“So… that thing with Mouse. Do you want to talk about it?”
Shade shifted her attention back to the road. The sky had darkened further, shifting from a hazy white gray to a smothering charcoal. At the rate the rain was increasing, it would be an outright downpour in a few hours.
Onyx started, nearly banging his head into the roof.
“Jeez! You think people are actually going to go loot in this weather?”
“Oh hell yes. BPD will be too busy to even try getting onto the island. It’s all very convenient.”
“I’ll say.” He leaned his head against the window. “This sucks. My dad is probably worried sick right now. Maybe Fritz can check on my sister…”
Shade crinkled her nose. She hadn’t told herself to, but she did. She bore no ill will against Onyx’s family, but damned if she wasn’t jealous of them. Here she was, trying to clean up her mother’s mess, with everyone treating her as a copy of Rebecca, while Onyx had a great dad, a nice sister and a best friend. It wasn’t fair. Her father was a fucking scalpel.
At that moment, Shade’s communicator buzzed.
“Hey, hey, hey, how’s it going out there?” said Prism.
“We’re not dead. But, we soon might be. Mouse gave us the location of Cerberus’ FOB. We’re going to see what we can find there.”
“What do you think they want to do with this weird drug?” Prism paused. “Oh, yeah, the drug. I’ve been looking at it and, well, it just keeps unwinding and unwinding and unwinding. It’s structured like a steroid, but it’s stupid complicated.”
“Sounds about right, but what’s it do exactly? You got any idea?”
“Well, seeing as I’m sitting here running the whole camp’s lighting, while talking to you, while watching this thing unwind and feeling pretty great while doing it, I think it’s kinda like speed.” Prism chuckled through the speaker. “You gotta try this stuff, Onyx.”
“Really, you took it?” Onyx questioned, in a tone none too surprised. “In front of the cops? Good grief…”
“It enhances your anomalous abilities, then?” Shade asked. “You think it’s a heavy steroid?”
“Enhances everything, man. Feels like the world’s in slow motion. It’s not just a heavy steroid, it’s a hell of a steroid. Probably bad if Cerberus has it, huh?”
“Maybe just a little.”
“Hey, uh, have you happened to see my sister?” Onyx fidgeted with his hands. “She alright?”
“Little black girl? Oh, yeah, she’s here, she’s fine,” Fritz assured him. “Kinda freaked out, but I mean, I’d be freaked out too if I heard gunshots in the middle of a hurricane.”
“Alright, thanks for the help. We’ll get back to it.” Shade waited until she flipped off the transceiver before speaking. “Black? But, you’re…”
“She’s adopted. After the oopsie that was me, my dad wanted to adopt his second kid, give them a better home than the streets.”
Shade scratched at her nose. “I see.”
“So, Blueshift. You think Rebecca did all this just to steal it?”
“Only in part. She has impunity from martial law, so all those exotic weapons the gangs have? She can confiscate them for her crusade, maybe sell them on the black market. But I still think there’s more to this than drugs. Cerberus isn’t trapped on the island with the gangs, they’re trapped in here with Cerberus.”
The Poltergeist took a sharp turn, racing towards the intersection where Davis, Liberty and Alonzo City met. Shade slowed down to ten miles an hour as they approached, taking in the sounds of soldiers, engines and drones. With the mercenaries pulling in their forces to ride out the storm, she estimated they had amassed a small battalion. Her mother had to have known the hurricane was coming.
“We’re just scouting, do not engage and do not get caught,” she said, parking in a nearby alley.
“Don’t plan on it. I’ll keep you informed.”
Shade bailed out and made her way to the wall’s edge, peering over and squinting into the dark. Thick sheets of rain cascaded onto car headlights, soldiers wandering in and out of the beams. She saw many figures inside of the buildings, barricading windows, spiriting away the few civilians that remained. The drones that still hung in the sky were landing somewhere out of sight. The main street was too hot. She worked her way to the back road, being careful to duck behind dumpsters and abandoned cars as she went.
“Hey! Hey, who goes there!”
Shade’s leg muscles went cold. She lowered herself to the ground, feeling for her tranquilizer gun.
“I said freeze!”
The voices were moving away. She ventured a glance in their direction. A man in a leather jacket and ski mask was trying to pry the back entrance of a store open. When he saw the soldiers approaching he hurled his crowbar at them and vaulted the railing. In an instant, her eyes were filled with pain. The man’s body collapsed without a sound, and his blood began to wash away.
Shade hugged the side of the dumpster and let them pass. They didn’t even check the body. When they were gone, she exhaled and continued on.
“Hey Shade?” came in Onyx. “I was just inside some sort of makeshift headquarters, inside of the Ài diner. They have their computers set up there. I can have Prism walk me through downloading their files, but I could use a distraction. Got any ideas?”
She looked around. There weren’t any more looters she could throw at them, so she’d have to investigate some more.
“I’ll get back to you on that.”
At the end of the road she spotted two more mercenaries guarding a garage door. Two quick darts put them on the ground, allowing her to sidle up to it. There was no one else in sight. Using the thunderclaps to mask the sound of grinding metal, she pulled up the door. Inside, Cerberus had stockpiled about a dozen crates. She removed the top of one, revealing rows and rows of Blueshift inhalers stacked neatly inside.
“Ho-ly crap.” She stuck a finger to her ear. “Onyx, I’ve got your distraction. There’s thermite explosives in my belt. I’m going to rig their Blueshift stash to blow.”
“Blueshift stash? Sounds good to me. Just tell me when you’re ready.”
Shade retrieved both explosives from her belt, compact charges held together with black duct tape. She peeled back a layer of tape and planted the bombs by their adhesive sides. She primed them and backpedaled, reaching for the detonator, into the barrel of a gun.
“Who. The hell. Are you?”
The detonator nearly slipped from her hand. Instinct was smothered by fear and her muscles locked in place.
“That’s my uniform. I built myself wearing it. Built my legacy. Why did you steal it? To mock me?” Phantasm cocked the gun. “Take off the mask.”
A thousand plans coursed through Shade’s brain. The rational ones were forced to stifle urges to do as Phantasm said, to hug her mother and beg her to stop. It wasn’t that kind of world. It was a world where she had to duck beneath the gun and twist her mother’s wrist so hard her elbow creaked, letting the pistol fall to the ground. She kicked it into the corner before being thrown into the crates.
Her focus came back to her in time to register a knife being whipped through the air, embedding itself in her right shoulder. The blade punched through her deltoid, slicing through meat and leaking crimson onto her undersuit. Screaming, she hurled a crate into Phantasm’s chest, knocking her back. Struggling to her feet, she attempted to get into a fighting stance, but the gap had already been closed and Phantasm landed an uppercut, then swept her to the floor once more with a hooked kick through the legs.
Her wind was rapidly leaving her. Just pushing herself off the cold floor took all she had, but she managed to throw a smoke pellet at Phantasm. Her mother tore through the cloud blindly, howling in rage. Shade practically crawled into the street.
“Onyx, you need to start it now,” she coughed into her transceiver. The rain had grown even stronger, pounding rhythmically with the blood in her head. “And if I don’t respond in ten minutes, just get out of here.”
“Shade? Are you okay? What’s going on?”
“Just do it!”
“Shade? I- Alright.”
She clicked the channel off. Working her grapple gun out of its holster, she latched the hook onto the nearest roof. Pulling herself up felt like pulling her shoulder apart. She hopped the next few roofs before lowering herself beside the Poltergeist. She couldn’t scramble inside any faster. Fumbling out the detonator, Shade punched in the code. Even from that distance, the blast rattled her teeth. She caught her breath before starting the car.
“Chiro, for chrissakes, pick up!” she screamed into her radio.
The radio crackled. “Chiro here. What’s going on?”
“It’s mom. I don’t have time to tell you the whole story but I need to keep her away from Onyx. What do I do?”
There was a pause. “Alright, listen. Phantasm is probably going to have her vehicle somewhere nearby. I want you to see where Alex is and engage her in the Poltergeist until he’s somewhere safe. Make sense?”
“You want me to fight her?!” She protested. “I’ve been stabbed, she’ll kill me!”
Another pause. “Shade, you’re sitting in a fortified mini-tank built for hands-off combat. You don’t have to hurt her. Just keep her off of Alex’s ass and you’re golden. I’m guessing you can still move your arm, so your suit’ll keep pressure on the wound long enough to get you back to the police safely.”
“Okay.” She inhaled deeply, measuring her breath. “Okay.” Shifting into drive, she launched the Poltergeist into the street. The foot soldiers had all retreated inside, leaving an empty parade of vehicles. None of them looked like Phantasm’s. “I can see the diner he’s in at the end of the street. How should I take this?”
“Block the street from the direction you just came as best you can – push some cars around if you have to. Be ready to engage when she shows up. She’ll probably come from the direction you’ll barricade, but be ready to take her from elsewhere, too. Remember, her vehicle is significantly stronger than yours, so be ready to take some cheap shots. Yours, however, is faster than hers. Use that to your advantage.”
She exhaled, closing her eyes and nodding. “Okay. I can do this.”
The car windows began to rattle. The roar of a heavy engine sounded from her left, from the direction she’d come. Something slammed into the Poltergeist with such force that the whole car skidded a dozen yards, and Shade was thrown forward onto the steering wheel. She cursed under her breath.
Out of the corner of her eye Shade could make out Phantasm’s car. It was the size of the Poltergeist half over again, with a double layer of thick black armor from bumper to roof. Bumper-mounted machine guns poured fire into the passenger’s side door.
Shade gunned it down the street. The second Poltergeist prowled around the abandoned vehicles like a panther. She had to get out of sight.
A second alleyway to her right came into view, and she disappeared into the shadows. Phantasm wasn’t far behind. With a burst of speed, Shade shot out of the alley and down a parallel one, giving her predator the slip.
For a moment, Phantasm paused, and Shade held her breath. Then she went back the way they came. Shade angled her vehicle around the alley edge, then fired a missile at the beast. Flames licked its armor, singeing the black paint away to reveal the dark silver armor beneath. Phantasm wasted no time reversing with surprising speed before ramming the Poltergeist through a wall.
They tumbled into the shell of a car repair shop, gadgets and tools strewn along the walls. Hydraulic lifts protruded from the ground, but with no vehicles attached. Locking her front wheels in place, Shade spun her rear tires and maneuvered around Phantasm, pushing her into a lift. The lift gave way, but not before taking a chunk of rear bumper with it. The Poltergeist’s grapple latched onto a tool table. Shade reversed out of the shop, slamming the table into Phantasm’s back. Phantasm tore through the wall after her, retaliating with a missile of her own. The blast robbed Shade of control of the Poltergeist, and she careened through a chain link fence.
“Shade, it’s me, Onyx. Are you okay? I’ve got some files from their network.”
“Not really,” she grunted. Everytime she put her hand back on the gear shift she could feel the blade in her shoulder embed itself deeper. “I’ve got to lose her somehow…”
She launched a hail of gunfire at Phantasm before turning around and speeding down the main road. A grocery store, a parking garage, the diner… A parking garage! If she was just dealt the winning hand…
The Poltergeist rumbled into the garage, drifting up the winding road as quickly as she could while maintaining traction. Phantasm, clearly less worried about collateral damage or her vehicle’s integrity, was tearing off concrete barriers behind her. The top floor had barely any lights functioning, which cast a thick gloom over everything. Her eyes darted back and forth, searching any means of escape.
A bulky work truck sat in a center parking space. It wouldn’t stop her mother, but it would slow her down. Spinning around, she attached a grapple into its side door, then gunned the reverse. She made it through the wall with ease, tugging the truck along the floor as she fell through the air upright. When the truck was almost drug down with her, she detached the grapple and landed with a jolt. The Poltergeist hung awkwardly for a moment, then fell back onto its front tires.
That should keep her busy long enough, Shade thought, pushing herself off the dashboard with a groan. “I’m… I’m coming Onyx.”
She cruised to the diner, listening to Phantasm struggle through the truck and get lost behind her. Onyx sprinted out, carrying a USB port, and hopped inside.
“It seems I’m always getting into trouble with these things.” He glanced at her shoulder. “Good lord, you’re bleeding bad!”
The gear shift and side of her seat had been painted crimson with a pint or two of blood. In the rush of it all, she hadn’t even noticed.
“It’s whatever. Let’s get out of here.”
Jeff stood in the corner of the covered makeshift lab he’d set up for Prism, staring through the wall of rain to the huddled masses outside. Dallas might have ordered him to stay there, but it didn’t seem right to be stuck there when he could have been more useful somewhere else. What good was a detective playing babysitter?
Prism himself was busy with a lot of nothing from the looks of it. He was stumbling back and forth, giggling like a hyena, and only checking his scattered petri dishes every now and then. Whenever Jeff questioned him, it went the same way.
“Aren’t you not supposed to consume any experimental materials?” Jeff inquired, thinking back to his forensics training.
“There’s only one way to fully gauge the effects, Higgins,” Fritz deflected, offering him a sample of the blue stuff. “C’mon, I wanna know how it works on you normal folks.”
Jeff politely declined the offer.
So he sat hunched in a corner and kept a lookout for any changes in the storm, or the camp, or anything. Even having Dallas around would have made the whole situation more bearable. Still, he had a job to do and God would have to strike him down before he gave up on it.
On that thought, a distant hum caught Jeff’s attention. It grew into a snarl as it got closer, until Jeff spotted Shade’s car zooming up towards the camp. He stood up to get a better view as it stopped not far from the tent. As the car’s door opened and Shade stepped out, Jeff’s breath caught in his throat.
“Oh my God!” he cried, rushing out of the tent towards her. “We need to get you patched up.”
Onyx ran out of the passenger’s side to help her stand. “She said the suit is putting pressure on the wound but she’s still lost a bit of blood. I hope she didn’t cut a vein or anything. What do you need me to do for her, sir?”
“Get her out of the rain, for starters,” Jeff said, pointing to the tent. “And we’ll need the suit out of the way, if possible.”
“Heh, I’m sure he’s broken up about having to remove my clothes,” Shade remarked.
Jeff ran off to grab a first aid kit, some cloths, and tarp from a police van, and returned with it a minute later.
“Now lay her down here,” he said as he arranged the tarp on the ground.
“You’re gonna be fine, Jessica,” Onyx assured her, gently setting her on the tarp. He tossed his mask to the side.
“I’d better, you boys won’t know which way is up without me.”
“Too late, already can’t tell,” Prism said, sagging against his flimsy table.
Jeff paid him no mind and leaned down to survey Shade. After removing the nearby armor and cutting away the undersuit, it was easy to pick out the stab wound. A stab wound with the blade still inside.
“Sheesh,” he murmured. “That’s gonna have to come out, and it’s gonna hurt. Alex, the second it comes out, you need to put pressure on the wound, hard as you can.”
Jeff handed him the cloth and put one hand on the blade, the other holding Shade’s arm.
“Okay, deep breaths, one, two…”
Jeff never got to three. He yanked the blade out before the word left his lips. A high-pitched shriek escaped Shade’s mouth. Her hand sought refuge and found it on Onyx’s shoulder. He jammed the cloth onto the wound.
“Just listen to my voice, okay?” It was quavering. “You’re gonna be alright. Jeff, what now?”
“Hold it,” Jeff ordered. “She’s at risk of bleeding out now more than ever, keep the pressure on until the blood stops.”
“Fucking hell! I’m her daughter, how could she do this to me?!”
“I don’t know, and I’m sorry, but she’ll answer for this,” Onyx assured her. “You just have to keep your focus, okay? You’re too strong for this to hurt you. Just keep calm.”
Their words barely registered in Jeff’s mind as he kept his eyes on the wound. It felt like an eternity of waiting before there was any slowing in the bleeding. When he finally saw progress, he grabbed a bottle of water sitting next to Prism and ushered Onyx’s hands away. He washed away some of the caked up blood to get to the incision, wincing at the sight of it. It was wide and about an inch deep, but the arm wasn’t twitching or limp, so nerve damage was unlikely. The ordeal was just painful.
With the filth out of the way, Jeff grabbed antibacterial ointment from the kit and sprayed over Shade’s wound with it.
“You need to get off the island and get a doctor to look at this ASAP,” Jeff warned Shade, taking out bandages. “I can’t guarantee that it’ll heal right with the resources we have here.”
“Did – Did it cut any arteries?” she asked between pants.
“No, I don’t think it cut anything too important,” Jeff said. He started to wrap up her shoulder, pulling the bandages tight. “Can you make a fist with that hand? Wiggle all your fingers?”
“I was able to survive a tank battle. Does that make me lucky or unlucky?”
“Lucky. Really, though, get to a doctor.” He stole a glance at Prism, who seemed to have spaced out in the meantime. “And maybe get your friend to a doctor too.”
“No. I just got here, and I’m not going to let her do this to anyone else.”
“Jessica, you just got stabbed. Listen to the man,” Onyx insisted.
“I’ll see a doctor when this is all done. I can still fight.”
Onyx frowned. “I’m telling you-”
“You don’t get to tell me to do anything!”
Onyx blinked, jerking his head back a little. The corners of her mouth twitched.
“I’m sorry. But I have to do this.”
The man sighed. “I can’t stop you, can I?”
“Then I’m gonna be on your ass. You’re getting that stitched up and waiting until this storm passes.”
“Whatever you say, dad. ‘Sides, I don’t think we had another option anyways.”
Onyx felt around his pockets. “Oh, that reminds me. You’ll be busy though, Fritz. Here’s that USB.”
“Huh?” Prism grunted, shaking his head at the acknowledgement. “Oh, hey, that’s the one I got at Office Depot a couple weeks back. Thanks for finding it, Alex.”
Onyx balled his fist. “Actually, I think I’ll keep it for the moment.” He looked back to Jeff. “Should we carry her to the tunnel, or…?”
“We’d better, that storm isn’t far off,” Jeff said. “She’s not in a state to be walking or doing much of anything. I’ll see if I can’t find a real EMT to properly dress the wound at some point. They’re a bit busy at the moment.”