Proud of yourself, Mike?
I storm through my apartment door like a scolded kid sent to his room. I toss off the damnable helmet and flop on my couch. I still hear it in my head.
Her screams. They’re echoing in my brain now, like I just came from a concert and the pounding guitar riffs are still making my eardrums quiver. Gotta turn it off. Gotta subdue it.
I make my way to the kitchen, yank open the fridge. I don’t drink alcohol, but Chelsea left a bottle of Moscato the last time she popped in for a visit. I yank it from the shelf and carry it back to the couch. I don’t bother with a glass.
The cork goes pop and I’m about to drown my sorrows when I glance at the coffee table, and it’s there. A charcoal sketch of a curvy chick with long orange hair sitting on a pedestal with her head on her raised knee, looking copacetic. That smile. Those eyes. Forgot all about it earlier. Now it’s all I can see.
I still can’t believe I did it. All my prattling about lines I wouldn’t cross, morals, honor, it’s all garbage, and Roland Stockton and big sister Chelsea knew it. I say I won’t do that, they say, yeah, okay, whatever, Michael, now go to work. I did everything I said I wouldn’t. I went after a hero. A good girl. A girl. I swore I would never hit a woman again. Not that she couldn’t take it, but that’s not the point. It’s not about equality. It’s about me.
Yeah. It’s about me.
It’s about me knowing that they grabbed that poor girl and are doing who knows what to her, and I’m the one who made it easy for them. It’s about me doing exactly what I knew I would even though I told myself I wouldn’t, sitting in this dump with a hard drink feeling sorry for myself.
Except I don’t feel sorry for myself. I feel pissed at myself.
And sorry for her.
But that’s all I can do. Whine inside, bury it deep with the souls of everyone else I killed or betrayed, with what’s left of whatever love Danielle might have had for me before I lost it and did what I did to her, and get ready for Dualmask’s next assignment.
Maybe a little practice will get it out. I take off the armor, head for the bedroom and I start hitting my heavy bag. My fists and knees and heels and elbows smack the bag but all I see is their smirking faces. Stockton. Chelsea. And that other guy, the guy who orchestrated all this…Drakonis. Serin Drakonis. He’s the one. Looks like a dirty old man. He was smiling and staring at Chelsea, practically drooling like Pavlov’s dog. He’s lucky I didn’t bash his perverted brains in right there. And he sent me to capture another pretty girl for him.
Now what is he doing to her?
I’m hitting the bag harder. Knuckles sore, starting to bleed. I don’t care. I’m pissed. I kick the bag once more and it swings back and hits me and I stumble.
It’s not going away. I’m still pissed. Can’t get it out of my system. But why now? Why am I burning up like this now? It’s not the first time I took down someone that might have been innocent, someone I didn’t need to hurt. But this time I feel like I crossed the line.
It’s her. That smile. It made me feel normal for a change. Like everything was okay. And I snuffed that smile out.
I want that feeling back.
I’m going to get that feeling back.
My hands, they’re moving all on their own again. I’m putting back on the armor. But the mask…I kick it aside. I’m not putting that thing on again. I open my drawer and find the black and white fabric I used to wear. I don’t need infrared or night vision or GPS. That’s what my senses, my training are for. And I sure as hell don’t need a tracking device following my every move.
I am taking the Bo though.
I pick it up and I freeze. I realize I’m deluding myself. If I do what my pounding heart is hollering at me to do, everything changes. No way Corp Hudson’s gonna miss the memo on this one. They’re going to be on to me the moment I set off their alarms. Chelsea…
I’m making a choice this time. I’m going to do it. It won’t make up for all the bad things I’ve done, but for once I can do the right thing…maybe start a trend.
Hold on, Jet.
I’m coming for ya.
I think back to the fight and the aftermath. After those goons showed up and took her away, their main helicopter flew east. Away from the waterfront. They were headed downtown. More than likely, the Drakonis building. It’s a long shot, but worth a try. At the very least I’ll get some intel from there.
I make my way to the Drakonis building in record time. It’s not that far from Corp Hudson, so the trip feels familiar. I’m wearing an overcoat over the body armor and the mask is in my pocket.
While I’m walking toward that front door, well past business hours with armed guards in the lobby looking at me like I’m some terrorist with C4 strapped to my chest, I start to realize how many things are wrong with what I’m doing right now. I’m about to singlehandedly resurrect a rivalry between two megacorporations because of my feelings. This could mean war. Back to the bad old days of them trying to figure out how to graft more weapons on criminals in a big dick-measuring contest, meanwhile putting more crazies on the streets to drive innocent people crazy, along with the cops. Could end up leading to martial law or something.
She’s worth it.
I turn around. The guards come out and approach me, barking orders. I hear the buttons on their holsters snapping apart and I know I have to act. I’m slipping my mask on. I was going to go stealth. Sneak up there, break a lock or two, find some answers in a file cabinet or an encrypted file or something. But screw all that. They need to know there’s trouble. The sooner they know, the easier it’ll be to find where I need to be. They’ll send all their best people to protect their asset. To guard Jet. To protect Drakonis. I find out where they’re going and that’s where I’ll go.
I already made my choice. Might not get out of this alive. But she will. One way or another.
The next thing, I’m in the air somersaulting backwards over the guards, my Bo hitting one in the throat, a chop taking down the other. I land and make sure they stay asleep with my fists, and then I pick up one of their guns. I don’t dig guns, but they have their uses. Crowd control is one of them.
I take a radio too. Keep tabs on them. Then the glass automatic doors are sliding open in front of me and I’m in.
Cameras everywhere. Won’t be long now.
There it is. The alarm. Voices crackling over the radio. I know where they are. Thirtieth floor. Elevator’s a death trap—fire escape. The grapple in my gauntlet saves me time running up the stairs. I tear through the door where ten guards in riot gear are waiting for me in a hallway leading to a room sealed with huge metal doors. A few of them eat bullets before they know what was going on, but I’m not much of a shot so I wasted more bullets than I meant to. The others get to taste my fists and my feet. I didn’t kill any of them. Don’t think so, anyway.
One of the goons has a key card. Gotta be it. I swipe it through a nearby reader and the double doors hiss open. Gun’s fresh out so I toss it.
And I rush inside and nearly trip over my own jaw hitting the floor. This room is enormous. Easily the size of two floors of the building. A huge facility with these pods suspended to the ceiling on some sort of pulley system. Computers everywhere.
Bodies in the pods. Maybe alive. Maybe clones. All of them hideous. Like people with no skin.
I’m so stunned at the sight I barely noticed the two men in the room who weren’t in pods. One of them was Serin Drakonis himself. The other was a big guy with long dreadlocks wearing a suit that didn’t hide his muscle mass at all. But between them, one of the pods was closing shut, and she was in it.
Jet. She’s out like a light, but she could wake up. She’s going to go crazy in that little pod. The girl’s claustrophobic. Gotta get her out.
I’m running toward them like William Wallace and the big guy puts his palm out and the next thing I know my feet are off the ground and I’m going in exactly the opposite direction twice as fast. My back hits the door and I crumble to my hands and knees, thanking Heaven that the armor is as good as Chelsea said it was. I look up and I see the big guy taking off his suit jacket in my blurry vision. He’s got some kind of electrodes or wires hooked up to his shoulders, elbows and wrists and his muscles look like they’re about to burst.
I start remembering intel, trying to figure it out, then Serin Drakonis starts talking like he read my mind.
Brim Diablo, he says. One of his so-called “Great Four”, head of security. Electrical pulses going through his body increasing adrenaline flow and stimulating the muscles, making him a powerhouse during moments of agitation. These people with all their science love to hear themselves talk.
Serin keeps yammering. Told his guards to put up ‘light resistance’ and let me through. Yeah, right. Too full of himself to admit his men are amateurs. Jealous that Corp Hudson has—had—an ace like me working for them.
Did I just say that? ‘Had’? Am I really turning my back on—
Focus, Mike. Big dude with big muscles. Big dude walking toward me. Big dude putting craters in the floor with his feet trying to smash my head in. Suddenly I’m really wishing I wore the helmet instead of my cloth mask.
The only good thing is that the door behind me is the only way out of the room. I’m doing my best to stay close to the door to keep Serin from running off and I realize I’m wasting my time. Serin must be real confident in his man because he’s staying to watch, leaning on the pod like he’s watching a show.
So I stop multitasking. Gotta focus on what matters, getting through the guy Serin keeps singing the praises for. Brim hits hard. He’s fast too. He’s got skill. I trade blows with him and come up short. I hit him, he stumbles a little. He hits me and I go sliding across the floor like an anime hero losing the fight. My back hits the wall again and I realize it’s time to get serious because I felt that last one even through the armor. I feel myself coughing up blood. Can’t go on like this.
Out comes the Bo. I swing it thinking he’s going to block it or catch it or something, but he’s stepping back. Brim looks at it like he’s seen a ghost.
Drakonis designed this weapon. Brim’s gotta know that. But there’s something else that’s scaring the guy. Then I remember. I spin and get into my stance and I start throwing punches and jabs with my staff. Brim looks like he lost his nerve. Then I land one on his arm and he starts thrashing around and screaming like a girl.
Yeah, that’s right. He’s got electrodes attached to him. The Bo’s got shock tips.
Serin finally stopped smiling.
I go nuts. I pretend Brim is my heavy bag and I hit him everywhere and he’s going into convulsions and spasms. Guess I found his weakness. The electrodes on his body start glowing brighter and sparking and then they break. He starts bleeding out of his arms and mouth, falls to his knees, curls up all fetal.
First time I laughed about anything in a long time.
Now Serin’s going for the door. Too late, old man. Your legs and my Bo are getting acquainted so you can taste the floor. I stick out the staff, he trips and my foot is in his back.
He’s crying like a baby now. Screaming for me to let him live.
Until this moment, it didn’t even cross my mind to kill anyone. But I figure, I came this far. I don’t kill him and I’ll be back tomorrow or he’ll send someone after me. I’ve already passed the point of no return.
Then Serin drops an atom bomb. He tells me that Corp Hudson has no clue what’s going on. They weren’t tracking me, he was. The hit squad was his. Stockton and Chelsea have no idea that I’m here, but they will. He points to this computer screen and I see a guy holding a smartphone who knows where in the building, or out of it, or in another city…somewhere. Drakonis says the guy will send the video to Corp Hudson if I don’t let him go.
Can’t trust him. If he was tracking me, then he knows where I live. Knew what was going on the moment I left my place. For all I know he already told Stockton everything. But it’s clear he’s got other people. I know his son’s the VP of his company. Kill him or not, it won’t stop people from coming after me.
All I care about is Jet.
Serin says he’ll let her go. I can go back and be Dualmask and everything if I just don’t kill him.
I take my foot off his back. Then I raise the Bo…and swing it at the pod and crack it open. Jet wakes up and she smiles at me. “Thank you,” she says calmly.
Jet looks around and finds a vault in a corner of the room and her boots are in it. It looks like the thing was made for her boots; it’s got pits molded to the shape and everything. Lots of questions coming up about this chick, but now’s not the time to ask. She slips the boots on around her legs in a hurry and they start to glow.
I’m so busy staring back at her I didn’t notice Drakonis getting up and running for the doors. Not until I hear him say something about calling all the guards. Then before I know it dozens of goons like the ones I plowed through to get here start flooding in. Way too many to fight. All of them armed.
Jet’s red eye starts to shine and she looks around the room. She says “There,” in that calm way she says everything, then she goes for a light hop, a cartwheel, and then handsprings toward one of the walls with her boots on fire. She makes a hole in the wall and back flips from the explosion as graceful as an Olympian, until she shakes the floor when she lands anyway.
She reaches out to me. Feels right, so I take her hand a second before the first set of guards level their guns. She yanks me along and goes running and her boots ignite and we’re shooting through the hole into the open sky. Gotta be a mile from the ground. I’m scared to death here, but I shoot a glance at Jet and she’s got the biggest, brightest smile I’ve ever seen in my life on her face. She’s in the air. She’s at home. And she’s got a sure grip on my hand.
Her boots ignite again and she boosts off of nothing like a game character double-jumps, and then we slam to a halt on another office building. She lets go of my hand and I’m shaking like a leaf while she’s just stretching and yawning and smiling.
I take in the sight and the fire goes out of my veins. Her curves traced by the moonlight while she stands there with the twinkling lights of the city in the backdrop like she’s literally on top of the world, her hair flying in the wind like a cape, her eyes drawing me in.
I don’t care what happens tomorrow. It was all worth it to see that smile again.
She walks toward me and whispers something in my ear that makes my heart pound like a piston, and then the next thing I know I’m staggering back from the shockwave as she boosts into the sky again and vanishes.
I make my way back home and start packing immediately. Maybe Drakonis was lying. Maybe he wasn’t. But he knows where I stay so I gotta disappear. Fortunately, I travel light. The armor’s the biggest load.
As I’m wrapping up the last of my stuff, I glance at the drawing I left on my coffee table and I reflect on Jet’s words. They were the only thing I could hear in my head since she said them.
“Hope to see you in the drawing class again,” she said.
She’s just too much.
Let me know what you think!