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AIt=s only a drop of blood.@ Crooned the tall, dark stranger, holding the knife to her
throat. His voice was soft and melodic, with an eerie soothing quality. Ellie cringed, arching
back further against the jagged brick wall of the alleyway. Tremors of pain shot through
her tense, knotted muscles as the stranger slid his gleaming straight-razor down the cont-
ours of her throat, nearing inch by inch her jugular vein.
APlease,@ She begged, barely above a whisper, ADon=t hurt me.@
He smiled a jack-o-lantern=s sociopath grin, revealing sharp filed teeth like spiked
ivory pegs. With mock tenderness he stroked the girl=s soft curly hair, the color of ripe
wheat. Sharp-nailed fingers curled between strands. ARest assured, little one, it won=t
hurt for long.@
With a deft stroke of his wrist he yanked her head back. His right hand held the
razor high-glints of steel flashed beneath the pale waning moonlight. The hand came down
to deliver the blow, to be interrupted by a sharp, jagged prong. A second metal blade flash-
ed in the smog-filled night air as a throwing star arced and drove its point home, imbedding
itself between the metacarpal bones of his right middle and index fingers. He screamed in
startled pain. The straight-razor fell from his grasp, clattering uselessly to the broken
asphalt at his feet.
ANo merJaz for adolescent girls half your size - is that how it is?@ Snapped a female
voice from the shadows. AThe true mark of a weakling. @
He cast a glance into the shadows of Ripper=s Alley. From behind a waste dumpster
stepped a woman, lean and wiry-muscled, the features of her face obscured by urban camo-
flage paint, military issue. Swirling designs of black, white and grey covered every inch of
exposed flesh. Her dark, form-fitting uniform resembled a guerilla soldier=s from a black
Ops. unit. The look in her eyes was that of a fellow predator, spelling out names on grave-
AHello.@ She continued. AMy name is Karma - I=m here to kick your ass.@
Their gazes locked, hunter to hunter. In the blink of an eye she advanced with
reflexes like charged lightning. He was knocked back and thrown off balance. Bearing
a cheetah=s grace and the ruthless efficienJaz of an avenging, combat-trained fury, she
dove down upon her prey, taking no quarter as the sharp crack of breaking bones rever-
berated in the air until the man=s still breathing form crumpled to the ground like a rag
Ellie=s brown eyes glistened on the brink of tears. Every fiber of her being urged
her to flee, yet her legs were frozen still as she witnessed the events before her. Her
mind fell victim to shock, as if she were caught in some strange dream. Finally, her tired
adolescent frame slumped downward, unable to take any further strain.
- 1 -
AYou can go home now.@ Said the huntress in a calmer, gentler tone. AIt=s probab-
ly past your bedtime.@
Ellie looked into the eyes of the older woman. ATh-thanks for saving my life, ma=am -I mean,
miss.@ She suddenly didn=t look that much older than the thirteen-year-old girl...maybe
five or six years at most. Her eyes had a comforting look, mingled with an odd sadness and
ARun along. It=s a ways until morning.@
Ellie nodded, took a deep breath, and sprinted for the next several blocks.
AAs for you,@ Karma turned back to her fallen quarry. She regarded him a moment,
then smiled viciously.
AGoo-od Mornin= to all our listeners out there beginnin= their workday! It=s Reggie
AThe Fly@ Baines here with K106.6 weather - it=s gonna be mostly cloudy today here in the
NewCity area, with chances of acid showers and thunderstorms increasing to sixty-percent
by mid-afternoon. Highs are in the upper eighties - vehicle owners out there might wanna
make sure your cars are safely within a corporate parking structure or enclosed area - not-
hing like an acid t-storm to strip the paint job off your car and put a crimp in your wallet
with the refinishing costs. Just a word of caution out there. Coming up, we=ve got forty
minutes of non-stop rock blocks after this newsbrief- sponsored by Banks and Setsuo Corp
Tachyon Net Systems - advancing your computer needs at the speed of progress.
AIn local news today, Doctor Yolanda Idriss, a leading research representative at
Nugenics Pharmacology, goes to bat with members of the FDA over whether or not a new
drug, ZXR-47, has been tested enough to hit the open market. Originally designed as a
metabolic stimulant and multivitamin dietary supplement, there is still some controversy
surrounding ZXR-47 ever since a number of voluntary test subjects displayed what Nugen-
ics reported as acute allergic reactions after taking the drug. Nevertheless, if all goes
well corporate sales reps predict ZXR-47 should hit the shelves of major drug stores by
December...just in time for Christmas,folks. How about that?
In other news, police officials are still at a loss to explain how the body of twice-
convicted serial killer Ethan Ingram was discovered bound, gagged, and suspended from the
fire escape of an alley in the lower warehouse district of the San Gabriel Housing Projects.
Ingram was taken to MerJaz Clinic, and diagnosed with twenty-one shattered bones in varied
regions of his body, including both feet, hands, and arms. Whew! Authorities refuse to
comment on several reports and speculations of vigilante work from the residents of New-
City=s urban sprawl zones, those rating X and Below...@
With an abrupt sigh, Lieutenant Michael Taliman clicked off the stereo and took a
generous sip of coffee, blanching as the thick, bitter blend of Moroccan Roast assaulted his
taste buds. Setting the cup down upon the varnished kitchen table, he leaned forward and
directed his gaze toward the hallway. AIt=s six-thirty, Cadet- time for school!@
- 2 -
AI=m up already, Dad!@ A girl=s alto voice responded from the end of the corridor.
ABe out in a sec!@
His thin brows furrowed. This made the third night in a row she=d been out late.
She was stealthy enough not to wake him upon she return, much to his grudging respect
as a military official. While he trusted his adoptive daughter=s judgement when it came to
the party scene, a heavier concern plagued his mind this morning, a worry present ever
since he=d taken her into custody eleven years ago.
ASee? All dressed and ready for school - Sir!@ Risha Taliman blazed into the room,
clad in jeans, combat boots and an urban camouflage t-shirt. She came to a brief halt, arc-
ing her wiry athletic frame in a mock >at attention= stance. Wisps of dark sable curls that
had managed to escape her ponytail framed her tanned, comely facial features. Amber-gold
eyes regarded her father in mock seriousness as she gave a military salute, then raised an
eyebrow. AOkay, what=s wrong? You=re all grim this morning.@
AHave some breakfast, Risha. We need to talk.@
AUh-oh.@ She made a clicking sound with her tongue, headed over to the cupboard,
and snatched out a glass. Without missing a beat she strode toward the refrigeration unit.
AWould it help if I remembered to fill the Jeep up with gas before parking it safely
in the garage?@
AThis isn=t about your driving skills, young lady. You were out after city curfew
again last night, well after any >take back the night= rallies.@
Risha shrugged defensively, extracting a carton of Nutri-C orange juice from the
inside door of the refrigerator. A There are worse things to do on a school night than try
to enforce safety in community districts. A
@I=m not disputing your intentions, Risha. But I am concerned with your choice of
>Community districts= to defend, as you put it. Especially when those districts rate class X
She fixed her gaze on the bright orange liquid steadily filling her glass. ACome on
Dad, you know as well as I do when crimes are committed in the sprawl, police take at
least an hour to respond, if they do so at all. Just because it=s an urban war zone doesn=t
mean everyone who lives there is a junkie or a criminal.@
He drew in a deep, sharp breath. AThat doesn=t justify you waltzing around in
hostile surroundings playing superhero. Vigilantism is not an excuse in my book. You could
have been discovered, not to mention hurt!@
She set the orange juice carton down upon the counter. A similar exhale escaped
her lips. AYou know I go through daily regiments of training and excercise, Dad! You=ve
- 3 -
even said I could give any military cadet in training a run for their money. Besides, we both
know I=ve got a beyond extraordinary healing rate and phenomenal constitution-I=m not your
average eighteen-year-old female...@She paused. The glass in her hand began to shake. AYou
knew what I was capable of when you first read that file on me, back at that awful place,
eleven years ago.@ Risha closed her eyes, biting her lip. Memories she=d tried to shut from
her conscious mind teetered on the verge of flooding forth like cracks in a reservoir dam...
The sterile smell of ammonia and chemicals...blinding lights in her face as tall men in stark
white lab coats and surgical masks surrounded her, strapped her in restraints on cold metal
tables, taking blood and tissue samples. Then there were the other tests...it was too much
to think about right now.
AHey now, don=t go there.@ She felt a gentle hand upon her shoulder. Risha drew in
a deep breath and steeled herself, forced the memory into her subconscious. A steady
dripping sound caught her attention as orange juice spilled freely across the counter.
AI=m sorry.@ She managed, her voice breaking. AI=ll clean this mess up.@
AAllow me.@ Taliman ripped a sheet of paper towel and nudged his daughter aside.
ANo use crying over spilled Nutri-C.@
An involuntary smile formed on her lips. AActually, if it=s all the same, I=ll catch
breakfast before first period, on my way out.@
He nodded, mopping spilled juice up off the counter. AThe last thing I wanted to
do was bring up old memories, Rish. Ever since that day, you couldn=t be more like a daugh-
ter if you were my own flesh and blood. My ancestors would say you=ve been given many
gifts from the Great Warrior Spirits - but if the wrong set of eyes were to observe those
gifts, or even discover a third of what you=re capable of, the consequences would be costly
for everyone involved.@ He shook his head. AI just don=t want to see you put yourself in a
situation that would give them such an opportunity. If anything were to happen to you...@
Risha nodded slowly. AI know. That=s why I=m always careful...the warrior must
excercise caution with stealth, remember?@
Before he could reply, she gave him a quick hug. AI promise I=ll keep on my toes,
ok? I know you worry, but you have to let me grow up at some point. Gotta go.@ She
stepped back and forced a smile. ATime for academia world, and I don=t even have my
AJust promise you=ll think about what I=ve said.@ Her father reminded her while he
still had a chance.
APromise. And I swear to be careful with the Jeep.@ She replied before making a
dash for the living room.
- 4 -
Michael Taliman gave a heavy sigh as he resigned himself back to the kitchen table
and his now lukewarm cup of coffee.
* * * * *
Tiny rivers of sweat saturated the length of Cassidy=s tall, gangly frame. His
pulse hammered out a drumbeat akin to a native tribal war dance as adrenalin surged
through his system. He could feel his blood beginning to boil, it felt like every layer
of his skin had suddenly caught fire. Hell, his flesh was certainly turning pink enough,
unless this was another hallucination brought on by the drugs these freako doctors
had given him - ZX something or other. No one=d told him he=d end up like a human
furnace when he=d signed up for the tests, in exchange for the five-thousand dollars
He drew in a breath and steadied his grip upon the Glock he=d stolen from the
last security personnel schmuck who=d had the misfortune to try restraining him. In
one deft, fluid motion he thrust his leg forward and kicked in the door of the research
director=s office. An explosion of splintering wood announced his entry. He took aim at
his quarry, seated at a desk not five feet away. AWhat the hell did you do to me, you sick
sons of bitches?@
Dr. Idriss sighed, glancing up from her paperwork. The desk top was a cluttered
mass of stacked files, medical charts, notes and computer printouts. AIs this melodramat-
ic tirade truly necessary, Mr. Jenks? I assure you, it=s hardly amusing.@ Through a pair
of mirrorshade lenses, her expression remained clinical and impassive. ANeed I remind you,
you did sign a waiver before the injections took place.@
ANobody told me I=d end up like this!@ He gasped, wiping thick layers of sweat from
his forehead. His other hand disengaged the safety, prepared to squeeze the trigger. AI
repeat - what the hell did you do to me?@
She leaned back in her chair and steepled her fingers. AIn terms you would fathom,
I=ve improved your chances of survival upon this contaminated world. You=re familiar with
Darwin? I advanced his survival theory several degrees in your favor, from a genetics view-
AYou...what?@ His voice was growing raspier, as if his vocal chords were scorching.
The dazed, lightheaded feeling returned.
ABy introducing the Zeta-Xi-Radical variant 47 metabolic adapter strain into your bloodstream, there allowed for a successful pairing and expansion of stem cell activity,
resulting in successful synthesis of proteins in the messenger RNA of your framework.@
She explained in slow, even tones. AYour body is merely adapting to the process. Birth is
always painful, Mr. Jenks. Rebirth even more so.@ The doctor smiled thinly. ANot to
worry, you=re still getting paid.@
- 5 -
The world reeled around him as her words sunk in. ARebirth? My brain is cooking in
its goddamn skull!@
AIf you were going to die, you would have done so by now. Your reactions would be
ATo think they call me a cold-hearted bastard.@ He leveled the automatic at her
head. ATake off those glasses. I wanna see your eyes before I waste you.@
She shrugged nonchalantly in her white lab coat. Still smiling, she lifted a slender
hand up to her porcelin-pale complexion and calmly removed her mirrorshades. AIs this
His jaw dropped. Cassidy=s green eyes widened by several magnitudes. He cringed,
suddenly paralyzed by horror. What the-? Like staring into the void...human eyes don=t look
that way...The gun slipped from his sweat-soaked grasp, falling uselessly to the floor. The
young man followed suit, collapsing to his knees against the smooth cement surface. AOh...G
-G...@ He murmured in a voice like crackling embers of a bonfire.
The administrative geneticist shook her head. An otherworldly chortle passed
from her lips, akin to the sound of an underwater gurgle but with more than one pitch.
APlease, Mr. Jenks...Doctor Idriss will suffice.@
No sooner had she vaulted up the concrete steps and catapulted open the main
entrance to the school=s interior when a cold tremor iced its way down her spine. Risha
scanned the drab, grey metal and concrete halls of Carter High. Hairs at the back of
her neck raised to attention. Sparse numbers of students clustered in small groups,
traversing the corridors, talking among themselves in hushed voices.
It was the weekend before Homecoming...droves of teenagers should have been
boisterously flocking about, giggling hysterically at the antics of their friends and signi-
ficant others. Prep squad girls were supposed to be arguing in high-pitched whines about
what theme the dance should have this year. A tense, knotting sensation flared in her
stomach. Risha had experienced feelings like this several times before something really
weird or dire was about to happen. She could trust these instincts- it made the churning
in her gut all the more unsettling.
In the span of a blink she bolted down the hall. While at no where near her top
speed (that would have attracted too much attention) fast enough to give any sprinter
on the track team a fair challenge. She made a b-line for her best friend=s locker. Danielle
always met her there before class. The last time Risha had spoken to her was yesterday,
after school- Dan had been lamenting as to why she hadn=t heard back from Berkeley yet.
Danielle Watkins, with her Martin Luther King-inspired poetry and song lyrics, ready to fan
the fires of freedom and inspire any who would listen with her performance art. She and
- 6 -
Risha had insta-bonded during their initial encounter in seventh grade, when Risha=s father
had settled on their move to the Mac-Arthur USAF Military base in the NewCity region.
They=d been inseparable ever since. If anything were to happen...Risha choked the emotion
back. No need to go there without just cause.
Skirting past the drinking fountain, where a tall, spindly youth about to take
a sip looked up, his eyes wide as Risha brushed past him. A>Scuse me, sorry!@ She
breathed, maintaining her sprint toward a row of dark blue lockers. Fishing through
the tenth one down was a slender young woman in faded black jeans and a black shirt
that read: Gene Pool Lifeguard. Retrieving a book, she slammed shut the locker, then
turned in Risha=s direction. The girl=s luminous brown eyes brightened as she cast a
smile in her direction, which quickly changed to startled suprise.
Risha skidded to a halt, nearly losing her balance. ADanielle!@ She panted for
breath. AI=m...glad...you=re...@ She made a >one second= gesture with her left index
finger as her friend calmly leaned against her locker and shook her head.
AYou=re here in record time, girl. Planning on trying out for the track team?@
Danielle grinned. AWhile I=ve got my chance to get a word in edgewise, guess what -
I got accepted at Berkeley!@ She squealed in delight, jumping up and down. AWhat=s
more, I can afford it now! Whoo-hoo!@ Danielle tackled Risha in an impulsive embrace.
AThat=s great!@ Risha returned the hug, still catching her breath. Danielle=s
soft, ebony skin was slightly warmer than usual. AYou=ve been waiting to hear from
them forever. Kudos, Dan! You got a scholarship?@
ANot exactly.@ Danielle disengaged herself and toyed with a strand of brown
hair. AI signed up for one of those corp research tests...hey, they offered five grand,
I can=t afford to turn that down. Mom=s working double-shifts as it is.@ She cleared
her throat and cast a speculative glance about the corridor. AWhere is everyone today?
Is there a mutated mono virus going around or something?@
AI=m not sure.@ Risha chewed absently on her bottom lip. ABut I know what you
mean...I=ve got a bad feeling about it.@
Danielle rolled her eyes and leaned against her locker. APlease don=t say that, Rish.
I=ve known you long enough to realize your intuition could bankrupt Las Vegas.@ She sighed
and shook her head. ASomething=s up, I can tell already. Whew!@ She put a hand to her
forehead and wiped her brow. AI=m already getting a case of the chills.@
AYou feeling alright?@
AI=m a little lightheaded actually.@ Danielle admitted, steadying herself against the
grey metal locker. AFeels...cold in here. Are they blasting the air conditioner or something?@
- 7 -
Risha=s thin brows crinkled in concern as she put a hand to Danielle=s smooth ebony
complexion. Her eyes widened in alarm. ASweetie, you=re starting to burn up. We need to
get you to the nurse.@ She gently took hold of Danielle=s arm.
Danielle nodded, took a step forward, then reeled as her slender frame pitched forw-
ard. The world around her shifted and blurred as a wave of dizziness washed over her senses.
AWhoa...what the...feels...so cold.@ She dropped to her knees. From her point of view
everything had become as surreal as a Salvador Dali painting. Her head swam as she sought to
regain her footing. ARisha?@ She croaked softly.
A hand rest firmly on her shoulder. AI=m right here.@ Risha=s voice seemed to come
from a great distance away. ACome on, let=s get you to the nurse.@
ANo...help me..get home...Mom=ll...know what to do.@ Danielle gasped for breath. Arms
steadied their grip upon her...she felt as if she were being lifted up. Everything was cold...so
cold. She felt feint.
AOkay, Dan, stay with me.@ Risha slung Danielle=s arm over her shoulder and hefted
her up. AEverything=s going to be okay, you hear me? You=ll be fine.@
Danielle nodded, then lolled her head to one side as the world around her went black.
ADan? Dani?@ Risha shifted her weight and stared down at her friend=s limp form. She
drew an uneasy breath, then her sneaker-soled feet set into motion, past the drinking fountain,
toward the school=s entrance. Several teenagers gawked and jeered as she passed, but she gave
no sign that she cared or even noticed. Her mission, as she saw it, was to ensure the safety of
her fallen comrade, even if it meant driving through the warehouse district into the slums.
Everything had gone dark for a few seconds. Cassidy Jenks opened his eyes and made a
quick mental inventory of his surroundings. Sterile white walls and bare metal floors marked the confines of the room. His nostrils flared at the pungent smell of ammonia. How long had he been out? Bastard=s must=ve drugged me, he thought, thin lips curled into a sneer. Never would=ve
slept this deeply otherwise. His usual sleeping patterns in accessing the Morphean realms lay at
the merJaz of the two box fans in his cramped, dingy three-room space that roughly passed for an apartment. During the summers especially, when humidity factors sweltered high enough to melt candle wax. Sleep was mainly what he did there anyway...his lean-muscled form passing out on the
stained fitted sheets from sheer physical exhaustion after a late night=s work shadowing a mark
across dirty, dim-lit streets or gathering info on a quarry in some smoke-filled, rythym and blues
- 8 -
AOh good, you=re awake.@ From behind a door stepped, to Cassidy=s viewpoint, a life-sized
version of a Ken doll, minus about thirty pounds and with nerdier facial features, clad in an ivory-
white lab coat over surgical, operating-room scrubs. The young man bustled into the room, brand-
ishing a clipboard and electronic pen. His pallid, angular features regarded Cassidy with a wide
eyed wonder, like a brainiac child with his first chemistry set. Electric blue eyes scanned up,
down, over inch by inch with clinical scrutiny akin to a medical student with a fresh blood or tiss-
ue sample. AA subject=s vital signs are always much more accurate when they=re conscious, so
AJust who the bloody hell are you?@ Cassidy growled, wishing he was less doped up so he
could show this hotshot the business end of his Glock.
ANigel Voight, research specialist. I=m here to make you an offer...@ He glanced
absently at the chart. AAh, yes. Mr. Jenks.@
Her hands clenched theJeep=s steering wheel. The reinforced plastic gave a distinctive
pop as she executed a swift left turn at the corner of Kingsley and Milan. The driver of a faded
black Camaro honked its horn sharply. Risha tapped her brakes and barreled down the one way street, past rows of dilapidated brick shanties and condemned grey warehouses, her gaze fixed straight ahead. Murky, greenish-black clouds obscured the overhead sky. A warning growl of
thunder resonated from the distance. The Jeep=s speedometer needle climbed from forty-five
miles per hour.
Fetal-curled upon the back seat=s grey vinyl interior, Danielle groaned. Her hands held
tight to the contours of her slender, shivering frame, complexion paled to a Jazanotic cafJ au
lait. ASo cold...@ She whimpered in a childlike fashion, AS=il vous plait, Risha...non Medecin...take
me home...Mere will call the Loa...Legba, Marinette, and Ghede...knows what to do.@ Another low
murmur escaped her dry lips.
Risha ground her teeth and cemented her gaze to the road ahead. AAlmost there, Dani.
Don=t you quit on me now.@ Driving like a soldier hauling ass out of enemy terrain, she turned left
at the corner of Milan and Leroy. Keep her talking, Risha=s inner voice urged. She wracked her
brain desperately. ALet me tell you a story Grandfather told me the last time Dad and I visited
him on the Res...@
AThought...the goal was...to ease my pain.@ Danielle made an attempt at humor.
AIt kinda relates, in a way, to your situation.@ Good, good, just two more miles. AAbout
the coming of medicine to the tribes.@ She cleared her throat. AA very long time ago, mankind
and the animals lived together peacefully, in harmony. Then all of a sudden things changed, when
some greedy, power-hungry people decided to hunt only to sell meat and fur, for as high a profit
as they could...@
- 9 -
AJob offer?@ Cassidy=s thin lips curled in a derisive sneer. He almost laughed out loud.
AYou people pump me full of this gene-splicer drug-trip chemical designed to screw with my sys-
tem four ways from doomsday, a female Doc with-A He shuddered, AEyes like friggin black holes
freaks me out even further, I pass out, wind up in this ammonia-stinkin labrat room where I=ve
been monitored for who knows how long-A
AOnly three days. Your newly-enhanced physiology=s demonstrating an unprecedented
yet astounding recovery rate...including regeneration of nerve cells and tendons. Congratulat-
ions, Mr. Jenks. Your DNA has undergone the next step in the evolutionary process.@ Voight
scribbled an addendum in his notepad.
Three days? AAnd I wake up to your scrawny egghead ass spewing fancy textbook talk
about my >condition=.@ He looked down at his hands; though no longer a violent red, the skin was
still flushed, like a mild sunburn. ATo top it all off you=re telling me the Nugenica corp=s gonna
make me a job offer?@ A cackle of disbelief ushered forth from his throat.
AWe=ve thoroughly researched your file, Mr. Jenks, including employment records and
work history...five days prior to your arrival here you were doing some ...reconnaissance work
for a Tyler Setsuo, involving the surveillance and...retrieval of a Joel Curtis, former employee
at Tachyon Netsystems under suspicion of embezzling funds from the company=s payroll...in
exchange for the sum of twenty thousand, you saw to it that Mr. Curtis never arrived at the
air terminal for his pre-booked flight to New Zealand. Two weeks before that, you were in
the employ of one Dorian Ames, owner of Deuces Wild Casino. Mr. Ames commissioned you to
>negotiate with= a member of the health inspection committee who was giving serious thought
to revoking a building permit for one of Mr. Ames=s properties - a low income housing unit near
the lakeshore, I believe.@ Voight tilted his head to one side. AYou=re very efficient with your
work...ethic, so to speak.@
AYou trying to blackmail me?@ His voice was still scratchy, it sounded more guttural to
him than normal. Thoughts of choking the doc=s scrawny little neck came to mind. He smiled.
ANot at all, Mr. Jenks. Rather, someone of your... unique talents and capabilities would
be of great benefit to a certain sector of our staff, when it came to gathering information and
...disposing of complications. Our blackbook payroll sector, to be precise.@
The >08 Jeep Cherokee roared into the parking lot of NewCity Crisis Care Clinic. Heavy
streams of smoke billowed from the exhaust pipe as Risha gave the steering wheel a hard turn
and aimed for the first available parking space she saw. Droplets of polluted rainwater smacked
against the windshield in dull rhythmic thuds, escalating their number by the second. That=s
right, acid showers today, she remembered, and wrenched the gear into park. Skeletal flares of
lightning tinged with neon green lit up the veiled heavens, dark and void-like. AWe=re here, Dani.@
She called softly to the back seat. ADani-girl?@
AHere...@ Came Danielle=s scratchy, dry-throated reply. AMom=s house?@
- 10 -
AThe crisis clinic on Bernard, we=re stopping here first.@ Risha twisted her limber frame
and maneuvered herself half-into the back seat. She reached over and patted/shook her friend
on the left shoulder. Tiny hairs at the back of her neck tingled; Dan=s parched skin had grown
even hotter to the touch. ACome on, I=ll help you up.@
ANo doctors...non medicin.@ Danielle pleaded weakly. Strands of dark ebon curls clung to
her face as her head lolled to one side.
Risha unlatched her door, jumped out, flung open the door to the back seat, lifted Dani-
elle=s limp right arm up and over her shoulder, and carefully picked the girl up once again. ANo arguments, you need this.@ Her tone was firm, matter-of-fact. She backed herself out, secured
her hold on the girl=s fevered body, and kicked the door shut. The vibrating hum of the Jeep=s
auto-lock engaged. Head slightly bowed, she squared her jaw and made her way forward, toward
the shatterproof glass doors of the clinic=s emergency entrance.
The tainted drizzle escalated into a downpour. From the spartan, sterile confines of her fifth-floor study, Dr. Valeria Idriss watched watery globules splay across the window=s surface,
hued grey to green rather than clear. Pollution...one of mankind=s chief legacies upon the planet, whether or not they chose to admit it. From blighted crops of food supplies grown in soil eroded
and poisoned by toxic waste, to the stench of methane fumes, factory smoke and industrial land-
fills the contamination spread faster than an airborne virus within the ecosphere and left all it
came into contact with forever changed, scarred irreparably.
Her thin lips stretched in semblance of a smile, etched with bitter cynicism. Humanity
indeed. The ignorant populace had bred its number to the degree where poverty, homelessness,
and malnutrition served as standard occurrence in every major city of the globe, with a myriad
of social and economic diseases too lengthy and redundant to calculate. Even the taste of jelly
and fruit carried with it the subtle tinge of pesticide chemicals. Had the progenitors of her
race had their way before its motherland sank violently beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean
due to earthquakes and massive volcanic eruptions. Only an ingenious few survived.
She turned her back to the downpour after another maltinted shaft of lightning flared amidst a backdrop of steel towers and metal-rimmed constructs. Dr. Idriss steepled her pale
fingers together, thoughts turned once again to her work. To insure the survival of a species
upon the planet, drastic measures were needed, certain genetic codes must be re-mapped and
imbibed with the stem cell tissue of her ancestors, then spliced and sequenced into the host
subjects pattern with extreme delicateness to allow for compatible synthesis of proteins if
this project was to stand a chance of success. By the Dark Mother, she=d dealt with her share
of failures before, kept for study in the underground vaults. Her most successful project,
initially dubbed Subject 2112, had resulted from a genetically grown child, of which she had
inserted strands of her own DNA into the pattern to further the chances of the infant=s surv-
ival. An inhuman, multi-pitched shriek erupted from her throat as she flung aside a chair and
set it toppling to the floor. That progeny had been taken from her, seized in a military raid of
- 11 -
the compound eleven years ago . She=d been called away briefly to survey some paltry pathetic
study the company was doing on radiation and chemotherapy, and returned to find her lab in a
shambles. She grit her teeth, composed herself. No distractions, especially emotional ones.
The work must be first and foremost within her mind.
It wasn=t as if fresh genetic material was difficult to obtain, homeless shelters, prisons psychiatric wards - such places were rife with potential test subjects to be missed by no one, should some of their number suddenly disappear. Few questions were asked...if any. In the mass
consumer castes of society, the poverty-stricken and mentally ill were equivalent to the pariahs
of the Hindi belief...the untouchables, considered to have little more value than the sum of their
parts. Exactly what she required. Though the overall success rate of the Zi-Xeta Radical strain
was so far less than thirty percent, evidence of progress had surfaced. The road to the evolution
of a species was fraught with pitfalls. One must take extra care when laying groundwork.
Jaz hated hospitals...the glare of the stark white walls, the ever-present smell of ammonia
and bleach...his nostrils flared as he re-shifted his long legs in the bright orange plastic chair
and anxiously drummed his fingers. It was all too sterile, too jarring. The pinch-faced nurse behind the desk had given him a multi-paged form to fill out and return. The young man scowled,
glaring at the poster of a Health Insurance ad on the wall directly in front of him. He=d be here
>till doomsday at this point, all because of a stupid routine health exam the Solomon Foundation
Youth Hostel required him to take in order to stay there...proof of identity regulations, the ad- ministrative caseworker had explained, since his picture identification had recently expired. So
it=s illegal for me to drive a vehicle, he pondered sarcastically. Is it illegal for me to exist too?
Nearly three days spent in this town, he already felt like leaving. On his way from the
bus station, canvas backpack slung over his shoulder as his well-worn combat boots trod across
the jagged, uneven pavement of what had passed for a sidewalk, his smoke-colored eyes took a
mental inventory of the new surroundings: burnt-out street lamps, boarded up buildings that
looked ready to give way at the slightest bit of pressure, people in dirty ragged clothes spraw-
led on bus stop benches , signs in their hands reading: Willing to work hard for a hot meal, the
looks on their faces...as corporate executive types in shiny Jags and BMW=s sped up toward the
underpass without a second glance at the grimy urban wasteland. Insect-colony automatons ,
he remembered thinking as they passed. They could take their lavish consumer lifestyles and
choke on them for all he cared.
About four blocks up, he=d stopped at a place called Rhonda=s Diner to grab a bite to eat.
The synthburger had dripped with grease upon the plate, but he wolfed it down anyway, his first
actual meal in three days, other than jerky and crackers on the Trailways bus, and soda water to
wash it down with. Standard road trip fare, except he wasn=t on a leisurely, > find oneself before
going off to college= journey. He=d chosen this particular city for a reason, though his memory of
this place was sketchy at best, at least it was solid. Unlike other memories...or lack thereof.
His past had been a constant on-the-go from foster home to foster home, social worker
to juvie detention center, one cyclonic fiasco after another. The beloved society that spawned
him had taught him from an early age to trust no one but himself.
- 12 -
She paced the dirty tiled floors of the clinic. Dani had been admitted and rushed to the
ICU room - why the hell was this taking so long? She=d sat for awhile, flipped through one of the
National Geographic magazines, absently read an article on wolves, then tossed it aside as she
stepped up to ask the elderly nurse at the administration desk if there was any word about her
friend. In a pinched nasal tone, the nurse replied she=d have to wait, it was too early to tell.
Urrrgh! Screw waiting...what was going on back there? Risha=s hands tore through her
dark mane of hair, which she=d elected to remove from it=s ponytail. An exasperated sigh esca-
ped her lips as she strode up to the nurses station. AIs there any word on my friend, Danielle St. Blanc yet?@
ANot since you asked ten minutes ago, Miss. Try to calm down and be patient.@
APatient?@ She sniggered. AMy friend could be dying in there for all I know and I=m
supposed to be patient about it?! Screw that!@
The nurse=s pinch-faced expression increased its severity. AIf you don=t change your
attitude, I=m going to have to ask you to wait outside - do I make myself clear, young lady?
The instant Dr. Strand knows any more of the situation, he=ll be the first to inform you but
right now he=s doing all he can for Miss St. Blanc. Throwing a tantrum isn=t going to help the
There was that. Still, Risha hated feeling this helpless. She stormed away from the
nurses section and back to the waiting room area. Hairs at the back of her neck rose as a wave
of anxiety stabbed her in the gut. This was how retrovirus outbreaks had been known to start
-just like this. Don=t start with that line of thinking yet, her inner voice urged. It=s too early
to jump to conclusions. For all you know Dani could just have a really bad flu or mono virus, and
you=re getting worked up for nothing. It was possible, but somehow she doubted it was just a
bad case of influenza...
That was just it. She didn=t know. All the more reason to fear the worst. Right now she
couldn=t just sit and read, or watch the talk show on the tv. She paced a bit more and glanced
absently up at one of the clinic=s sponsor posters on the wall. The image depicted was that of a
small child, maybe seven, a bored expression on her face, surrounded by a medical care staff of
nurses and interns, their smiles a little too plastic to be believable. Nugenica Pharmaceuticals,
the bold-faced caption read, Protecting Our Future.
Risha blinked, her eyes clouded over as uneasy fragments of memory forced their way to
the surface: AThough a series of battery emissions and exposure, Subject 2112 has proven imm-
une to the effects of radiation and monoxide poisons, t-cell count continues to accelerate as her
body adapts and attempts to purge itself of the toxins.@ A flash of light...shined in her eyes by
a slender, dark-haired woman in a white lab coat, eyes obscured by mirrored lenses. The woman
stroked the young girl=s hair and turned to the other doctors. AEnough. Do not forget this one
contains patterns of my own DNA.@ The woman turned to her, aware of the fearful look in the
- 13 -
child=s eyes. AYou survive because you are special, one of few chosen, an evolutionary step in the
race you belong to. I=ve decided on your name, young one...it shall be Risha, meaning >sacred one=
in Hindi. You are the ultimate survivor, gifted beyond measure. Take care never to forget that.@
The woman let go of the child=s hair. AProceed to the next test.@ She commanded the others. A
middle-aged, portly man readied a syringe and took hold of Risha=s small arm. A sharp look of pain
flared upon her face as he stuck the needle in her vein and drew blood...
She reeled back in shock, nearly lost her footing and sank down into a plastic chair. Her
wiry form trembled uncontrollably as she buried her head in her hands and fought back tears. It
had been eleven years ago but felt like yesterday, over and over again...
AWhat=s your problem?@ A cynical teenage voice sneered. Startled, Risha lifted up her
tear-stained face to meet the glare of a grungily-dressed waif of a girl perhaps a year or so her
junior. The girl=s disheveled black hair hung in a frizzed mass over her eyes and down the collar
of her stained flannel that smelled of alcohol. Her pale hands held a switchblade she was using
to clean her nails.
AMy problem?@ Risha growled. AMy problem is I=ve got a friend in there who=s dying for
all I know - that good enough for you?@
The street waif shrugged nonchalantly. APeople die all the time in this world, friends,
parents, lovers, strangers...so the old story goes. You get used to it.@ She stretched her bony
legs in their baggy jeans and sneakers further across the tiled floor, and chucked as the rubber
soles made a streaking sound similar to tires squealing.
AI don=t just >get used to it=.@ Risha shot back, her frame shot rigidly upward. ASo why
are you here...your meth supply run out on you?@
AYou don=t know a damn thing about me!@ The shabbily dressed girl sprang to her feet
and leveled the blade at Risha. ASo don=t be coppin= judgement when you=re on the wrong end of
Pure reflex memory. Risha was on her feet and seized hold of the girl=s bony wrist, her
neurosynapses erupting in rapid fire as her other hand grasped the girl=s forearm, twisted it
round. The switchblade clattered to the floor as Risha stepped in close and peered down at the
girl. ADon=t do that again.@ She warned, simple and direct, as she released the girl and shoved
her back slightly.
Arliss blinked, stunned. AFreak!@ She spat at Risha, retrieved her switchblade with a
sneer, and stormed out.
Risha winced. Adrenalin still surged through her system, accompanied by a dazed flood
of neural activity. Her reaction had been instinctive, almost primal, and she sensed that a part
of her would have not stopped until whatever measures were taken to halt the situation. An
icy chill shot down her spine as she sank back down into the chair.
- 14 -
From the darkened confines of his cell he stared out. Eyes the shade of gunmetal took
a calculated mental inventory of every detail in his surroundings; the shiny reflective metal of
the operating room table, polished like the tray of surgical equipment, recently used and not so
shiny, the rows of shatterproof glass test tubes and petri dishes, stacked neatly next to the
microscopes and medical lab charts. The smell of dried blood and chemicals, the droning hum of
the flourescent lighting and electrical generators.
Tetsuo sat cross-legged in the shadowed cubicle, chakras aligned to the static flow of
vital Chi energies that encompassed the space around him. Perhaps five doors down the hall a
young woman=s screams reverberated throughout the corridor, as she was fitted for her >cond-
itioning=, mental and psychologically assaulted with a subliminal barrage of images designed to
program her for a specific task. Tetsuo recalled his own little session; the doctor hadn=t liked
having the bones of his arm fractured. The Asian youth had passed out shortly afterward, and
re-awoke in his cell, drugged. Some immeasurable time later the doctors had come back with
sturdily-built orderlies who seized his rangy, iron-muscled frame and lifted him up. They had
strapped him down on the shiny surgical table, shot him full of that weird Z or whatever it was
called agent(since they could not get him to take it orally), drawn his blood, run test after test,
and in his desensitized state he could only make out sparse, jumbled bits of conversation.
ASubject=s t-cell count is once again escalating to fend off harm to its system, blood
pressure elevated but still well within safety parameters.@
AA perfect specimen, nanostemcell activity has acheived direct protein synthesis and
proves to be compatible with the host cells. Integration is a success!@
AThis marks the third out of the original four-hundred. Get a record of these results
Then a woman=s voice with an odd-pitched tone, reminiscent of radio static. ASplendid
gentlemen. Subject 77755 is indeed a superior mark.@
Let me out of these restraints, Tetsuo remembered thinking, and I=ll give you a taste
of my superiority, you gai-jin bitch. One does not dishonor a chosen of the Five Mountain Path
in such a manner without serious paybacks.. The fires in his soul hungered for bloodthirsty vengeance. Had his father still been alive, a simple phone call would be all that was necessary to
shut this debased series of experiments down, squashed like roaches and fodder for the Yama Kings...
Patience, Tetsuo told himself. His athletic frame ceased its meditative stance and in
a graceful, fluidic motion he rose to stand and assumed a martial artist cat stance. A series of
slow deep breaths poured air into his lungs as vital Chi energies coursed through his body. He
began a few empty hand movement katas, then switched to shadow boxing in effort to purge
his system of the wretched sedatives.
- 15 -
Zara Michaels shuddered at the sound of the young woman=s screams. Know the feeling,
she thought briefly, as she recalled her own behavioral molding in Sector Cell Gamma. Images
flooded her mind, but she forced them back through effort of will as she stole her way down
the corridors of the lower level. A shadowy haze obscured the hall as she tread softly along,
taking pains not to utter the slightest sound. Darkness had never bothered her, in fact the
shadows were like old friends that kept her company throughout the years, sharing their sec-
rets with her, and her with them. Ever since the Darwin Meta-Project anyway. Those bastard
scientists and their urge to play God with her pattern had seen to that...
There was no time to reflect upon the past now, however. Time was of the essence if
she stood any chance of escape. These drab oppressive confines had held her for two many
months...she hadn=t seen the sun in...had it been eighty days now? Her sleek frame stole into
an alcove as the booted footfalls of a security guard alerted her to another presence. Zara
held her breath. The pounding of her heart rung in her ears. Utter silence was imperative to
"Dr. Strand will see you now, concerning your friend's condition." The nurse behind the desk told Risha. "Through the glass doors and take your first left." The older woman indicated a set of doors to her immediate right, marked ICU and Patient Recovery.
Risha lifted her head from her hands and practically jumped out of the chair. There would be time to deal with her own issues later. Wiping stray tears from her eyes, she nodded gratefully to the woman and made her way over to the glass doors, following the nurses directions as indicated.
His eyes closed as he lay still, feigning sleep within the dank hovel of his cage, Tetsuo’s enhanced senses detected traces of footfalls approximately four meters away, nearing his position. The sterile scent of amonia. The young man took pains not to let his smile show, prayed it meant what he thought, the doctors were back, back to pay him a visit. Herein lay his chance for freedom. And there would be bloodthirsty reckoning, rest assured, he would make let his lineage be shown…and thus a new age would come to pass. As last in line of the clan of the Celestial Blade, he would smite these defilers who dared alter the vital flow of Chi, tried to subvert a sacred destiny for their own petty machinations. Gai-jin fools, by the Gods he would make them pay. Chi was a way of life, a quintessential pattern in the balance of cosmic struggle. To tamper
with such a delicate balance was certain to invoke the wrath of not only his ancestors,but the universal life force itself. Humanity would never understand, with their narrow-minded pursuits of greed and debauchery, unless the race was made to understand. And he was just the one to show them, Tetsuo thought with a slight smirk, which faded quickly to an unassuming, blank expression as with a slight creaking of hinges, the door to his cubicle was opened.
"Careful now." A male doctor’s voice whispered, resonating in the confined space. "Subject’s file marks him as capable of extreme violence."
"He’s heavily sedated." Another voice remarked with a hint of skepticism. "One thousand cc’s of Narcolepsim would knock out Genghis Khan himself, I’m not too worried."
"You read his file, Stafford? This one’s potential makes the Mongolian warlord look like a patsy, in terms of his potential."
"Intriguing, Dr. Voight. Nevertheless, forgive me if I’m skeptical."
Footfalls closing in. Tetsuo remained still. Not yet, closer, a few more paces…
"All I’m saying is this one requires maximum caution, you recall what he did to Dr. Kestrel’s right arm?" Traces of irritation surfaced in Voight’s reply.
"Fractured in seven places, yes I’m quite aware." Stafford exhaled in a sharp manner. "Nevertheless, he represents a prime specimen. He survived after all, the seventh out of four hundred." The intern reached down and took hold of Tetsuo’s arm, attempting to take the young man’s pulse…
In a hair’s breath instant his dark eyes snapped open as the Celestial Blade warrior launched a Mae Tobi geri jump front kick at Stafford’s left flank, bolting upright as Tetsuo’s form erupted in a flurry of motion, pure muscle reflex memory ensuing. Parts of his mind hazed blearily from sedatives, though his chakras aligned with a rushed adrenal sensation, as he sprang from the cot and broke one hand free from the doctor’s grasp, as his other hand struck a sharp, edged blow to the temple of Stafford’s head. A swift crunch of bone into grey matter resonated in the space of the cell as the intern’s body collapsed to the floor.
Nigel Voight took a reflexive step back as an instant later Tetsuo was on his feet. Eyes the shade of gunmetal regarded the Nugenica scientist in a grave-cold fashion. "Two options. You act as my ticket to freedom or I paint this cell with your blood. Five seconds." He growled, readying his lean frame in a cat-stance, focusing his vital energies to prepare a swift vital point strike at the bridge of Voight’s nose, aiming sharply upward toward the brain stem.
"No need for threats." Voight held up his hands in a passive gesture. "It appears I have no choice upon the matter."
"How ironic. Know the feeling." Tetsuo gnashed his teeth together. "Your heart beats now only at my bidding." His hand arced upward to grasp his enemy’s throat. "I will have my freedom, above all. Are we clear on that?"
"Most assuredly." The doctor managed, in a slight gasp for breath.
"Then you’ll understand, as a hostage, if I have my share of questions." In a simple, calculated step Tetsuo was behind Voight, gripping the doctor’s pencil-thin neck in a headlock. "But I’m sure you’ll answer them happily, on our way out of this hole."