“Blondie, fly guy on your right.”
Jill swivels to fire in his direction, but ‘fly guy’ was actually a ‘flea’ guy. Jill’s rifle lets out bursts of rapid fire that only serve to tear into nearby trees as the Purple Flea springs spastically from one to another.
Jill, the Conspiracist, and Helenas dash through the forest that leads away from The Atlas Initiative’s rural compound. The mission was a success, up until they had been caught. The Flea continues springing from the tree branches just before automatic gunfire blows them apart. Jill’s mouth curls in anger.
Her rifle lets out rounds continuously, until it clicks.
“Shit; I’m out.”
Jill sprints to keep up with the others. The Purple Flea sees his chance; he crouches down to prepare to launch towards the now unarmed prey. A loud boom escapes from Helenas’s nearby rifle and a silver spike sails out towards him. The Flea leaps back, but the spike flips back to follow him. It targets him in midair and impales his left leg. The Purple Flea squeals in agony and falls to the forest floor with all the grace of a sack of garbage. Jill looks to her partner.
“Holy seeker rounds, powered by my faith, if you’d like I could talk to you about salvation, and then,”
Jill starts sprinting to catch up to The Conspiracist. She yells over her shoulder to Helenas.
“Now’s not the time to convert me Helen. You can save my soul when we aren’t about to die.”
Helenas strains to keep after Jill and the Conspiracist. The trio continue sprinting through the night with no guiding path but the glimmer of a harvest moon. The forest behind them carries the occasional rustle of more footsteps marching closer. Helenas begins to slow down, as Jill and the Conspiracist break ahead. Jill eventually turns back to see her friend far behind her.
“Helen, come on!”
Helen finally comes to a full stop. Jill runs back to her. With her help Helenas leans against a tree, begins hyperventilating and re-arms her rifle. With it in one hand, she unstraps the bandoleer belt of holy water bottles from her chest with the other and hands them to Jill.
“I can’t,” Helen says between breaths, “I can’t—I’ll just slow you down.”
“We can all get out of this. I’m not leaving another teammate behind.”
Helenas preps her rifle with another giant silver round.
“I don’t matter. It is a martyr’s duty to die so that others may live. I embrace my destiny, I’ll slow them down as much as I can.”
“Helen, they’re not going to kill you… They’ll do something worse.”
“I know. They won’t kill me, but you will. Promise me that you’ll do it.”
Jill doesn’t respond. The Conspiracist’s voice calls back from the dark woods ahead.
“Blondie, Red, come on!”
Jill slowly backs away from her friend. Helen points her rifle back into the heart of the forest behind them. A howl cuts through the night; the girls hear it, and its meaning is clear on their faces. Helenas slowly begins to stalk towards the noise.
“Jill, you have to go now…Jill!”
“I’ll do it,” Jill mutters, “But please don’t make me.”
Jill reluctantly turns and runs. Helenas listens to her footsteps till they fade into nothingness. But the forest is not quiet. The rustling of the trees in the wind combines with the padding of approaching paws. A low growl escapes from the bushes.
“Oh Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…”
Helen scans the dark forest intently.
“Give me this day my daily bread, and forgive me my sins, as I forgive those who sin against me.”
A dark shape lumbers through the brush.
“And lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the—”
It lunges. Helen turns to fire as the massive form pounces upon her. The shot goes off and hits the black beast in the shoulder as it crashes down onto her. The beast’s momentum sends her to the forest floor. The now wounded creature is clearer now, its fur dark grey like a wolf, its body massive and almost human. It begins thrashing and snapping at her; she pushes the length of the rifle against its throat to try and bar it off. Its claws pin her to the ground, its fangs bite into empty air only inches from her face. Helenas works her finger back around the trigger while using all her muscle to attempt to push the beast from her throat. Her finger finds a hold of the trigger and manages to squeeze.
A silver round explodes out of the rifle. It rockets up into the air, then curves mid-trajectory, looping back down towards the pair and speeds earthbound. The spike punctures the beast’s backside, it howls, its iron grip is loosened, and Helenas kicks back hard. The wolfman begins clawing at the spike now lodged in his back, but is unable to reach. Helenas lifts and re-arms the rifle.
“—And the unholy beasts of Hell shall be exterminated with prejudice; let no abominations remain among the living, in his glory, Am—”
Six revolver shots break the silence in a succession so rapid they harmonize into merely one quick blast. They end, and a man wielding dual pistols stands smirking over Helenas. She stumbles forwards, gradually tips forward, then collapses to the ground. The man approaches out of the trees, the rugged cut of his jaw becoming more visible in the slim moonlight. He is a man Helenas had seen many times before: John Reynolds.
He looks over Helenas. Her movements are slowing, but he could see she was still fighting it. Six paralyzer shots and she still had the will to crawl forward and slowly claw the rifle back to her. John steps down on the rifle, anchoring it to the forest floor. He casually points one of his revolvers towards the back of her head and squeezes the trigger. A final paralyzer round breaks against her skull, cutting the skin, but still remaining non-lethal. Helenas’s movements slow to nothing.
The wolfman grunts. John turns to see that he now holds the two bloody rifle spikes between his claws. He begins to lurch towards Helenas; John holds out his hand against him.
“She wounded me,” The beast growls, “Fair is fair.”
“She’s down Rob,” John says, “ and we need her alive.”
“I can leave her alive.”
“And in one piece?”
Drool drips from the creature’s maw, his eyes narrow, but he declines to answer the question. John nods.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
The werewolf mutters something beneath his heaving breath. An interruption from the walkie-talkie on John’s belt stops the conversation from going on any further.
“Reynolds this is Tony. Wasn’t able to get anything on my end, she’s still as slippery a dame as ever. How’s your progress?”
John puts the walkie talkie to his mouth.
“What’s wrong De Luca, Merci lose interest in you already?”
“Not in the mood jabroni. So unless you’ve done better, you better hope you can come up with a good reason for me not to rip your lungs out.”
“Well as a matter of fact I do,” John replies, “While you were busy trying to bring down your unarmed ex, we managed to hunt and capture the holy exorcist herself, our Sister Helenas. Took seven of Jackson’s paralyzer rounds to bring her down. She also managed to cripple Flea and muss up Remington’s fur. He says he wants to eat her; don’t suppose I could feed him flea instead?”
“No. What about the others?”
“Still ahead, but I’d rather not face Jill and the masked freak with two wounded amateurs and a tranq gun.”
“Is Remington still able to run?”
John looks over the beast who growls in response.
“Have him tail them. No engagement, I just want an eye on them. They’ll meet up with Merci at some point. For now we wait until further notice, no captures, no kills till I give out the call. Hail Sayang.”
John’s eyes roll.
“Yeah, Hail whatshername.” He tosses the walkie-talkie in the air and Remington snatches it quickly.
“You heard your team leader,” John says, “Track and observe.”
“Observe!” His fangs are inches from John’s face as he roars. “ I will not observe; I will hunt, I will stalk, I will kill.”
Spit from the beast’s jaws lands on John’s cheek. He wipes it away and lights a cigarette.
“You can hunt later. You can stalk later. And from what I can tell of what’s strewn around your pen these days, you’ve been killing plenty. Officially your orders for now are to observe. Unofficially if you put so much as a scratch on my little Jillian, I will wound you in ways that will make you useless to any bitch, whether she be human, wolf, or anywhere in between.”
“Fair enough,” Remington says, “But of the other two?”
John smirks with the cigarette tipping upwards between his lips.
“Well, I’m pretty sure Tony would be rather displeased if you ripped any pieces off of Merci he might miss. As for Conspiracist, well officially you are still ordered to just observe him, but unofficially, well, accidents happen.”
Remington lets out a husky laugh and begins to lumber off towards the scent trail Jill and the Conspiracist left behind them. John reaches down and heaves Helenas over his shoulders.
“Oh, Rob, one more thing,” he says, “If you do encounter such an accident, bring me back the head. Always wanted to see what that ugly f*cker’s face looks like.”
Remington blows air from his snout.
“He’d be lucky if he still has a face left after I’m done.
The Conspiracist and Jill tumble over the rail separating the one lane road from the forest it cuts through. It is little more then empty dirt hemmed between two lines of steel. Jill looks up the road, then down the other way. There is only black forest in either direction.
“Shit. Where is she?”
The Conspiracist unholsters his gun and scans the forest they just came from. The mask obscuring his whole face leaves no expressive clues to explain his thoughts. He shakes his head and sighs.
“Never lend a woman your car. ”
“Don’t be a sexist,” Jill responds, “speaking of; Jack, hey Jack, come online. What’s going on? Why did you go silent on me back there? Is something wrong? Do you have any info on Merci?”
“Jack? Come on buddy. Jack answer me… A.I. 101, File name Jack, respond”
: Error. Error. Malicious software programs detected/ Error/ Sorry babe can’t talk right now… BRB… A.I. 101-Jack disabling user interface……………………..
“Damn. That doesn’t sound good.”
The Conspiracist turns his head.
“I’m not sure. Normally I only want him to shut up, but he’s never actually done it before. It almost sounds like he’s doing a reboot or something.”
As she speaks a pair of headlights zoom up on the two. The Conspiracist’s Mustang convertible appears in the distance and speeds towards them; it has seen better days. The vehicle stops suddenly and the woman behind the wheel kicks the passenger door open.
Jill jumps into the back while the man in the mask slips into the passenger seat. The car is off again; air rushes through the open crack until he slams the door shut. Merci speaks but never takes her eyes off the serpentine road.
“Sorry, I was afraid I was going to miss you… Where’s the other one?”
“She, she, didn’t make it,” Jill says.
Merci nods silently, not attempting to console or apologize.
“Tony couldn’t be saved,” she says, “ I thought that maybe if he saw me, if he saw my face, showed him how much I loved him, I could get him to overcome that thing controlling him.”
The Conspiracist lets out a condescending scoff.
“This isn’t a movie. The power of love isn’t saving anyone. I’m not even sure we can trust each other. Now that I think of it, Jill, hand me a holy water bottle.”
Jill hands the man a bottle off of Helen’s belt. He unscrews the cap and shoves it into Merci’s face.
“I’m fine, Tony didn’t hit me or nuthin’… Well, he didn’t hit me too hard. Besides I can heal myself.”
“That’s not why I want you to drink.”
Merci feels Jill’s eyes peering into her from the back seat. She’s sure the Conspiracist’s are pointed at her as well behind that mask. She grabs the bottle with one hand and chugs while trying to still drive straight. With half the bottle down she passes it back to Conspiracist.
“There, I ain’t tainted. You happy?”
“Happy enough,” he replies.
“There’s no winning with you is there?”
“Not really. Our enemies have us outnumbered, they know our playbook, and I have a feeling that if we don’t find out what the Reaver Project is soon, that many many people will die.”
He pulls a small flashdrive out of his pocket and examines it.
“This may have cost Helenas her life. I hope it was worth it.”
Jill leans between the two front seats.
“Well then, if you’re done pontificating on the epic f*cked-uppedness that is our situation, I would really like to hear some suggestions on what to do now. We need a plan.”
:Jack A.I. user interface now on-line… Whoa, that was not fun. I really don’t want to do that ever again.
“Jack?! You’re back! What happened?”
:The computer you wanted me to hack into had some vicious security software. I could bypass it, but the millisecond I did it sent an alert to all terminals. That’s when the real shit happened. Somebody tried to hack me. Not a firewall program, an actual person, and they were damn good.
“Were you able to decrypt the Reaver file?”
:I was, but then I forgot it. I had to purge all foreign and downloaded software to make sure there weren’t any Trojans imbedded. Sucks too, because I had downloaded a lot of… “Special Software” on some of your empty grey space.
“That is absolutely vile and if anything I’m just glad its gone.”
Merci leans towards Conspiracist.
“Should we ask what they’re talking about?”
“I find it its usually better to let them finish, then have her censor and translate whatever that thing is saying.”
Jill leans through the partition between the seats once more.
“Jack says to give me the flashdrive.”
“Why,” Conspiracist asks.
“Because, apparently I have a USB port.”
The Conspiracist hands over the drive over to Jill. She unbuckles her chest plate and slowly removes the heavy armor. Beneath the cerulean plating is a stained white tank top. Jill moves her hand over her back and begins poking her skin with the flashdrive.
“Okay where is it?”
:Hooked into your spinal chord. Right along the spine, between the sixth and seventh vertebrae. Wait, no too far, a little higher. There.
Jill pushes the flashdrive into the hidden USB near her neck and on top of her spine. Her spinal cord acts as an extension cord to her brain where Jack begins to download the file.
“This is so cool,” she says, “How come I never knew about this?”
:Never needed it, I could always access computers remotely. The port was only intended to be used to give me software updates. As if I could be improved. Still, those Wetworks guys put this in your spine during the physical you got just after I was installed, remember?
:Oh right… you weren’t really all there when they did that. You were still coming off of that anesthetic they gave you. Turns out you get really talkative when you’re high.
Jill ignores this last comment.
“This is so awesome. Could I download kung fu or something?”
:You’re not freaking Neo, babe. I’m the one downloading, you’re just the hardware. At that point only I would know kung fu, and since I can’t control your body, it would be pretty friggin useless. Besides what the hell do you need Kung Fu for, you’ve got an assault rifle.
The curving forest road merges onto a freeway; the Mustang swings onto it swiftly. As the file downloads, Merci drives into the city and the three descend into Lowtown. She parks the car in an empty lot and shuts the engine off. She looks to the backseat.
“Please tell me your friend knows what we’re up against.”
:I do. But she isn’t going to like it. We’re FUBAR’d waaaaay beyond what I thought.
“It may be slightly worse than we thought” Jill says.
:I’ve looked over their whole plan. The Angels are just the start into this whole interconnected web of terrorism and havoc. We’re gonna need to get everyone purged of those little parasite bastards, break back into that heavily fortified base we just escaped from, and we’re gonna need a military grade interference generator. Statistically speaking, with a three man team, it’s impossible.
“We’ve done the impossible before Jack.”
: Not like this. Big difference. No tactical scenario I can run is showing anything higher than 3.1% percent chance of success with a three man team, let alone a one man, two woman team.
“Don’t need the sexism Jack. Just give me something. You have to have some kind of option, something creative, something wild, something stupid.”
:Oh, I do. I always do. My scenarios only accounted for a three ‘person’ team. We’re going to need to pull in some allies. And I’ve already checked, the Sentinels are still a no go, but I do have another even dumber option.
:Lets just say the broad driving the car isn’t going to like it. I’m gonna make a few calls. We need to get the lesser evil in on this.