Authors: Nick Kelly
"Gods,” she said softly.
Neither moved for the space of several breaths, remaining pressed against one another in the reclusive range. Reluctantly, Catwalk stepped away from her, pressing the button to draw the target closer. As it drew near, each of them witnessed the results. Delilah had fired twelve shots. With his guidance, nine had struck within two points of the heart. Two of the others were within three points. The only exception was her initial shot.
"I did that?" Excitement boiled over in her voice.
Cat grinned with pride. "Aim low if you know the recoil is gonna drive yer shot upward."
"Aim low," she repeated.
With a broad gin, she looked toward the boxes of ammunition. "Again?"
A smile crossed his lips, mirroring hers. He tapped the call button on the wall. "Jack, we're gonna need some fresh targets down here."
“Over two dozen vehicles are now ablaze as a result of the tanker’s accident, and countless lives have been lost in this tragic attack.” Scoop McEwan’s voice delivered the up-to-the-second news with his trademark clarity and definition. McEwan once again provided the play-by-play to the massive loss of human lives with the candor of a ringside announcer at the latest Murderball tournament.
Catwalk was already gearing up when the comm signaled him. “Yeah?”
“Your tone indicates you’ve witnessed the newsworthy events coming in?” Delambre asked.
“I’m on it.”
“I feel I’d be failing you if I did not inform you that some of the stills I’ve seen include a silhouette identical to the one who tried to murder you at The Cell Block.”
“I’ve never heard the term used more inappropriately.”
“Shock. Shock. Shock. Shock. Shock. The metallic whore who beheaded Midas and nearly did the same to me?”
“Good, I’m lookin’ forward ta puttin’ an end ta that flyin’ bitch.” Cat slipped his gloves on, leaping onto the awaiting motorcycle.
“M’sieu Catwalk, I’d advise against a reckless approach to this enemy.”
“Got some advice for yer partner suddenly, Delambre?”
The geneticist paused and responded by quoting a writer dead for nearly two centuries. “’There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests; there are matters of which no jest can be made.’ Take care, Catwalk. This is no typical opponent. Your life, our lives, may very well rest on your next actions.”
Cat stopped, staring at the gauges of the motorcycle, held prison by Delambre’s sudden literary obsession. He wanted to say something, anything, to acknowledge the advice of the man who’d provided guidance and mentoring in their short relationship. Instead, he killed the signal, his lips curling into a sneer beneath the mask. Only a few kilometers away, an angel beckoned, an angel desperately in need of being dragged back down to earth.
The scene was everything he’d expected. Accidents piled up at the intersection of Highway 110 and the Santa Monica Freeway, causing a panicked legion of backups in every direction. Cat steered the H-S along the emergency lanes and between traffic, startling parked pedestrians and those who had abandoned their vehicles. He slowed the roaring engine as he caught a glimpse of the murderess streaking through the air in the distance.
Civilians ran by him, terrified, and the usual flurry of law enforcement agents and media formed a semi-circle before him. As he approached, he studied her. Her every attack was performed in clean-cut repetition, almost a figure eight through the air with only a variance at the end when she chose an individual target. The local boys should have picked up on it with their targeting computers, just as he had.
She was flying in a pattern.
Either the programming of this airborne killer was very, very basic, or she was baiting him. Cat grinned, and he could picture her creator patting himself on the back. It was that obvious. She was executing a pattern, intent on catching him when she neared ground level. With each descent, the gunfire and screams increased, and panic flowed outward among the civilians like a tidal wave.
Cat knew patterns. They were predictable and therefore flawed. Any combatant who knew his enemy’s next move would be victorious. It drove him to study martial arts instead of accepting a pre-loaded chip that would program him with the skills. Programs contained algorithms, and algorithms created patterns. Predictable. Flawed.
“Alright, ya high-flyin’ pleasure model, let’s play,” he said aloud, even if only he could hear. He pulled the shotgun from his shoulder holster, leveling the barrel at the tail end of one of the nearby CorpSec cruisers. With two blasts, he destroyed the rear tires of the vehicle, bringing the car’s rear bumper in contact with the well-worn pavement of the Freeway.
He shouldered the still-smoking shotgun, steered the H-S hard to his left, aligning it with the rear of the damaged cruiser. A distant look confirmed that the Angel hadn’t changed her attack pattern. The cleaner exhaled sharply. She wasn’t processing the new change in environment.
The H-S struck the police cruiser at a low enough degree to launch it skyward. A second later, Cat and his motorcycle illuminated the skyline. The flashes of a hundred media fired in the air. He drew in a breath and leapt. The hitman pounced from his vehicle, catching the winged assassin by surprise.
Angelyka squealed in anguish and horror as the very flesh-and-blood being she’d been sent to exterminate slammed into her. Cat quickly wrapped a forearm around her neck. The construct’s inhuman voice shrieked at him. She changed direction immediately. They took off northbound along the highway. Striking her left wing with the baton, Catwalk held on for dear life.
The angel’s flight pattern became erroneous. She smashed into an occasional street lamp or the roof of an abandoned truck. She caught the worst end of the tactic at first. Soon, she corrected, and it was Catwalk who collided with the obstacles. His helmet clanged against a streetlight, then a construction ahead sign. He gripped tighter, focusing on his own breath. Metallic tones rang in his ears.
Angelyka performed a barrel roll, seeking to regain control of her flight. Cat craned his neck upward to follow their flight path.
“Oh, chit,” he screamed. His enemy shifted to her right, and the two of them brushed the side of an armored Hovertank in a shower of sparks. With his weight and the near miss, the angel lost control, and the pair spiraled downward.
They banged hard off of a parked rescue vehicle, and Catwalk nearly lost his grip. Instinctively, he gripped harder with his arm around her throat. The duo tumbled and rolled, tearing up pieces of pavement. The black-framed, dead eyes of the angel met with the defiant gaze of the hitman. For an instant, the world disappeared, swallowed by the absolute hatred they shared.
Consumed with one another, they never saw it coming. They smashed through the plate glass windows of Good Samaritan Hospital. Shards of glass embedded into the flesh of the angel and the cleaner as the pair crashed into the Emergency Ward. Cat lost his grip. He bounced several times across the tile floor before he slammed into the nurses’ station, his back forced into a bridge. The air left his lungs. White lights flashed in his skull. If he’d been human, his vertebrae would have cracked under the strain. Fortunately, his spine was anything but human.
His head swam. He could make out figures, all moving in slow motion. Some moved toward him. Others moved away. It was a dream, a slow, terrible dream. He coughed and recognized the taste of blood on his tongue. Somewhere in the distance, the sounds of Angelyka’s impact indicated that she’d been just as unlucky. Her metallic shriek resonated in his head again. He pushed himself upward from the crash cart, too focused to catch the irony.
And then it began.
It started with one scream. Then panic spread its icy fingers through the room. The personnel and patients reacted in sheer terror. Fight-or-flight instinct kicked in. Scared beings stepped over and around him. They flooded to the shattered glass of the exit. Cat struggled to find his balance. He was pushed side to side in the sea of fleeing bodies. Looking up, he realized he had a moment of opportunity to get the jump on his enemy.
Angelyka hardly raised her eyes from the cold hospital floor when Cat’s boot struck the side of her head. She rolled several times, her neck craned hard to the right. Cat sprinted after her. He stomped on the tile floor where she lay. She folded her arms and wings against her body. His boot crushed the tile. He repeated the movement, but her momentum carried her body just out of his range. Cat moved faster, but the Angel was slipping further away. Safely out of range, she rose to her feet.
The Angel spread her wings to gain balance. She reached for anything nearby and threw it in his direction as a diversion. Cat blocked or shrugged off her desperate interference. He kicked aside an empty wheelchair. An empty bedpan sailed past his head. The pattern had worked. Cat lifted his right hand and fired the pistol three times, rupturing the Angel’s left wing. Angelyka let forth a howl. The glass of the patient rooms shattered, raining glass down on the hitman.
The angel’s fractured wing drew inward. Cat approached, gun raised. Angelyka struck with her opposite wing. He fired the pistol, punching holes in the ceiling. Her blow knocked him backward. Cat landed on one knee, focusing on his injured prey as she retreated down a side hall. He raised the pistol. With a snarl, Angelyka spun to her right, and the outermost point of her right wing fired forward at him. He barely had time to move before the metallic projectile sliced through an IV bag. The blade embedded in the wall next to his head. Saline doused his armor as he stole a quick glance at the sharp spike embedded in the tiled wall. Cat recuperated and digested the new development. She broke the pattern.
That was bad news.
Angelyka had more attacks than he’d guessed. He was lucky to have evaded this round. Had she been on the offensive, he may not have had the split-second he needed. He looked at the metallic spike. It took both hands to pull it out of the wall. It was sharpened to a razor-fine point, but contained no contact poison or other inhibitors. It was designed solely to shred the flesh of victims.
So, there it was. Risk being a dartboard for a deadly, fast MetaHuman, or fall back and figure out his options. Cat looked at the hospital signs.
“Shockit,” he spat, the taste of blood still on his tongue. He loaded a fresh clip into his pistol and followed the Angel’s trail.
Catwalk poked his head around the corner, expecting immediate counter-action. Instead, he found only the damaged remnants of another hospital hallway. A lighting fixture swung loosely from one end, showering sparks along the sterile tile floor. This hallway had been abandoned. He stepped forward with a degree of caution, Delambre’s words suddenly resonating within him. “’Even to the utterly lost…there were matters of which no jest can be made.’” Hell, he’d carried a death wish for years. Could that artificial reflection of another woman be any different?
He turned left to find more of the same. Hospital beds bent and overturned. He ran video, if only to recognize those too weak or too slow to get out of the way. Scars cut into the walls. Glass and concrete fragments littered the hallway, still no sign of the destructor. This time however, he picked up a few more screams evident in the distance. He increased his pace.
Another left. A right. Another right. More of the same. Each revealed more damage, more victims, and more signs that he was closing the gap. Cat increased his pace, and his heart rate, with each new pathway.
He turned to his right. The familiar sulfur scent of new flame caught his nose. On instinct, he lifted his forearm skyward. The metal spike clanged off of his armored glove. The blade bounced harmlessly down the hall behind him. With a sneer, he cursed himself for not having read the signs. Angelyka stood at the far end of a long hall. Her left wing hung limp at her side, her lips curled in hatred. Her right arm was hidden behind her, her right wing partially open. Cat stopped. She was hiding something.
Cat snuck a quick glance to the left and right. The sides of the hallway were made up of paned glass. The sound that hit his ears made him stop cold. He could hardly make out the silhouettes of equipment, and the increased octave of the crying voices. The angel had led the fight to the children’s ward.
Cat stopped. A bead of icy sweat trickled down his neck. He froze. Why? Why now? He’d killed before. He’d killed children before, for a fee. Now, something was different. Those voices weren’t just hospital cases. They were children. They were innocent children. Something clicked within him, and Shockit, it was exactly what the Angel had been banking on.
She shook her head, shards of glass showering the floor. “Let’s see how you handle this particular challenge, Cat.” The tone of his name dug into his skin. Her voice was an intrusion. No, not her. Its voice.
She shifted her weight and turned, opening her wing. Her right arm held a bandaged boy no more than two years old. She grunted and threw the child along the floor of the hallway. The crying boy rolled along the tile. The construct shifted her right arm backward to strike.
Cat sprinted and leapt. Angelyka launched a series of blades from the tips of her right wing. Cat dove. He wrapped his arms around the child. The blades strike his back. One clanged needlessly off of his armor. The other two found their way beneath the mesh, tearing through his skin. Blue flame filled his veins. He screamed against his will.
He clutched the child against his chest. He tried to find his feet, but his body wouldn’t listen. He fought the desire to inspect the damage. Instead, he pushed the child into the nearest doorway, out of the angel’s line of sight. The blades could remain in his back as long as the innocent kid was safe. With a grunt, he made it to his feet, holding his left arm flush against the doorframe while his adversary watched his movements.