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ANGELOS ODYSSEY

VOLUME ONE





BY



J. B. M. PATRICK















































SHINGEN BLUE PUBLISHING

INDIANA





Copyright © 2017 by Joshua Brian McCabe Patrick

Cover Art © 2019 by Shingen Blue Publishing



All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.



Edited in part by Michelle Marie Robles Wallace



Published in the United States of America



Second Edition



Shingen Blue Publishing



Indiana



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.





ISBN 978-0-578-46117-5















To

K. & D.

PAUL

JASON

REGINALD







There is scarcely any passion without struggle.



-Albert Camus

CONTENTS



-

PART ONE: Death

-

1 – Pharaoh’s Dance

2 – The Golden Generals

3 – First Light

4 – Body And Soul

5 – What Happened To The Sunshine

6 – Zone D

7 – The Kijivu Tribe

8 – Goodbye Isaac

9 – The Fall Of The Ogba

10 – Never Catch Me

11 – Distant Land

12 – Inside Out

13 – The Chains Of Hell

14 – All Night Long

15 – The Dawn Bureau

16 – Truth

17 – River Niger

18 – The Artist

19 – Saint Kizoba

20 – The Elephant

21 – Avva’s Mercy

22 – Inner City Blues

23 – Cause I Love You

24 – You’re Lying

--

PART TWO: Origins

--

1 – The Irregular

2 – Alone

3 – Eze

4 – Mystery

5 – You’re Gonna Need Me

6 – Put Our Heads Together

7 – Everyday Struggle

8 – Graidol

9 – Footsteps In The Dark

10 – Surviving The Times

11 – Move On Up

12 – A Lonely Man

13 – Simply Falling

14 – Pain

15 – The Sky Is Crying

16 – Street Struck

17 – Dfari

18 – Shook Ones

19 – Running Away

20 – Number Twelve

21 – Hop, Skip, And Jump

22 – 6 Feet Deep

23 – Blue In Green

24 – Midnight And You

25 – Heartbreak

26 – My Philosophy

27 – Gimme The Loot

28 – Mysteries Of The World

---

PART THREE: The Nagao

---

1 – Change This Game Around

2 – Tell Me What You Want Me To Do

3 – Please Stay

4 – You Won’t Fail

5 – Pac Blood

6 – It’s Your World

7 – Purple

8 – The Nature Of Daylight

9 – Flowers

10 – Lovely Day

11 – Mystic Bounce

12 – Two Can Win

13 – Montara

14 – The Duel

15 – Home Is Where The Hatred Is

16 – Water No Get Enemy

17 – Untitled

18 – Outro



-

PART ONE

Death

-

My name is Janelle.

I am Death, and I will tell the story of the one who rebelled against It.

1

Pharaoh’s Dance

-

Tavon

-

MY HUMANITY’S ALMOST GONE, BUT I’LL BE UP FOR PROMOTION SOON.

Whatever compassion I once had must’ve faded some time ago into a hollow place, but the exact moment’s unclear when I finally gave in to this change. I’ve become indifferent. I’m indifferent to the whole world; after all, it only favors the strongest.

My name is Tavon, and I can’t remember anything about the first twelve years of my life. There’s no evidence of my existence. No past and no relatives. It’s the reality that I’ll never know who I belonged to or where that has set me free.

I’ve been conscripted by the Angelos Association in my home, the Citadel, and I’m holding on to the top railing of a subway car on my way to carry out their wishes. There’s no one inside the car, and that’s because it belongs to my Enemy.

I’m hanging from the side, bracing against the wind, and more than prepared to eliminate target number nine. My identity belongs solely to my ambition, my profession.

I’ll become the best.

The lone form of someone I don’t yet recognize looms ahead in the middle of my stop: Station Black. The car’s moving too fast to possibly come to a halt, and I realize that I’ve got to act now—he’s noticed me! I need to move before it’s too late.

My legs expand to the size of tree trunks, pushing out thick veins all around, while my feet slightly press on the hard metal. I clench my teeth real tight, and then… that’s it.

I launch myself at him, my first victim.

I pierce his eye sockets with two fingers and then smash the stranger’s head into the ground. His skull breaks apart and collapses in on itself from the pressure; blood oozes across the concrete.

-

I stride purposefully through only a small portion of a much greater city, a district blanketed with waste and discarded cruisers. The sky unleashes a long assault of rain on the withered, grey suit I’ve been saving for a more discrete occasion. As drops fall across my wandering figure in rapid succession, it appears as though they’re burning away and giving off steam. These missions suit me. The adrenaline, the power to which I’m host. I’ve become unbeatable.

I’ve gotta believe that.

A gangbanger’s enjoying his last day on Earth, and I’ve gotta make him believe it, too.

I cross abandoned streets drenched to such an extent that they glimmer on an unusually bright night that’s caught in a worsening storm. Moving stealthily and avoiding the open, I veer into an alleyway where I’m flanked by two imposing and narrow walls; they’re part of a longer series of condemned apartments. I know this path isn’t supposed to be taken by just anyone. It’s a trail belonging to what’s hiding in the darkness. The weather appears to dissipate overhead but only due a loose grouping of old, makeshift roofs and tarps as I journey deeper into my surroundings.

Encircling are the images of small homes—or, more accurately, corroded shelters abandoned long ago to decay. Ruin is all that stands out from this threatening, private world. On the corner of a turn, I nearly fall when coming close to stepping on someone who appears to be sleeping. He ignores my presence. I continue down another alley replete with numerous scratched or broken windows—the majority of which are positioned at the height of my shoulders.

I stay alert as silhouettes quietly stalk me from a number of these places, some commonly-used drug dens whereas others are convenient safehouses. They exist as temporary lodgings for those on the run or those whose own poverty dictates that they wander from place to place. The alleyway ends in an opening that eventually forms a steep decline which then levels out before ending in the entrance of an old hotel.

I’ve allowed myself to be followed here. The guilty always know when they’re being watched.

Reaching the end of the alley and turning sharply to the right, I angle my way to the adjacent wall and reach inside my blazer for my handgun; it saves me a lot of extra effort. I quickly load a full, extended magazine and proceed to attach a suppressor while keeping my eyes fixed on the passage behind me. It remains clear for the time being—silent, but they’re coming, and I’ve got more in store for them just in case.

My Target’s associates all dress as if they were genuine businessmen. Infiltration could go a little smoother with the right touch. Then again, I’m wearing the suit for a reas—!

I crouch and evade an iron bar flying overhead; it collides against the wall above my skull…

As I expected, the attacker is a banger dressed in a suit similar to mine, except he’s got a badge and rank that I clearly don’t possess. He’s trained, and his reflexes are sharp enough that he recovers fast and swings at me using the back of his fist. At the same time, I notice his other hand subtly raising his weapon again to strike. I almost fall for his feint, and I narrowly manage to escape to the side as he lunges forward with an overhead swing in an attempt to finish me off!

I take advantage of this window—

I anchor my body on the earth and pivot, delivering a kick to my opponent’s side. He groans and recoils backward while clutching his ribs.

“F-fucking punk,” he manages to wheeze. He abruptly strengthens his resolve and charges at me again.

The attacker prepares to swing as he sprints; he scowls, tensing his body for the attack as he moves.

Just as he’s upon me, I keep myself composed and shoot him in the chest. Simple. Efficient.

-

I’ve forsaken all values in order to cater to the highest bidder. I grew up a nameless boy with nothing and, in the end, I’ve become one of the Citadel’s mercenaries: an Association Core-Man.

I’m the last face people often see when they get caught up in a dangerous game. I maintain only a fragment of something like a normal existence. What memories I do have coming up in the city are all reminders of why I keep going: I’ll become stronger.

I’ll become that way for myself.

-

The guy I’ve shot tries to utter some other obscenity as he tumbles weakly to the earth, and a loud clang resounds as the pipe clatters to the ground. That gunshot reveals my presence to everyone in the immediate area, but—even though I know better—I decide to waste time checking to see if my ammo really dissolved the way I was told it would.

The front of the attacker’s body has been blown open with no trace left of the round I’ve fired, but his rank and badge remain untouched and affixed to his sleeve. I reach down to take them for myself but reel back as a newcomer with a darker suit and greased hair thrusts a wide, serrated blade toward my throat.

The weapon slices a shallow, bloody cut near to my jugular before ripping through the shoulder of the suit. Feeling restricted, I quickly back away and throw off the blazer while rolling up the sleeves to a white shirt stained with crimson and relax into stance.

I tuck my gun into my belt behind me and ready my fists with a smirk.

“Okay.” I announce, “If this is what you want, let’s go.”

He rushes me instantly, screaming, “Fuck you!”

My new opponent shields his neck with one hand and, in a very controlled manner, he steps in and thrusts the blade at my abdomen. I move to grab his arm, but he redirects his knife upward to slash open the side of my bicep. He then re-positions the blade before thrusting it downward toward my thigh.

Simultaneously, and before the strike can land, I launch a jab into his exposed head.

I’m almost shocked as he dramatically staggers back and speaks gibberish for a moment. Within a few seconds, his consciousness returns, and he exclaims: “Just a lucky hit!” He shudders before collecting himself. “T-there’s no way anyone can be that strong—I-I must be gettin’ soft.”

Each one of these bangers is part of an organization that considers itself above a gang. They’re not just low-level thugs; though they rock suits, they’re trained to withstand blows. In a way, they’re all just a different breed of mercenary.

My enemy drops his knife and removes his blazer, truly believing that he can handle me on his own.

I admire his sense of honor.

He cautiously guards in his own defensive stance, circling me and searching for the best opening. An arrogant smile creeps across his face; he throws a few weak jabs in my direction just for good measure. He then uppercuts from the right side while following by repeatedly jabbing toward my head. I deflect or block most of his punches, which causes him to become even more enraged as he speeds up his strikes.

Finally, he stops showing off and distracts me with a blow to the side before closing in with a decisive haymaker. In response, I move my arm inside of his and push my opponent backward before crashing my fist into his skull hard enough to drop the fighter on the spot.

From behind, another enemy swings a bat toward the back of my head. I quickly rotate to catch the wooden bat with my hand, pull the opponent forward, and smash his cheekbone with a punch possessing enough impact to slam his body into the ground subsequent to the hit.

I feel something suddenly grasp for and remove the weapon tucked into my waist!

I lean forward and grab the bat, pirouetting as I strike the final enemy across his head before he can pull the trigger. Blood sprays from multiple orifices, and it’s accompanied by the crunching noise of facial bones collapsing inward.

The truth is that I’m not like other humans. What I can do shouldn't be possible, but the world we live in has never made sense… It’s the year 3200. To some it’s 880 P.R. (Post Rift), meaning, everything after a terrible catastrophe that resulted in a distortion of whatever reality used to be. Most humans don’t have the strength to do what I can do—not to mention a few other features that have gotten me through some tight spots in the past.

To my irritation, there’s yet another suited gangster who arrives on the scene. This one has a crowd with him in the previous passageway, and he hasn't even noticed my presence. He’s carrying an assault rifle and gesturing demandingly at a large group of shackled individuals of all ages who appear oddly stiff, as if they can't move naturally on their own. The armed banger glares at one of the more elderly prisoners while retrieving what appears to be a cell phone. Most of them still haven’t ventured far enough to notice the mess I’ve made and remain frozen in terror at the associate guiding them.

“Ya’ll might as well forget whatever you were told about on coming to old Genod & Portis! We don’t keep interpreters here, so you can save your bullshit for each oth—”

“Aza’ al-vadan. Kada’soz!” Whatever they’re saying resounds across the group in unison. One of the captives steps out and acts as the spokesperson for the group: “Sir-sir! P-please don’t hurt us! Whatever we’ve done wrong, w-we’re very sorry. We were, uh, misinformed—terribly sorry to trouble you, sir.”

The gangbanger chuckles.

“I see you still don’t understand.”

His sides shake with laughter before he exclaims to his colleague: “You shove a barrel in their faces, put them in chains, and they still think they’re entitled to rights.”

“Dumbasses…” his partner sighs.

The armed man focuses intensely on a small, cellular phone before looking back up at the foreign speaker in anticipation:

And, before all of them, the one who’d tried to reason with their kidnappers is forced to watch as his own body betrays him.

He balls both fists tightly; his arms remain flexed and trembling as blood coalesces and drips from the pressure built up inside his palms. The shackled prisoner brings the irons around his wrists together before striking his forehead with as much force as he can!

“Ansi!” one of the prisoners exclaims in despair.

The banger laughs again before he inputs something else on the mobile device. Ansi reacts to his next command by attempting to break the chain linking his cuffs; he brutally forces his wrists apart from each other, and the pain gets to be much more than he can bear as he falls to his knees and begins screaming in his native language.

The other slaver, donning a tan vest that overlays a white button-up, approaches from behind the group. The only real difference between him and his partner is a pair of spectacles, which make him appear slightly more intelligent than the other goons. He grins wickedly before he says, “It’s the wave of the future, eh? Human implants controlled by new tech…” he sighs, “It’s no good to have merchandise that won’t obey, don’t you think—wait… what the—?”

They notice as I make my approach.

The man with the assault rifle transitions from a demeanor of shock to pure aggression while he prepares to take a calm, focused shot—but I quickly respond: I fire a round that burrows its way through the center of his forehead.

Painless, though he probably deserved much worse.

Ansi freezes in position. Convulsing, he succumbs to an agony I can't imagine. I ignore everyone else and grab the device controlling Ansi so that I can inspect it for a moment. The deceased slaver’s colleague is still terrified and cowers in place.

Each time one of the prisoners murmurs to one another, a sound resonates that seems close despite manifesting itself, initially, as an echo. The member I’ve just gunned down has an earpiece sounding as if it's synchronized with only the voices of the ones being trafficked by the syndicate.

The other banger is still quivering in fear. A newbie, maybe?

All of them are looking at me with dreadful expectations. They watched me kill, and so I've become a new, more dangerous type of threat.

Also, this idiot is unarmed.

Regardless, he decides to speak up in a shaken tone of voice:

“W-what’s goin’ on, guy?” He’s nervous and twitches slightly as he shouts, “You got an issue with the big bosses or something? Sure we can’t work something out, b-because there'd be a lotta money involved—I can guarantee that!”

I glance at him before gesturing to the device controlling the victims, “Tell me what this is.”

Sometimes guns are better at gathering confessions, so I keep the barrel aimed at his face for good measure.

He turns pale and manages to utter: “T-there’s more to this than what it seems, man. If you knew the truth—”

“How about this.” I’m losing patience. “I’m going to kill you if you don’t tell me what I want to know. Do you get it now?”

Oddly enough, saying this seems to work; he calms down and comes close to appearing sincere. He stares at the ground as he speaks: “They weren’t… Nevermind—that’s a cell phone the ones upstairs had made specially for the cattle. You know, most people these days go with hands-free kinda gear, but this shit feels just as advanced, man!”

“And?” I’ve become solemn, a foreboding hollowness waiting to consume him.

“That phone…” he starts, “shows all of their info—it-it's connected to something that got installed in them, I think! I swear, it's like an implant that reacts to that fuckin' phone!”

A bright screen flickers and emanates from the device before displaying what, at first glance, appears to be a complex menu pertaining to Ansi specifically. I notice a digital outline of the man's form and a highlighted interface labeled: Actions. After moving on to that section, I’m taken to a notification screen asking if I desire to “exit singular manual control?” I respond “Yes” and watch with some relief as Ansi regains control of his body and nearly falls to the ground only to be helped to his feet by collective members of his group.

“H-hey, guy!” the mobster remarks, “I’m not sure you want to keep fuckin’ with that thing—I-I mean, if they get loose…”

I smirk and manage to discover another menu that takes me to direct control of…

Their shackles?

I power down their metallic bonds, which—to my surprise—immediately causes them all to spring open, leaving them all dumbfounded as well.

“HEY!” The banger screams in desperation. “What the hell are you doing? You can’t just let them go!”

I’m still ignoring him and looking through the device when I notice Ansi charging at me!

I prepare to knock him back but promptly realize something…

Ansi grasps my weapon with one hand and shoves me with his other while utilizing all the might he can despite his own limitations. He’s not very strong, but I’m too curious to stop him.

“Hey! Don’t let him—!”.

Ansi turns and immediately fires a succession of rounds into the slaver without hesitation.

He continues shooting until he’s blown through all the ammo, shredding the body of a nameless, wannabe thug. A younger girl hurries over to comfort him as Ansi continues gazing at the fragmented corpse.

Another man, possibly the same age as Ansi, retrieves a device from the other dead banger’s ear and hands it to me with urgency. He then indicates that he’s been issued one as well and gestures for me to hurry. I humor him just to hear whatever information I can gather, though I’m not sure that I want to be involved any more than I already am.

The earpiece he’s handed me operates as a translator and renders everyone's voice in the same monotone vibration:

Sir, sir!” He grabs my arm and seems to be pleading with me: “I am…” He stutters and appears lost for a brief moment, then he breathes in abruptly, as if he’s been deprived of oxygen, and continues, “My name is Desondre.” He gestures to the rest of the group. “We’re in danger, sir! W-we don't understand what’s happening—why are they doing this to us?

I try to maintain my patience; I’m not here to play hero.

“What?”

Desondre freezes once again and then recovers before becoming emotionally despondent. He’s sobbing now, running his hands through his hair and experiencing a prior grief.

Ansi recollects himself enough to walk over to me without making eye contact. His fury radiates out from him in something like an aura I can feel.

Get the police.

He tries to give me orders. It’s not a good start.

These men—they’re not as they seem! You’ve got to get out of here—or-or…” Ansi shudders. “They’ll do it to you, too.

He clenches his fists and laments bitterly, “I don’t know what’s real anymore. I’m trapped in this hell!

I back away from him and sneer. “I’m here for a reason. You’re the ones who should go to the police—otherwise, stay out of my way.”

The man prods me a second time and causes me to notice something else about the group. Many of them display either brutal scarring or significant disfigurement in various areas across their bodies. I notice battered forms, missing limbs—an odor… they haven’t been allowed to shower.

What are we to do then, sir! Where should we go?”

I put a hand on his shoulder. “You’re free now. Keep these people safe and go to the police; I’ll handle the hard part.”

Shutting them out of my thoughts, I resume focus on my original task and retrieve my handgun from a distraught Ansi. I move to enter the hotel lobby without looking back at them.

-

I don’t know what I expect to find here, but the hotel reveals itself to be an unsanitary place; a ruined dining area complete with dirty, broken tiles and worn carpet occupying the main lobby stands out the most to me. I hurry past a front desk that hasn’t been serviced for some time and down a hallway to walk by an open, steel door on the right. Beyond it, I view a laundry room emitting the smell of mold and decay, a room teeming with flies and other insects.

I notice a pile of discarded and bloodied sheets in a large bin next to shards of what looks like bone left on the ground. Despite their super-groomed appearances, the mobsters working for Genod & Portis are a messy bunch. Even if I fail on this contract, it’ll be no time before they’re exposed due to their own recklessness.

First, I try using the elevator but quickly change my mind as its panels slide open and reveal reinforcements on their way to inspect the prior carnage. I evade them by sliding into a room with a series of stairs that span the upper floors of the building. For once, I’m opting for a stealthier approach instead of fighting them so I can save myself some time; there won’t be much opportunity to escape if I wait until we’re surrounded by the Zone police.

I can feel someone following me up the stairs to the second floor, where I’m suddenly greeted by another man at the door to the subsequent hallway. He doesn’t seem to care or notice that I’m bloodied or that I recently finished killing some of his colleagues. The banger is sporting a pair of opaque spectacles that appear to light up with miniaturized, digital numbers and words I can’t quite make out from where I’m standing.

“What’s happenin’ out there, g?” He asks in a causal voice, “You take care of the fools roughin’ up our guys or what?” He stares at me for a moment before inquiring further, “Sorry. What’s your name again? Looks like you’re missing your pins there, pal.”

“Pins?”

He raises one eyebrow and gestures to his rank and name plate.

Dammit.

“It was some bastards we found sleeping in the street.” I try to fake frustration. “We woke up the bunch of them. Turns out they could fight.”

I shrug.

He shakes his head in response. “Sheesh. All you punks look the same to me.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t take it personally, kid.” The mobster smirks. “But guys like you are too arrogant—in over your heads.” He tries to put his hand on my shoulder, but I back off quickly; he grins now. “Easy. Just don’t want you feelin’ too cocky, all right? But, besides that, I caught some shit you might be interested in hearing.

“General Genod says we’re all about to be getting these glasses.” He fixes them so that they sit straightly across the bridge of his nose. General Genod?

“What for? Style change?”

He offers me a condescending look before elaborating, “They’re supposed to pick up energy from our lapdogs. They’ve got an algorithm that calculates a slave’s overall potential and lets us know where we can use them—oh, and I tried scanning myself, kid! Heh. I gave myself a few punches.” The mobster looks embarrassed but continues smiling. “You want to test it out before you get your own?”

“I’m curious, but first I need to know something.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m looking for Boa; any chance you’ve seen him?”

He still seems more than slightly suspicious of me, but the banger keeps going because he clearly enjoys hearing himself talk above anything else.

“Boa?” The mobster scratches his beard thoughtfully. “Name rings a bell, but I can't say I know who it is for sure. Sounds like one of Genod’s people. Why’s that important to you?” He eyes me. “I know they’ve been bringing in some new guys because of the war, but I don’t know about some of these fools. We sent out some pretty boy weakling who’d never held a gun in his life to lead an op. He was part of an extraction from Gaspul country, but I don't believe a chump like him had the gall to survive.”

“He didn’t.”

The man looks at me earnestly now.

“Do you believe it takes a certain type of Strength to survive in this world, Mr…

“Say, guy… what do you call yourself?”

“Tavon.”

“I’m scanning you now.”

He takes on a more aggressive demeanor; he understands.

Our eyes meet again.

“Are you strong enough to kill me?” he asks.

“Why?”

“If you aren’t…” He ponders deeply. He says, “I won’t hesitate to murder everyone, Tavon. Everyone close to you. Everyone who knows about what I just told you.”

“Deal.”

His next move is swift.

He swings his fist wide and around to connect with my chest, but I absorb it without much of a problem and then strike his exposed jaw. A snapping sound pierces the air as the banger’s body collapses to the ground. I’m unsure if he’s unconscious or dead, but I don’t have the time to waste.

Before I leave, I try to check the scanner he was using to see the results:

It’s broken. Shame.

-

I continue up successive flights of stairs and end up passing by more bangers who are hurrying toward the lobby and ignore my presence altogether. I manage to remain discrete and pass them by while furthering my own ascent. Following numerous steps, I make it to the top floor, near the peak of the hotel tower, where an immense form guards the way. It's not human—no. I-it doesn’t—it shouldn’t—belong here.

A hideous face hovers over a body obscured in a dark cloth. This thing is at least three times the size of me. A worthy challenge, but I’m nervous… it’s too dangerous, and there's no way any human could tame a creature never intended to be physically perceived or understood. If I look at him directly, my mind starts to dissolve.

It’s clear they’re wealthy, but regular thugs having this kind of power close at hand is… absurd.

I don’t recognize you.

A sensation burns its way painfully across the side of my head and produces words uttered from the demon:

But you are not ill-mannered. Much unlike the others of this place.

Despite my resolve, my vision shifts to black and returns in unpleasant bursts. I feel my body become plagued and overwhelmed with exhaustion; I have to fight through this.

Don’t mind me, the being announces calmly.

I’m simply a wanderer; I desire to view the condition of human nature. Don’t fret. I believe that you’ll meet tonight’s goal, vagrant, but only if you overcome your Cowardice.

Although I suppose it matters not.

It cackles in mild amusement. Your failure arrives in the same manner as it did for those who chose to claim lives for profit.

There’s a flash.

My vision fades, and I almost fall over before kneeling to allow myself the time to recover.

It's then that I realize I’ve other stab wounds I didn’t notice while fighting—two semi-deep, horizontal cuts across my lower abdomen. I’ve lost blood, and the creature’s gone. Must have imagined whatever it was that once stood there. There’s still an entry point standing between me and, hopefully, my target. I hope I wasn’t out for that long… if I really was out…

I open an old, wooden door and head through into a large hallway that’s populated with side rooms and ends in a grandiose staircase. It splits into two symmetrically curved paths that lead into a private chamber. The chamber’s sealed off by an expensive-look doorway; it’s adorned all over with lavender jewelry.

From here on…. I continue to think:

“Grey suit. Notch in upper left ear. Glasses.”

I pass an open room to my immediate right and see a man wearing body armor over a dark grey suit. He’s yelling in another language that I don’t immediately pick up and has strapped an older, naked man with an octagonal, plated implant on his chest down into a steel chair.

He hovers around his victim in what seems like the middle of an eccentric interrogation; the guy’s carrying one of those devices I saw used to control those kidnapping victims. Every time his victim utters any kind of response, the poor bastard’s met with an induced seizure generated from the effects of the implant. The torturer’s device appears to flicker with a faint light as the victim’s brutally incapacitated against his own will.

I stay focused. Grey suit.

On the left, I pass a room barred only by a glass door giving view of a gathering of children from various age groups. They stand completely still, dressed in little other than basic pieces of cloth that’s withered over time. While hovering meekly over counters gleaming against the overhead, long fluorescent light, the younger victims are made to sew outfits resembling those worn by members of the agency. I see a bitter woman supervising them and brandishing a rather large blackjack tainted in splotches of crimson.

Left. Notch. Ear.

In another chamber, I see a group of females standing in line while being inspected by two men—one’s dressed as another of the mobsters while the other appears to be… visiting?

Tears flow down the face of each woman, who all keep their eyes fixed on the ground. Their breaths are rapid in anticipation of something dreadful. I see them quiver as the enthusiastic gangster tries to ‘advertise’ them. He’s treating them like products to appease an old geezer who grins while baring real twisted intent.

Disgust. I only feel disgust.

Glasses…

-

I couldn’t find any information on Boa’s real name.

The contract had been delivered via the Network as usual, but its details were lacking; there was nothing to make of this hit, and now I was realizing just how much of a challenge my evasive target might be. Someone’s orchestrating this ongoing terror.

Boa, a target I know only by his crimes. The order on his life includes an extensive list of charges: “Intent to Cause Damage to Government Property,” “Battery,” “Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon,” and other deeds that make him out to most likely be an unstable person and the perfect hit for a lower ranking assassin.

Most of my past hits have been weak guys, guys depraved in some way or another. All this time, I’ve wanted to go after someone who’ll make me afraid, a target who can finally test out my potential. Maybe this is it, what I’ve been training for all this time.

2

The Golden Generals

-

Tavon

-

THE FINAL AND LARGEST ROOM IN THE HALLWAY DISPLAYS ANOTHER DISTURBING SCENE.

There’s a surgeon calmly attempting to suture a deep puncture wound in the stomach of an unconscious man. Upon more than just a glance, I notice that one of the patient’s arms has been severed at the elbow. Beyond that observation, I see fine, steel wiring jutting out slightly from the amputated area.

On a side table, there rests a bionic arm next to a very realistic eyeball. And, as I look further into the room while keeping silent, I see them:

Rows of hospital beds occupied with bodies—“bodies,” because I'm not sure if any of them survived what appears to be brutal injuries sustained from some type of… blast, maybe. They’re the remnants from a violent attack.

I must keep reminding myself that I’m here for Boa; I can't let myself get distracted.

As I progress through the hallway, the door to the chamber above the stairs swings open. Out walks a middle-aged woman adorned in a yellow dress of golden alloy plates that are linked together by loose chainmail, but they don’t seem to weigh heavy on her as she heads for the stairs. She dons a set of pearled earrings as well as a medallion probably worth its own small fortune. When she sees me, she stops in the middle of a conversation with a man who continues to speak to her from behind.

The woman rushes toward me from the steps, and I smile for a moment, thinking I might at last learn something.

“Is there a man named Boa around, miss?” I start first, causing her to flinch and stop in place for a second. “I have business with him.”

“You’re bold for asking me the questions.” She scowls and raises her voice: “Just who the hell are you? You can’t be one of the newbies we hired…” The woman glares at me as she keeps voicing her thoughts. “And you’re covered in blood. Hmph. Do you know who I am?” She comes toward me again.

I aim the barrel of another pistol I’ve brought at her temple; there’s no time for this.

“Easy.” I say, “I’ve got a quota to meet. Just take me to Boa.”

“BOA.” She snarls. “Who gives a damn—I am Genod.”

“Who?”

“Manume GENOD, fool! The Golden General.”

“Sounds familiar. ‘Golden General,’ huh? Not from Gaspul, otherwise you wouldn’t be here—”

“Moron.” Genod clenches both fists. “That’s my home, and we fought back against your country’s efforts to dominate us!”

“I think I get it now. You’re part of that terrorist group.”

Genod suddenly looks poised to attack; from behind, I hear a gunshot.

I turn to see—

Ansi! The group of victims from before begins to pour into the room, all of them equipped with what they'd retrieved from the fallen bangers—assault rifles, shotguns, spiked bats… They've taken fate into their own hands and appear to have let the younger members flee.

Ansi, burning with a grim determination, opens fire in the room containing the interrogation victim before regrouping with the others as they hastily spread out and wreak their own vengeance upon the syndicate. I’m impressed by their resolve.

So impressed, in fact, that I don't notice when Genod draws her own pistol and uses it.

I move down and away from the shot! The explosive sound of gunpowder resounds, and I feel pain, sharp pain, as a bullet grazes my right shoulder.

“Shit!” she curses and lunges to stab me with a tantō that she’s withdrawn from a dark sheathe attached to the back of her lower thigh. I react quickly enough to grab her flailing arm and twist it out to the side while forcing it behind her. Subsequently, I strike her neck with the side of my palm—

Too much. I did it again.

The Golden General’s neck bends inward as my hand sinks deeper; there’s a loud snap, and she’s killed on the spot.

I’ve got to be getting close now. Nearer to the source of the corruption. This is where I'll get the answers I need. If Genod is one of the Generals, then Portis might be another—maybe Boa’s supposed to be the third, but why didn’t she…

The door above the stairwell swings open again.

I turn and shoot an oncoming attacker in the chest before moving toward the left set of ascending stairs as a bald man in a black suit tumbles over the railing.

Another banger emerges and charges at me with spiked, brass-knuckled fists raised and ready. I throw my gun and strike him hard enough in the skull that the barrel of the weapon itself receives a small dent from the impact; it simultaneously knocks him backward. I catch it in midair and proceed to kick my staggered opponent back into the path of the next enemy before I jump onto the railing and leap forward to deliver another, more powerful kick to the following fighter's head.

Again, I use too much force and recognize the fatal snapping sound produced by his neck as his body is forced back to collapse onto the staircase.

When reaching the entrance to the master suite ahead, I grab the rifle carried by one of the reinforcements before I drive my heel through his knee! He staggers forward, and I strike him with a right hook to the side of his face that incapacitates him just as the doors to the following chamber are taken up by a much larger foe.

This one seems different from the others. More immense, bulky. More beast than human.

He's wearing a helmet that completely conceals his features, however disfigured they may be. The big guy rushes to choke me with two outstretched, colossal hands, and, sensing his movements to be too slow and predictable, I meet him head on to hold his advance in place!

“Y-YOU CAN’T…” he manages to utter. I push back against his own strength in a draw, and we try to overpower one another.

“T-the General has other plans!” he declares proudly. “We serve a greater PURPOSE! One that you can’t stop!”

“Oh yeah? You haven’t seen anything yet.”

Energy engulfs my form. Black energy that emanates across me and floods, specifically, into my extremities. Every limb. They quickly expand into a considerable size that’s twice their normal appearance. Both arms and legs display an array of enlarged, pulsing veins that manifest as my will—my need to fight. It's a part of what I can do.

But there’s more.

I smile briefly at my opponent before rotating behind his right arm. I heave him over my shoulder with ease, and I follow by forcefully smashing the railing in using his body. Before the bastard can get up again, I fire a bullet into his helmet, but it simply ricochets off and away into a wall away from us.

Fuck. I’m not the smartest assassin.

Recovering from a moment of hesitation, I shoot several more rounds into the exposed side of his body armor until the giant ceases moving.

Much better.

With the path cleared, I’m finally able to continue into the master suite; the sound of survivors attacking the remaining bangers resonates throughout the corridor behind me. I sprint into an immense room that’s covered by a leopard-patterned carpet, and I see a group of hazel, leather couches that bend at their respective centers and join while curving into half circles before a flat-screen television monitor and sound system. Both occupy a sizable portion of the room. The spacious quarters briefly remind me of my own place, and I consider taking some of the smaller furniture with me before I bring myself to refocus.

I ascend a series of carpeted steps and am confronted with another door made of glass. It’s the entrance leading to a private room followed by balcony, which overlooks a broad section of what is known as the Mid-City of the massive Citadel: my home and the only history I have.

To think that an entire city could be designed and engineered to hover above the Earth, away from all that happens below us. The Citadel, stretching hundreds of miles as the territory of the Dawn Federation government, is massive in everything that it encompasses. It’s a city that formed its own nation during a time of constant warfare.

A city that pushed its darkness down, hoping that people would forget about it.

I pass through the glass door, and I’m accosted by a butler who blocks my view of a man in gold armor that covers his entire body; he wears a gold, horned crown and stares forlornly across the city-nation at something in the distance.

“Excuse me, sir,” his butler conveys significant irritation, “but the Master has no interest in entertaining guests. We ask that you leave this place—that you leave and never return!”

I stare back at him and nonchalantly inquire, “Are you another one of them?”

The butler fails to respond. His features remain rigid. I look him over for an implant but can’t find anything noticeable.

“I actually have a lot of business being here.” I speak as the butler remains transfixed, “Boa and I need a short face-to-face. It's not going to take very long.”

The enraged servant surprises me by aiming a type of miniature, platinum shotgun I've never seen at the center of my chest.

“No sir,” he speaks as eloquently as he can, “instead, you will vacate this area speedily; my employer deserves only the highest of praise—”

He stiffens.

The butler reaches for his lower back as he falls to his knees wordlessly. His body sinks to the floor while he writhes around in agony. His ‘employer’ fires a final, fatal round into the butler’s head. I look up from the man’s corpse in time to see the other individual holding a gun at his side and displaying a demeanor of both disgust and resignation. He’s shaken from his own actions.

The man in golden armor laments, “He wasn’t meant for a life like this.”

The magnate refuses to make any eye contact but continues, “Looks like I’ve arranged my getaway plans a little too late. A pity…” His lips curve into a wrinkled smile. “Heh. I didn't expect your arrival. Who, might I ask, are you?”

“Tavon. I didn’t expect you to expect it, and now I’d like to see the one in charge.”

“Hah,” he snorts, “straight to the point. Admirable. I… am Portis. Between Genod and myself, I’m the one who’s more out of practice; still, I am her twin—the other Golden General, and I was always prepared for an attack.”

I wait impatiently.

“Instead of trying to kill me on sight, you actually speak and respond like a normal human… I-I watched.” There's something close to sorrow contained within his gaze.

“Watched what?”

“The cameras… i-it must be some sort of joke. You took them on.

“You took out all of them.”

“It didn’t take much.” I shrug while feeling my anxiety subtly increase. He’s wasting my time—Boa has to be here.

“I've done a horrible, horrible thing, Tavon.”

I’m a little taken aback by his confession and pause for a moment before I can decide when to interrupt.

“What was it that made you come here?” he asks, aggression building in his tone. Oddly enough, a measure of strength has returned to his troubled psyche; my silence empowers him. “Was it revenge? Did I take someone you love?”

His tone changes to desperation, “Maybe you can still see them again.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

His eyes light up and hover eerily over a faint smile. “You don’t know yet, do you? You’re just a tool, someone hired to strongarm this business! Are my assumptions correct?”

“Genod & Portis just happens to be related to my objective; I didn't choose this route because I wanted to. It doesn’t have anything to do with you, personally, but I would like to know why you’re doing this to people.”

Portis looks puzzled for a second but speaks with even more determination. I can feel him growing bolder than before; his heart rate is increasing with every word: “In the beginning, the resistance fought back because the greedy Federation refused to stop bombing our lands and killing our people. I was younger then, back when General Genod and I were made to protect one of our cities, Gushemel, from a Federation invasion. Yes, we fought back against you; we won a true victory in that time.

“But I’m afraid I’m much older now. My, my… and you’re an assassin, aren’t you, Mr. Tavon? An assassin caught up in a nasty situation.”

“That should be obvi—”

Portis grumbles. “I thought we had all the security we needed,” he cuts me off, his mind absent from the conversation, “but, considering the rest of our associates won’t get here on time—if they’re even coming—I guess I’ve no other choice.”

Portis gazes at the floor.

“But what I do here… it’s saving lives, Tavon.”

“By enslaving people?”

He shakes his head before assuming a condescending tone, “Do you know very much about the war in Gaspul? It’s not what some would call a real ‘war,’ but a situation we decided to use to our benefit.”

Gaspul is an immense territory below and to the west of the Citadel; it consists of factions belonging to the World Below, and the Citadel government has occupied its central area for decades without making much of an effort to spread or reach out to the natives. The Federation’s maintained a presence there but not without conflict.

Portis quickly backs away from me and reaches over to obtain a cylindrical-shaped, metallic object with its center encased in glass that shows a dark, red liquid. At its bottom, there extends a sharp needle.

I'm interested.

“Genod & Portis devised a new kind of implant.

“We developed it from our studies of human enhancement… It’ll enable us transform humanity itself,” Portis grins, “because we know about people like you. People ‘gifted’—or cursed, you could say—with It.”

“This isn’t needed, Portis. Just tell me where I can find your friend Boa.

“…But, if you are going to actually use that stuff,”—I point to the syringe—“you’d better hope it can save you.”

He laughs at me.

“None of this matters anyways.” Portis pauses for moment, looking thoughtful. “The Citadel repeatedly bombarded so many precious settlements in Gaspul. People suffered from these bombings—there were those who would’ve died had we not intervened sooner.

“And so, we found a way to keep them from dying!”

Portis looks to me, his expression revealing a distinct madness I’ve witnessed from only the most delusional of my encounters. “The price for their ensured survival is high; we integrate them all into our company.”

“You can’t mean—”

“It’s not something you’d understand right away, but Tavon,” he addresses me sternly, “all those people out there are linked to a system we designed. If that system dies, they will as well—and the implant, that was a new idea.”

“How so?”

“If they try to contaminate or remove it, the core of what keeps our people alive is programmed to detonate. This is a very cutthroat profession, as you’ve already seen, and yet we’ve made so many advan—”

Annoyed at his constant lecturing, I shoot Portis in his left thigh.

He screams, and I confront him again. “Where’s the one I’ve been asking for all this time, Portis!”

“I-I don’t know—!” He cries out after having fallen onto his side.

Portis stuns me by having enough willpower to stab himself near the gunshot wound and injects himself with the serum. He growls, “Very well, Mr. Tavon. I'll show you the full potential of our work.”

“Still not impressed.”

I cross my arms, anxious to see the results.

Portis looks away from me and succumbs to rising tension across the musculature in his figure. His guttural tone transitions into a throaty roar that precedes the outward fracturing of every bone in his body as he’s forced to lie supine. His spinal column ruptures in an attempt to extend its own length; Portis’ size pushes against and cracks his armor as it tries to continue growing. The long hair draped across his back begins to multiply and also grows at an alarming rate. Portis’ left arm increases in size several times the proportion of his right until the limb finishes swelling into a massive, tumorlike growth which twitches infrequently.

The digits on each of his hands have extended into short claws of bone; his legs are now immense planes of expanded tissue, enlarged arteries, and veins so prominent that they shine with a horrific light.

Portis is at last able to meet my gaze confidently, and he does so as he exposes a set of teeth broken and divided because of the broadening of his facial bones in order to make room for a horned protrusion that descends downward from the middle of his throat. His entire body transfigures its makeup into a pale mass of muscle, and Portis struggles to stand before me initially. He resembles a monstrous, gigantic perversion of his original form. He makes me feel much punier all at once, and Portis snarls in a bellowing voice: “No matter the sacrifice, I won’t let you stop our research. Think of all the lives. They were given to SAVE humanity!”

Portis, while I have my guard down, sends a hook from his bloodied left mass of a hand that connects with my ribcage and knocks me off my feet as I lose my balance.

I evade another strike as his second fist soars into the ground.

“This is bigger than you! Why can’t you understand that I’m saving them?”

I regain my composure and land in a crouch before returning to stand.

That last hit…

It felt pretty good.

I dust myself off and reply, “Not a bad start. Weak, maybe, but not bad.”

He roars and leaps back toward the center of the room, then he’s up the side of the wall, using it as leverage to launch himself so he can tackle me onto the floor. I charge between his outstretched arms and stand firm while using the power of my stance to stop his assault with a drive to the chest—

The force of his attack overwhelms me. I'm forced down and roll away in time just as he swipes one of his paws in my direction. His claws rip through my shirt, creating four shallow cuts in my midsection.

Time to get serious.

—I tap into the depths of my ability—

It’s a power intrinsic to my survival. Dark energy manifests before engulfing me. As my body expands even further, I crouch into a squat before bounding upward and toward my target with enormous force.

I use all that force to drive my knee into Portis’ skull.

Portis collapses for a moment but hurriedly uses one hand to hoist himself up and swipes at me with the other. I duck under his claw’s embrace and lunge in while rotating; I thrust my elbow into the center of his disfigured midsection.

The impact is enough to push him off balance, and Portis utters a weak groan before desperately slashing at me, rending the air as his eyes seek my throat! I deftly force my heel into his left ankle and crush it in place. The monster screams and sends a closed fist my way, but I deflect it; I follow by jabbing him in the face until he retreats.

My strength is building now.

“Amazing,” he says to me, “How were you blessed… with It?” He pants as blood comes down his body in streams.

“I don't know what you’re talking about.”

Portis expression is one of shock. “How can you have the Gift and not know? The Gift… it’s the final step for humanity.”

I notice that Portis’ wounds have already ceased bleeding, almost as if they’re regenerating on their own.

Luckily, they won’t recover fast enough to stop me.

Portis charges while using his claws as multiple spears which pierce and shred through any chance of escape. I successfully dodge several of his attacks but suffer a gash wound across my chest.

Portis’ eyes get wider when he realizes that I don’t react to the injury, and I take advantage of this by concentrating my strength into my upper body. I strike him in the head three times—enough for him to fall and come once again to his feet, where he remains dazed.

Portis regains focus and then delivers a hook, which I block and direct into the ground while I launch a heavy kick into his abdomen!

He spits blood and backs toward the edge of the balcony, closer to where he retrieves a shotgun he’s hidden behind a black, leather recliner. I drop to the floor as he decimates a large portion of the walls and furniture behind me.

Through the ringing in my ears, I hear the faint sound of…

—Zone police sirens—

I’m running out of time.

Before he can shift his fire, I take a defensive stance and position my palms out in front of me. Another trick—one I’d been taught some time ago.

I use a combination of my own strength and the strength of the aura that flows through me to generate a greater deal of force than ever and flex at the same moment Portis fires! He sprays the area, and bullets connect before they deflect off my toughened skin. One of the redirected bullets ricochets and hits Portis’ stomach.

He almost drops his weapon as his firing hand moves to guard the wound.

In an instant, I’m there.

I strike Portis in his throat. I take his shotgun from him and force the barrel below his chin despite his constant efforts to overpower me. His grotesque body shakes against the cumulative might I’ve gathered.

“T-there’s no life for them anymore.” He growls.

“Their bodies will always be slaves to the network we built! We reprogrammed everything, including their free will.”

Ansi arrives with the mob of survivors.

The man heard Portis and bravely demands: “What do you mean: ‘no life?’ You’ve already taken everything!

Luck for me, my translator’s still working.

Portis no longer holds me back. He’s accepted his fate.

“Our people have no life expectancy. They can't reproduce; they’re the bodies we salvaged in the wreckage that was the result of war. None of them were programmed to survive.

I blast his skull into pieces. Portis’ ravaged corpse crashes onto the floor and produces a pool of blood that grows steadily at our feet.

The authorities are on their way, and now I’m in dire need of an escape plan. I can hear frantic commotion behind me and suddenly realize that Ansi—the one who managed to band his group together—is beginning to lose his sanity as he sinks to the ground and begins ranting. The people around him are screaming and pleading with him while completely ignoring what’s just happened. While I listen in, I notice Ansi reach behind himself and tear away any remaining cloth as he exposes an open wound.

Ansi has been digging into his back to expose the implant.

He clasps a hand around a disc-shaped object that has been burrowed into his tissue and connected to a network that powers his life support. If he destroys that, then this is all for nothing.

Hear that, everyone? Our lives aren’t REAL anymore—none of it’s REAL! None of it’s worth anything.” he cries furiously while cringing at the damage he’s done to himself. “I won’t be a ‘computer.’ I won’t. I refuse!

Another of the group pleads with him, “Ansi—Ansi! You must stop; you’ll kill us all, Ansi!

He gives us all a solemn look.

We were never supposed to survive in the first place. The gods decided that we don’t deserve this! This-this is punishment.

His resolution unshakable, Ansi reaches for the implant and—

I blast him, too, using my pistol for better accuracy and to the collective gasps of the group.

Hastily, I dash toward the balcony and this time concentrate strength primarily into my legs. It’ll be a little risky.

I jump from the edge, positioning my body to land near the elongated surface of a subsequent wooden balcony on the third floor. I plunge heavily through a tan tarp and relax just a little as my legs meet the ground, causing the pain of the impact to flood across my body evenly. I’m able to absorb it even though I’m shaken for a moment, and then I continue by climbing down to the second floor. I jump again to the earth below and am met with an alley not yet touched by responding Zone Police.

I imagine I’ve done some good by stopping Ansi and breaking up a trafficking ring. That’s what this was for, after all. There’s pride in disposing of the corrupted.


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