I stood atop a rooftop, staring down at the street below. According to Rachel’s data, a concept that was meaningless to me, a patrol of Stars was due through the area within the next ten minutes. So long as she was right, I didn’t care how she came to her conclusions.
She sat on the rooftop opposite mine, looking down with a confidence that unsettled me. She looked almost serene, and I wondered if I’d make a mistake, bringing her along.
I glanced at the upgraded gauntlet she’d provided for me. Apparently this one was specifically designed to be able to handle people like Gabriel, and would siphon less energy from me. I’d never admit it to her, but it was a comfort to have it.
She hadn’t brought any weapons with her, which I was more than a little suspicious off. It was possible she had some tricks stashed away in that leather jacket of hers, but we were going up against a whole team of Stars. They were a lot better prepared than the other gangs.
Our eyes met, and she smiled. That was creepy. Creepier still was the way her eyes looked in the moonlight, the dark brown of her irises broken up by softly glowing lines of yellow.
Just how much had she changed about herself? I knew she spent a fair amount of time working on herself, but wasn’t there a limit to this kind of thing? How’d she even managed to do something like replace her own goddamn eyes? What else had she augmented? Is that why she was so confident? Did she just have guns that would pop out of her arms now?
The distant sound of footsteps caught my attention. I couldn’t see them yet, but from what I knew about my hearing range, that put them at about two blocks away. Perfect. I nodded to Rachel, and we backed away from the edges of the rooftops, not wanting to be seen too early.
I closed my eyes, focusing on my hearing. With barely a push, I could hear every sound they made. The gentle thuds of their footfalls, about six of them. Fairly typical sized group. No talking amongst them. They were keeping a comfortably quick pace.
Within a few minutes, they were below us. I didn’t need to say anything to Rachel, she would have picked up on it by now. Besides, the first move was mine to make. We’d already gone over the plan.
Finally. I leapt off the side of the building, enjoying the feeling of speed as I hurtled towards the ground. The gangsters didn’t even notice me until I hit the ground, my knees absorbing the brunt of the impact.
I felt a smile creep onto my face as I looked at them, their faces registering surprise but not, annoyingly, fear. Well, we’d soon change that. My grin widened.
Rachel dropped down behind them, cutting off their only avenue of escape. Not that it looked like they were planning on running, but it was important that they couldn’t. We needed to keep one of them. The rest, well…
Rachel had insisted we not kill any of them. A ‘favour to an old friend’ or something. I didn’t really care. Keeping them alive would make things only slightly more difficult. She never said anything about making sure they could recover.
“Nice night for a stroll, isn’t it?” I said, flexing my fingers and rolling my shoulders.
The gangsters drew closer together, forming a tight perimeter, guns raised and pointed at Rachel and I.
“You’re not actually going to try and shoot us, are you?” Rachel said, her tone full of condescension and disappointment.
I saw one of them fiddling with something on her belt, surreptitiously trying to dislodge it. A metal canister dropped to the ground, and I recognised it only a moment before it went off.
“Flashbang!” I cried out, squeezing my eyes shut. With Zoe’s enhanced senses, it was a considerably more brutal blow, getting caught by one of those. I’d discovered that the hard way.
I missed the flash, but the bang hit me hard, the deafening sound disorienting me momentarily. When I opened my eyes, the gangsters had split up, racing to take more tactical positions on the mostly abandoned street.
Rachel seemed unfazed. She reached into her jacket, pulling out a small metal sphere and tossing it into the air. As it reached the pinnacle of its arc, it exploded, filling the air with what appeared to be dozens of tiny darts.
Several of them impaled me, but I already knew I wouldn’t be affected by the paralytic toxin contained within them. Three of the gangsters were caught in the rain, and dropped in a matter of seconds. The other three had managed to find themselves appropriate cover. Wouldn’t save them for long.
We needed to figure out which of them was the leader. I’d been watching for clues in their body language, but so far nothing had given it away. We had to hope it wasn’t one of the three Rachel had already taken out.
One of them opened fire on me, the bullets ripping through my torso in a tight burst. Heat and pain washed over me, then cold as the fresh night air flowed through the open wounds, wounds that were already begging to close. I growled.
He opened fire again, but this time I was already moving, leaping over his cover, my hands around his throat. It was so tempting to squeeze just that little bit harder, but it wouldn’t have helped anything. I tossed him to the side, enjoying his grunts as he bounced across the asphalt.
A hail of bullets caught Rachel in the back, but they didn’t even penetrate her jacket. So it was bulletproof. I’d wondered about that. Should’ve aimed at her head, idiot. She whirled around, crossing the distance between her and her assailant faster than a person with her abilities should have been able to. How had she managed to augment her speed?
More gunfire directed at me. The one who’d dropped the flashbang. Perfect. As burning chunks of metal tore through my arms, I raced towards her. She stood her ground.
The moment before my fist connected with her torso, her hand twitched, and a thin metal blade telescoped out from a device she’d been concealing. I ran straight into it, driving it right through my chest.
That supposed to stop me, you- a debilitating surge of energy ran through the blade, and I felt my body twitch and convulse. The gangster wasted no time capitalising on my weakened state, drawing a pair of spikes from her utility belt and driving them into my shoulders. They seemed to keep the current going, and I could barely move.
“You think we’re not prepared for people like you?” she taunted, kicking my away from her. I fell helplessly to the ground, furious. “You’re nothing more than a child’s projection of a comic book hero. I’m surprised you’ve lasted this long-”
She was cut off as a dart hit her in the neck. She pulled it out immediately, but it was obviously too late. She wobbled, then collapsed. Rachel’s taunting smirk appeared above me.
“That’s gotta be embarrassing for you,” she said, reaching down to extract the spikes from me. “You barely managed to take out one of them.”
“Go to hell,” I muttered, pulling myself to my feet. My entire body ached. The Stars were really this prepared to take on someone like me? No wonder they were still operating. “Did you figure out who the leader was?”
“Sure did,” Rachel said, grinning. She pointed to the one I’d nearly strangled. “Caught him trying to radio for backup after you wrecked his shit.”
His hands were bound behind his back, his ankles tied together and his mouth gagged. It hadn’t stopped him wriggling around on the ground, trying to get away.
“You can carry him,” Rachel said.
We left the others on the street, unconscious and for the most part, drugged. If anyone else came across them, if any infected came across them…
“We can’t waste any time,” Envy said, whispering the words into my ear as if there was a chance that someone else could hear. “They’ll be fine. And if they aren’t, fuck ‘em. They shouldn’t have thrown their lot in with a gang.”
She has a point.
I carried the battered gangster, and he struggled the entire way to the interrogation room Rachel had set up. It was similar to the room I’d used to trap Gabriel, only a little more refined. It seemed like every time Rachel put her mind to something, she could make it a little better than the last time. That was something to keep an eye on.
With the door locked, we tied the guy to a chair, and removed his gag. He glowered at us, but said nothing.
“You ever interrogated someone before?” I asked Rachel, circling the gangster. “I was thinking of just breaking stuff until he talks.”
“As always, you have no finesse,” Rachel replied, running her fingers down his face. He twitched, and I realised she was running a tiny current through her hand. “I mean, I’m not saying you can’t break things. But there are far worse things I can do to him.”
“You’re all talk,” I said, placing pressure on the guy’s arm. I could feel his bone straining under the force of it.
“No, really,” she insisted. “I could place spikes on all of his bones, so every time he moved, he cut himself up from the inside. Not enough to kill him, just enough for it to hurt. Constantly. Or I could place a disrupter in his ears, so that he always feels off-balance. Or, maybe something that delivers an electric shock at random intervals, just enough to knock him on his ass.”
The guy was trembling, but whether that was from the pain, fear or a combination, I couldn’t tell. I pushed down just a little harder, the tension in his bone just on the edge of breaking point.
“Pfft, what’s to stop him getting all that taken out as soon as we let him go?” I asked. “We should just break his bones, one by one, and if that’s not enough, start taking pieces out, so there’s no chance they’ll heal properly.”
“Okay first of all,” she said, indignant, “my work is not that easy to undo. Second of all, who ever said we’d send him back to his normal life? If he doesn’t talk, I say we just lock him up somewhere dark and forget about him.”
“Finally, something we can agree on. I know just the spot, too. Nobody would ever find him.”
“I can’t help you!” he shouted, and we grinned at each other. Progress, finally.
“Can’t?” Rachel asked, stroking his face again. “Or won’t?”
“Can’t,” he insisted. “I know you’re looking for the Celestial, but I don’t know anything that can help you. None of us know where he is, I swear.”
“Sure you can,” Rachel said. “You can contact him, right? We can trace a connection.”
“We get our orders via encrypted messages,” he said. “The only contact I have goes to an automated service that relays things back to him. There’s no way to get to him through me.”
“What do you think?” I asked Rachel.
“It sounds exactly like something he’d do,” she conceded. “I could probably trace him back through it all, but it’d take me weeks, and he’d probably switch to a new system before I did.”
“That’s not good news for our friend here, is it?”
“Not good news at all,” she agreed. “What do you want to break first?”
“I think…” I began, still pressing against his arm. My other hand rested on his thigh, and began to squeeze. I’d rip through the muscle before having any impact on the bone that way.
“Miss Murder can find him!” he shouted, squirming uselessly.
“And what good does that do us?” Rachel asked, procuring a scalpel she twirled effortlessly in her hands.
“Sh-she’s backup,” he said. “If you’d let me call for backup, she might have come. She could tell you. I-if you could get her to talk…”
“Now why didn’t we think of that?” Rachel asked, pressing the blunt end of her scalpel casually into his skin.
“What would make her show up?” I asked, squeezing his thigh tighter.
“A priority mission,” he said, through gritted teeth. “Important enough that he couldn’t just abandon it and try again later. I can’t tell you more than that, I’m sorry.”
We both stepped away from him at the same time. He looked confused, and very badly shaken. Still, he was unharmed. He should have been grateful.
“That’s all we needed, I think,” Rachel said.
“Yep, that basically covers it,” I agreed.
“So, what do we do now?” she asked. “We can’t just let him go, he’ll report what happened here.”
“I still know where that dark hole is,” I suggested.
“Tempting. Instead, let’s give him to Zoe. At least until we’re done.”
“Works for me,” I said.
“Alright. Let’s go wrangle ourselves an assassin, then.”
Next Week: We Have A Reputation To Maintain