Where is Aden? Where is Zeb? I push my way toward what- I think- is the opposite side of the road. From here, everything is broken autos and chaos. Twenty measures above me, the aerial traffic zooms by as usual, probably not even aware that something is wrong groundside. I slip around an overturned cargo carrier, and cut my back a good one on something hot and jagged. I'm still standing on road-material, but I have no idea where I am. I can hear shouting from somewhere far away. I raise my head for a look...
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And stare directly down the barrel of the female officer's gun.
Her head explodes, showering me with gore. Faceless, she slumps forward, and Aden is standing behind her, gun in hand.
"Thank you, Jones," he says. "Just the diversion I needed."
A muffled *pow!* comes from somewhere past the wreckage to my right. "Mm. Good. Zeb got the other one," Aden says. "We should-"
The command comes from somewhere above us. I crane my head to look and see the belly of a TPU- a Polis strike car- descending to block out the sun.
"DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MOVE. PLEASE PUT YOUR WEAPONS DOWN AND KEEP YOUR HANDS IN PLAIN SI-"
Zeb runs up behind us and yells "Scatter!", which yanks us out of our trance. We had planned this out before, just in case something happened: If the authorities show, we scatter in four (now three) separate directions. Minimize the risk of losing all four of us to capture. I push through to the far sidewalk, turn down Neely Street, vault a stranded runabout, and put on some speed. In younger days, I could outrun just about anybody- a skill I had perfected during my childhood and subsequent young adulthood. Any seasoned street-wise thug will tell you: If you can't fight your way out, you'd better be ready to run your way out.
About fifty measures later, I risk a look back. Already, the black cords are arcing down out of the TPU, which can't land on all that junk. Full-suited Polis troops are climbing off the cruiser like spiders from an egg-sac. They don't appear to have seen me- yet. It occurs to me that I'm still covered in warm blood, and bits of brain. I duck into the first alley I come to, and stand against the wall. The world seems very far away, all of the sudden, and I realize with something like horror that I am about to faint. I bang my head back against the building I'm leaning on, and the pain helps...a little. I feel sick. I've got the blood of another all over me...that female officer...
I crouch down and half-retch, vomiting the little food that I have in my stomach out onto the dirty alleyway floor. Once my stomach is empty, I feel a little better. I straighten again and head down the nameless alleyway, toward nowhere in particular. I keep my eyes open for Polis and related officials...but most of my mind is far away, and for a while, I don't think about anything at all.
When I come back to myself, I'm somewhere else. I have walked for some time, while my mind was elsewhere, and I have come at last to Secal Street, near the center of Midport. I know that something is happening outside of the alley- in the rest of the city, where normal things go on, and people have jobs and lives and all that. I know because I've heard people yelling, and some gunfire in the distance, and one very large-sounding bang from a nearby alley. So...something is going on out there.
The building in front of me is very familiar.
Efreet Waters. Aarkel's building.
I've just got to know.
Nobody answers the comm.
The lobby is silent and dark. There is no deskman behind the kiosk. I pull out Tomorrow's pistol and use it for the first time- on the door. The disruptor is very loud in the empty lobby. After a few shots, the door gives, and I push my way through with my shoulder.
More silence. More darkness. The utility lights are still on, and they cast a dim white glow over their small circles of floorspace. I hit the low-light filter on my lenses and take a look at the lift chamber. Someone has strung a single line of tape across the entrance. The fat black letters on its surface read: DO NOT CROSS.
I ignore them, and step under the tape.
Yes. There's still power running to the lift. I hit the button, and the shaft flashes to life, bathing me in cold white rays. The display blinks in, and immediately starts flashing a warning about an unplanned power cut. I know it is referring to the fact that it was just now switched back on- and obviously, whoever switched it off didn't bother to run a shutdown program- but still...it's unnerving.
I hate lifts.
I start pressing buttons, and after a second, it responds. I put in Aarkel's floor numbers manually, then set the timer for thirty seconds and step back.
Butterflies-in-the-stomach. I get it every time.
Aarkel's floor is as dead as the rest of the building. The lights are gone- again, save for the dim utility batteries- and some of the doors have simply been left open. I peek into one of these and see: Bare floor...dangling wires...pile of junk and debris in one corner...everything gone...hmm...
Once I pass the corner, I know for certain that something is up. Aarkel doesn't have a door anymore- that was my fault- but what of the brownish-copper stains in the carpeting around his doorway? Was I the cause of all the DO NOT CROSS tape stretched over the ragged hole where Aarkel's door used to be? The carpet is dark with the prints of dirty boots. I crouch down and take a closer look at the stains.
Almost certainly blood- though it's hard to be sure in this light. I didn't do that. Whose blood am I looking at?
I cut through the DO NOT CROSS tape, and step into Aarkel's apartment. Most of his stuff is still here, discarded and mouldering. Water drips down from a ruptured pipe somewhere over my head. It pools in a shallow indentation near the middle of the carpeted floor. The carpeting smells like old, wet dog. Here, in the center of the room, is a wet, padded chair that was probably very expensive at one point. There are more red-brown stains spattered here, now faded to a pale shadow by time and dampness.
The water drips down from the ceiling. Plink.
"You won't find anything here," says a voice, startling and loud in the deserted tenement. "You won't."
I jump. "Who's there?" I say, trying to keep my voice steady. "Show yourself."
Ky steps out of the shadows.
The assassin is dressed much the same as before. Her nondescript clothes blend eerily well into the dim room. She is not holding a weapon, but all the same...I reach into my longcoat and draw Tomorrow's gun.
"Do you think I mean to kill you?" she asks.
"Wouldn't be the first time."
"No..." she looks at me for a long time, saying nothing. "But I do not intend to kill you, sir."
"Fine." I put the gun away.
She raises an eyebrow. "You trust me, then?"
I shrug, not looking at her. "I suppose."
"You suppose?" She looks at me curiously. I start to wonder how much of that 'sir' business was genuine. "Why are you here?"
"I was running..."
"From the authorities?"
"Partly...what are you doing here?"
She looks at the floor. "I was running."
"From the authorities?"
Ky stares very hard at me. "Partly."
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.