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"True Colors" - Part Two

8 November 2042
Bay City, California Free State
20:46:12

Twenty minutes later we were at Val's loft apartment and seated next to her workstation. She sat in her highback leather swivel chair in front of her monitors facing us. Kid Tachyon looked out at us from a video feed on the right-side monitor, a half-grin on his short-cropped bearded face.

"You said you had something on Hiller and her friends," I said.

Kid gave us a wide grin. "We both do," he said, half- cackling. "And you are gonna love this.'

"We know who they're working for," said Val.

"Reliance, right?" I said.

"Partially right," said Val. "We know the guy pulling the strings." She tapped a command on her keyboard and an image popped up on her center monitor. A broad-faced man with close-cropped platinum blonde hair and empty blue eyes stared unsmiling at us. He was dressed in a dark blue pinstriped suit.

"Who's Mr. Scowly?" said Mouse.

"Warren Douglas," said Val. "VP Customer Relations for Omni Industries. Global holding corp. Omni owns Reliance."

"So that's our guy," I said.

Val held up a finger. "Watch this."

She tapped out another command.

Another image of Douglas appeared on the center monitor, three-quarter pose, still unsmiling, this time dressed in a charcoal gray suit.

"Douglas again," I said.

Val gestured at the new image. "Meet Stephen Bishop, COO of Reliance Security."

I sat upright in my chair.

"Holy shit," said Mouse.

"What the hell?" I said.

"Exactly what Kid and I thought," said Val. "And then we kept digging."

Both images of Douglas/Bishop appeared side-by-side on the center monitor. "Turns out Douglas and Bishop are the exact same person. All biomet data is identical."

"How the hell do you pull that off?" said Mouse.

"Easy for them," said Val. "Douglas stays in New York. Bishop stays in Virginia. Their paths never cross, they don't move in the same circles."

"Backgrounds for both go all the way back to birth," said Kid. "Which means deep pockets behind them. Way deeper than what Omni would have."

"So what's the connection?" I said "How do Hiller and company fit in there?"

"My digging," said Kid, "shows Omni is a legit front for the White Brotherhood."

Mouse and I exchanged looks.

A sour feeling bubbled up in the middle of my gut.

"Douglas has been with Omni since April of '39," Kid went on. "Turns out Bishop's been with Reliance since April of '39. In fact, they have the exact same date of hire. Which means Reliance has White Brotherhood ties. Now in early October of '38, a biomod clinic in upstate New York took in a patient for reconstructive surgery. A day after the patient is discharged, the clinic gets firebombed. All staff killed. Tracking the money leads back to Omni via hidden account."

"Lemme guess,' I said. "Patient was Douglas/Bishop with a new face."

"Right," said Val.

"So what was the old face?" said Mouse.

Val tapped out a command.

The images of Douglas and Bishop vanished and were replaced by another face.

A face that sent a block of ice coursing down my spine.

I involuntarily sucked in a hissing breath and bolted to my feet, kicking my chair back.

Val jumped.

Mouse was on her feet next to me.

"Fuck," I said.

"Kat?" said Mouse.

Val fixed me with narrowed eyes. "You know him."

I nodded. "William Sikes," I said.

"Oh shit," said Mouse. "That's Sikes?"

"Yeah," I said.

"Who is he?" said Val.

"Bad news," said Kid. "Least that's what I've heard."

"Sikes is a trafficker," I said. "White Brotherhood's man on the West Coast. I had an incident with him back before I started running with Murphy. He tried to...recruit me. I said no. He insisted. I stuck a steak knife in his hand. Pinned it to the table."

"Nice," said Mouse, a feral grin on her face.

"He didn't like that," I said. "Had his goons punish me. Or try to. Two of them. One went down with a busted kneecap and broken windpipe. The other lost an eye. A third snuck up, clocked me with a pistol butt and was about to put two in my brainpan when Murphy stepped in and talked him out of it."

"Serious?" said Mouse.

I nodded and grinned. "Conversation was short, point blank, and .45-caliber."

"When was that?" said Val.

Another sucked in breath. "Late '38," I said.

"Okay," said Kid, "so about three months back Eddie and I did some digging on an outfit calling themselves Alliance Entertainment. Eddie said he was helping you two with something going on at BCU. Missing students."

Mouse backhanded me across the shoulder. "Sonofabitch," she said. "The White Brotherhood campus thing."

Memory struck.

And the sour sensation spread from my gut to the middle of my chest.

Shit.

Mouse and I exchanged looks.

"You think..." Mouse began and I suddenly saw where she was going.

"And you are absolutely right," said Val and tapped her center monitor. "Sent to Sikes at the end of August."

I looked.

An email.

It read: "Clean up Bay City. Remove Kat and Mouse, any means necessary."

Fuck. A. Duck.


NEXT TIME: "Manhunt"


"True Colors"
Part 1

"True Colors" - Part One

14 October 2042
Bay City, California Free State
08:03:22

Janus stirred, sat upright in his meshback chair, unplugged from his deck, and let out a long exhale.

Then he grinned.

He hadn't expected that.

He checked his system clock.

Four hours later.

Four hours ago he'd been sure Eddie had pissed off someone big.

But that wasn't the case.

Not even close.

The realization he'd been wrong irked him a bit but he shrugged it off when the pieces fell into place.

This info was worth at least a mil. Mil and a half, maybe.

Two mil--

And then the feeling had hit.

Again.

Like a kick in the gut.

And he knew what he had to do.

What he'd seen had been good work. And considering the funding source, they'd reached pretty deep to get it done just so. Had to give them credit.

But fours hours later, it was done

And absolutely no trace left behind.

He'd left crumbs.

Strategically placed.

He grinned again at his screen and congratulated himself.

At that moment, the screen blinked and Janus felt the lump leap into his throat.

He swallowed and scowled.

Val looked out at him from his monitor, red hair falling across her face, dressed in a black t-shirt and seated astride a carousel horse.

And she was laughing.

And Janus stared at a pair of green eyes that looked back at him with such joy and merriment.

A long time ago.

He even remembered the photoprint as it had emerged from the nearby kiosk--

Janus blinked away suddenly blurred vision and tapped a key.

The image vanished, replaced by scattered program icons and a command box with a steadily blinking cursor.

She'd never look at him that way again.

He'd seen to that.

The memory rubbed at him like a bothersome itch and he quashed it.

But the crumbs.

He'd left the crumbs.

She'd find them.

He was sure of that.

* * *

8 November 2042
Chicago Metroplex, Northern Federation of States
16:22:35 CST

The tall man in the gray double-breasted suit stepped into the wood-paneled office and closed the door behind him. "I have news."

Irina Dragunov looked up from behind her massive oak desk and quirked a perfectly manicured eyebrow. "Is it from him?"

"Da," said the man.

"And?"

"And he says everything is in motion."

"It's about time," Dragunov said with a snort. "This should have been already dealt with. I don't understand his need for dramatics."

"In any case," the man went on, "we'll be ready to start sending our people in."

"Good," said Dragunov. "Let's begin with Dmitry."

"Not Viktor?"

Dragunov smirked. "Not Viktor. At least not yet. That would be like dropping a bomb on the city. No. This must be quiet at first. Dmitry will be best for the moment."

The man inclined his head. "I will contact him immediately."

"Spasiba, Yuri."

Yuri gave a short nod and turned to leave.

"One more thing, Yuri," said Dragunov.

Yuri turned back. "Da?"

"Has there been any word yet about Nicolai Medvedev?"


(to be continued...)


"True Colors"
Part 2

"Born of the Blade" - Part Eleven

"You!"
   
Looked.
   
McCarthy was staring at me now, the knife lowered slightly, eyes slitted, mouth drawn in a snarl.
   
Correction.
   
She was staring at Mouse.
   
"You little bitch! How dare you come back!"
   
"Elaine--" I said.
   
"You ripped out my heart! So I'm gonna rip yours out!"
   
She bolted toward Mouse, teeth bared, the knife held reverse grip overhead.

Subvocal, and the world slid into slo-mo.
   
Side-stepped left, the Twins tracking, took a bead on McCarthy.
   
Then Mouse danced in front of me in a fighting crouch, facing McCarthy, her trenchcoat billowing around her legs.
   
I checked fire, lowered the Twins.
   
McCarthy closed the distance and swung the knife in a slashing downward arc.
   
Mouse whirled aside and McCarthy stumbled forward.
   
She spun and lunged, lashing out.   
   
Again, Mouse danced away, trenchcoat tails swirling,.
   
McCarthy charged and slashed again.
   
Mouse darted past her, and the chef's knife cut empty air.
   
Each time McCarthy lunged, Mouse vanished, flitting past in flaps and swirls of black leather.
   
After a few more lunges, McCarthy started to slow, her breathing heavy, her face twisted in rage.
   
Then she sucked in a breath, and lunged, the knife extended.
   
Mouse skipped aside and I heard the rasp of metal, caught the flash of steel.
   
Then Mouse spun and McCarthy screamed and crumpled to her knees, holding the bloody stump of her right hand tight against her belly, blood gushing onto her clothes.
   
Her hand lay on the ground to one side next to the fallen knife.
   
Mouse flicked blood off her wakizashi and resheathed it in her back scabbard.
   
She gave me a nod.
   
I dropped out of boost, holstered the Twins.
   
The Demon regarded Mouse, head cocked to one side. "You are born of the blade," he said, pointing at her with one of his claw-fingers.
   
"Damn right," said Mouse.
   
A memory struck.
   
"You can be one of ours," said the Demon.
   
"Hell no," said Mouse.
   
"Then you cannot stay."
   
Flash of movement.
   
A bloodcurdling scream.
   
Sub-vocal and the world slid back into slo-mo.
   
McCarthy had scooped up the knife with her left hand, sprang to her feet, and charged toward Mouse.
   
Ahead of her by a full second. Grabbed for Mouse's wakizashi, yanked it from the scabbard, body-checking her at the same time. Pivoted into a low crouch, the short sword in both hands, blade tip pointed in front, then drove forward.
   
A meaty thunk.
   
McCarthy's eyes went wide and she gasped as she impaled herself on the the wakizashi, the blade sliding cleanly into her upper abdomen and out her back. She dropped the knife and slumped onto me and I felt blood cascade onto my hands.
   
Twisted to one side and McCarthy slid off the wakizashi blade and crumpled to the concrete, blood pooling beneath her.
   
Stepped back, short sword still in hand, my hands crimson coated.
   
Figures strode out from the darkness, human and not-human alike, flesh and metal fused, all sporting pulsing optics and clawed appendages.
   
I took several steps back, heard Mouse come up beside me.
   
"A dozen here," I said, handing back her wakizashi and drawing the Twins.
   
"A dozen behind us," said Mouse, her second wakizashi rasping out from her scabbard.
   
"Shit."
   
"Shit and a half."
   
Then the first Steel Demon held up a clawed hand.
   
The figures in my line of sight stopped.
   
The Demon looked from us to McCarthy's body then back to us, his optic pulsing.
   
"Do you wish the prize?" he said.
   
I shuddered inwardly and felt bile rise up in my throat. Cleared it, said, "No."
   
He nodded. "Then we will take it as tribute."
   
He moved, faster than us, and had McCarthy's severed head in hand in an eyeblink. He held it overhead and displayed it to the others.
   
An eerie chorus rose from the gathered Demons, a metallic otherworldly howl that prickled my skin.
   
The Demon turned back to us. "You have one minute to leave."
   
I inclined my head at him, then turned, and we jogged back to the Royale.


*   *   *

When we finally came out of the tunnel, I turned off 48th, pulled the Royale to an empty spot at the curb, and let out a long breath.
   
"You okay?" said Mouse.
   
"Yeah," I said. "You?"
   
"Five by," said Mouse.
   
"I think that was Kane," I said.
   
"I think you're right."
   
"Nobody's ever seen him before."
   
She gave a snort. "We got lucky?"
   
"We're still alive," I said.
   
Mouse nodded and turned to stare out the windshield.
   
I pulled my phone and called Absinthe. "Is Brandi still there?"
   
"She is," Absinthe said. "Marco's been sitting on her and her little friend since you called. I let Miss Renée know."
   
"Thanks again."
   
"Happy to help."
   
Hung up then dialed Miss Renée.
   
"It's done," I said.
   
I heard a relieved sigh. "Thank you."
   
"Anytime," I said.
   
"I'll send a courier to the Red Dog with the balance."
   
The call ended and I put my phone away.
   
"Hey," said Mouse.
   
"Yeah?" I said.
   
"Why'd you grease McCarthy with my blade? You had the Twins. Coulda' blown her head off."
   
"Steel Demons," I said. "When Kane said you were born to the blade, I remembered something Murphy once said. He told me they respected the blade. So I used it."
   
Mouse nodded. "And they let us walk."
   
"And they let us walk."
   
"Good thinking."
   
"It was a hunch."
   
"Good hunch."
   
I grinned at her.
   
She grinned back.
   
After a moment she said, "Technique was a little sloppy, though."
   
"Don't start," I said.
   
"And footwork needs practice."
   
"Not listening," I said and put the Royale into gear.  "Let's go check on Specs."
   
We pulled away from the curb and headed east on 48th.
   
Two blocks later, my phone chirped.
   
Val.
   
I put her on speaker and slid the phone in the dashboard holder.
   
"Go ahead, Val," I said.
   
"Kid and I have something," she said. "About Hiller and the others."
   
Mouse and I exchanged looks.
   
She quirked her brows at me.
   
"Give us about an hour, Val," I said. "We gotta go check on Specs."
   
"What's going on?" said Val.
   
"He got attacked earlier today."
   
"Oh shit," said Val. "Go, go. We'll see you afterwards."


*   *   *

Ten minutes later we were sitting in a recovery room in Doc's clinic where Specs lay on a hospital bed sprouting tubes and wires. Medical equipment attached to the head of the bed blinked and whirred and hummed. Revell stood on the left side, arms folded across his barrel chest, face creased with worry. Mouse perched on the edge of a chair on the right side of the bed, watching Specs, and frowning.
   
I stood at the foot of the bed and regarded Specs, feeling my stomach churn at the sight of his injuries. His face looked as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. And from what Revell described, they had taken the sledgehammer to the rest of him, too.
   
The door shushed open and Doc strode in, a fiftysomething barrel-chested black man with close-cropped curly white hair, an old pair of spectacles perched low on a wide nose, and a large paunch hanging over his beltline, slightly hidden by a dark brown canvas coat.
   
"Rev told you, right?" said Doc in his melodious, rumbling basso voice.
   
I nodded.
   
"They really did a number on him," said Doc, coming up next to me. "And it looks like someone was holding him while they did it. Lots of bruising on his upper arms."
   
"Fucking bastards," said Mouse.
   
The churning in my stomach turned into a tightening in the middle of my chest.
   
"You won't get anything from him for a while," said Doc. "I've got him doped up. He'll be out for at least a day."
   
"Thanks, Doc," I said.
   
"Thank me by finding the bastards who did this and putting them out of commission."
   
"We will."
   
"I know you will."
   
He clasped me on the shoulder, gave it a squeeze, then turned and left the room.
   
When the door shushed close, Revell said, "There is something more."
   
We turned to him.
   
"I found this in his shirt pocket." He held up a photoprint of Specs with a red 'X' drawn through the image.
   
The same photoprint from the case in the Halloween run.
   
I heard Mouse snarl.
   
I heard myself snarl.
   
Sonofabitch.   


NEXT TIME: "True Colors"



"Born of the Blade"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10