tac vest, and balaclava stood in the doorway leading to the saferoom, trading punches and parries with Jake in a flurry of arms and fists.

I checked fire.

A punch rocked Jake back several steps.

Then Mouse was there, in his place, her blades flashing, spinning.

The figure ducked and dodged every strike.

Then Jake dove in again, a combat blade in hand, flanking the figure, blade lashing out.

The figure bounced from side to side, parrying their strikes, the blades never touching him, still planted in front of the door.

No clear shot.

Dammit dammit dammmit dammit--

Then the figure spun, and a whirling kick hurled Jake into the banister, splintering wood, and a leg sweep sent Mouse crashing to the floor on her back.

Bingo.

I emptied the FAL magazine into the mook's chest.

He staggered back two steps, arms crossed in front of his face.

And took it.

All of it.

Then looked at me with blank eyes.

I popped optics to thermo and groaned.

Goddamned chromed mooks.

Popped back to normal.

He took a step toward me.

I was slapping a fresh mag into the FAL when something slammed into the mook from behind and sent him flying across the living room, arms and legs pinwheeling.

(to be continued...)

"Little Boy Lost" - Part Eight

We had finished gearing up with weapons and were fitting ourselves with the throat mics when Donovan came back to the dining room several minutes later, a frown on her face. She sat down at the dining table.

"Everything okay?" I said.

She nodded and stared at a spot on the tabletop.

I said, "Why shouldn't these men get Danny?"

Donovan blinked and looked up at me. "What?"

"Before he died, your brother told me not to let them get Danny. Why not?"

She sat back in the chair. "I'm not positive but..." She paused, then went on: "There's something you need to know about Danny."

"Okay."

"He's not supposed to be alive."

Mouse, Jake, and I exchanged looks.

I turned back to Donovan. "Explain."

"A year ago I got a call from Jack. He told me they'd just come back from the doctor's. Danny had been diagnosed with ALS-4. It's a rare degenerative motor neuron disease that affects children."

"How rare?" I said.

"Only five other cases."

"Shit," said Mouse.

Donovan gave her a weak smile. "That's what Jack said." She let out a loud exhale. "The last time I saw Danny was about eight months ago. He was having trouble getting up from a chair. Standing. Walking."

"Why is Danny not supposed to be alive?" said Jake.

"ALS-4 is fatal. Works really fast. The longest of the five cases lived two years before she died. Jack said Danny had maybe nine months. A year was optimistic."

Mouse whistled.

"Now look at him," said Donovan. "Like he was never sick."

"What did your brother do for a living?" I said.

"He was a biotech engineer," said Donovan. "Private lab in the NorFed States."

"Hart Labs," said Mouse.

Donovan nodded. "That sounds about right."

"Eddie mentioned that Hart Labs had tech and military contracts," I said.

"What're you thinking?" said Jake.

"Not sure." I called out, "Hey, Danny?"

"Yeah?" he yelled back from the living room.

"Could you come here for a sec?"

Footsteps came down the hallway and a few seconds later, Danny appeared in the doorway. "Yeah?"

"You were sick before, weren't you, Danny?" I said.

He made a face and shifted his feet then looked at Donovan. "Did you tell them?"

Donovan nodded. "Do you remember being sick, Danny?"

"Yeah," said Danny. "But Daddy gave me a shot that made me feel better."

We all exchanged looks.

"What kind of shot?" I said.

Danny shrugged. "A shot. Like what you get at the doctor's. Daddy said it was a new kind of medicine. Not like the ones they made me take."

"And it made you better?" said Donovan.

"Yeah. It hurt for a while afterwards. Then it went away and I was better."

"That's gotta be it," said Mouse. "Why they're after Danny. Miracle drug cures fatal disease. They want a lab rat."

Danny stiffened and his eyes went to slits. "I'm not a lab rat," he said and his voice took on a chilling tone.

The hairs at the nape of my neck saluted.

Just like back at the QuikShop--

My phone rang.

Specs.

I put it on speaker. "Good?"

"Better'n good," said Specs. "Fan-fuckin'-tastic is what this is."

"There's a kid in the room, Specs."

"Ah, shit."

Mouse snorted a laugh.

"Just keep it clean," I said.

"Okay okay. Look--I got a special deal. Only gonna cost 1.2 mill. Each."

Donovan gasped.

"It'll be okay," I told her.

"Not bad," said Jake.

"No, it ain't," Specs said. "Like I said. Special deal. Guy owes me one. Anyway, it's the works. Cards. Backstory. Records. Even got a flat and a car for 'em."

"Where to?" I said.

"Central Free Zone. Santa Fe, New Mexico."

"We'll take them," I said. "Can you set that up?"

"Yeah. And my guy's gonna need biometrics to code the cards."

"How soon?"

"Hang on," said Specs. I heard him talk to someone on another phone, then: "Says he needs another hour to finish his thing. The coding won't take long. He can do that last. Meet in an hour?"

"Sounds good. Where?"

Specs rattled off the address of an airfield ten minutes east of us, on the other side of Lake Wyndham.

"We'll be there," I said and hung up then turned to the others. "We'll wait half an hour and then we're out. Let's pack up what we don't need, get it in the cars, and keep--"

And the proximity alarms went off.

(to be continued...)

"Little Boy Lost"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Part 9