Hot Iron: Part 8 (Conclusion)

15.

Walters’ SUV careened around a corner. Barnet and Sarah followed, tires screaming. Pistol fire barked and flashed beneath the droning helicopters above. Every few seconds divots appeared in new places as an NCPD SWAT sharpshooter took pot-shots from a chopper. Sirens wailed and echoed to catch up from a side-street. Squad cars ramped downward to glide, level, with the sedan. More shots rattled off from the SUV. A squad car, swerved, side-swiped the sedan. It rebounded sideways, slammed a pole, and disappeared behind them.

“Shit!” Barnet said, glancing backward. “This has gotta’ stop.”

He slapped a new magazine into his pistol and the sedan ramped over a bridge’s apex, caught air, crashed down with a chirp of and groaning metal. A cruiser pulled ahead to PIT the SUV.

“No! Damn it! No!” Barnet yelled futilely. “We need to follow–” He dialed his phone, “Connect me with your supervisor immediately!

“This is bad,” Sarah said. She spun around a corner. The Squad car easily bridged the distance between her and the SUV. “If he PITs that truck we’ll never find Kennedy.”

Barnet wasn’t listening. He spoke a mile a minute, each word as important and urgent as the next or last. “This is Special Agent Garret Barnet with the NSA. I am currently in pursuit of a black Suburban headed South-West through the city. Your people are following. Tell them to back off. Follow but do not intervene! The suspect is holding an agent hostage and we need to–”

“Garret!”

The cop’s car lurched forward. It nudged for the SUV, hit air instead, almost spun out of control. Sarah jerked left to compensate. The squad car recovered, pulled ahead again. It edged up against the blown out rear-tire of the SUV.

Barnet muttered, “Oh shit,” ceaselessly.

When it came, they were too shocked, stunned. The call never went through. The PIT did: the squad car surged forward with a vengeance. Its supercharger whinnied with high RPMs beside the scraping metal and asphalt that cut a path through the city. With a seething hatred, the squad car lurched again. Barnet was conscious of a sustained “no!” chorusing from he and Sarah. The panel above the mangled steel rim depressed. Sparks vomited sideways. The mangled rim sheered in half, threw Walters into a fish-tail. The cop followed through.

Walters’ SUV three-sixtied through traffic. It smashed and bounced off cars that swerved to avoid it. The impacts threw it back around, shifted its gravity with reckless abandon. The gnarled rim caught a pot-hole, deformed. The truck’s gravity shifted. In a blink, it was on its side. A fountain of sparks formed along the sides of the vehicle as it slid along its roof. It smashed a parked car, momentum still strong. A moment later it was flipping up, over, and down the parked car. It finally came to a stop, upside down, in front of the car, its wheels still spinning but its body inert.

Sarah skidded to a stop before it. She and Barnet were out, flashing their badges at the dozen uniforms emerging from the fleet of police cars around them. They ordered the cops to stay back, rushed the overturned vehicle with their pistols drawn. Walters clawed his way out, bleeding and bruised. A gun in one of his hands scraped the ground for leverage, his other hand clawed forward.

Barnet kicked Walters’ pistol away, yanked the dazed man up, “Where is she, you asshole!?”

Walters swayed, reality spinning around him. Barnet straightened his face, put his gun to his head. Walters began a slow rise to laughter, his head shaking, “You aren’t getting shit from me.”

Barnet sneered, “We’ll see about that.”

With a single move, he pistol whipped Walters unconscious.

Kennedy sensed something had changed. The last two hallways were empty. Something had to have cleared them. Some sort of event had taken place, and as far as she could tell, had taken Walters’ goons with it. She led Melissa, carefully, along cheap, wood-paneled corridors. The place felt like a trailer-home from the seventies; only a step above being homeless with décor more a begrudging obligation than a luxury.

They moved deeper through the place and windows appeared beside a staircase that lead downward. With an outward look, Kennedy suddenly understood why the place seemed so odd. It was a large warehouse, not unlike the one she’d read had exploded, save it didn’t smell of fish. According to the mostly-vacant parking lot outside, and the thriving, industrial landscape around it, she guessed the building wasn’t used for anything official.

She crept down the stairs ahead of Melissa, voices uttering low words from behind a sheet-metal wall. One said something about a car-chase on TV. Melissa panted terror. Kennedy moved her into hiding behind a stack of thick-wood crates. Behind them, a maze of corridors and rooms were constructed from sheet-metal dividers. Ahead, just past the packed storage area, light shined from an open, roll-door.

She could almost feel the waning sunlight. Still, where would she go from there? She couldn’t risk waiting for Barnet or the cops, nor hot-wire a nearby car– that hadn’t been on the med-school curriculum, unfortunately. She’d have to flag someone down for a ride, or find a place to hide and call Barnet. Any waiting would expose her though, and there was no assurance against encountering one of Walters’ goons while hitch-hiking.

No, even if she made it past the two voices ahead, she needed something immediate. Mobility, certainty, something to ensure she and Melissa could go as fast and far as possible to get away. That left only one option, whether or not it was possible remained to be seen.

She knelt beside Melissa, handed over the pistol from her waist-band, “Melissa, I need you to help me. I know you’re scared, but we’ve to gotta’ get out of here. If we stay, they’ll kill us.”

Melissa nodded, took the gun with trembling hands, “I’ve never fired a gun in my life.”

Kennedy frowned, tested the weight of the AK in her hands, “Neither have I, but maybe we won’t have to.”

“What do I do?”

Kennedy peered around the stack of boxes at the sunlight, “Just stay hidden. If I get in trouble, help me. Can you do that?”

Melissa pulled herself together, swallowed hard, “Y-yeah. I can do that.”

Kennedy breathed, then started forward. She advanced through the storage area for the sheet-metal dividing wall and the double-wide opening between her and it. She flattened up against the wall, leaned out to peer around it; two men sat just beyond it in an office on either side of a desk. They faced away from the door to stare at a wall-mounted TV as a news report showed footage of an ongoing police chase. She saw the black SUV, instantly knew it was Walters. She scanned the two men, spotted a carabiner of keys latched to one’s belt loop. They dangled through his chair above a black car-remote.

Her confidence peaked. She moved like wind, quiet, fast. Her rifle butt rose, slammed the man with the keys in the back of the head. The other turned to pull a pistol. She turned the AK on him.

Slow. Left hand,” she ordered. He pulled the gun out backwards. “On the floor.” He tossed the gun over. “I swear if you make one move I’ll murder–”

A click sounded behind her.

“Someone’s outta’ their cage,” a voice said. “Put it down.”

She didn’t budge. Her rifle was trained on the man. The keys were in reach. She could end this if it weren’t for–

“I said put it down!” He ordered with a fast step forward.

A pistol barked. Blood sprayed from his torso. The other man dove for his gun. The AK sputtered and recoiled. More pistol rounds echoed through the small area over the AK. At point blank, Kennedy littered the man with enough ammunition to carve a large hole out of his body. Melissa was suddenly behind Kennedy, her nerve regained.

She breathed exhilaration, “Are you alright?”

Kennedy fished for the keys, fought them off the last man’s pants as he stirred, “Yeah. Let’s go.”

They sprinted outside, hit the panic button. A Civic in the parking lot honked and flashed its lights. The pairs sprinted to the car, dove in just as distant rifle rounds began to chatter after them. The car fish-tailed from the parking, rear-window exploding. A man chased it to the edge of the lot, but tore away at break-neck speed, careened around a corner, and disappeared; Kennedy and Melissa with it.

16.

Barnet and Sarah returned from a local holding area run by the NSA. Walters was in custody, and so far, not talking. He would though, the NSA interrogator would make sure of it. By the end of it, Barnet would know where Kennedy was being held, and the NSA would know everything Walters did– including his underwear size, if they desired.

Neither of the agents thought much of the Civic parked in the Dentist’s usual spot as they entered the building. They’d missed the shattered window, too preoccupied with plotting their next move. They ascended the stairs to the safe-house, moved through it, but stopped, dumbstruck to find Kennedy tending to Melissa’s bruised and cut face. She sat beside her brother, his hand in hers. She didn’t even flinch when Kennedy swabbed alcohol at her wounds. Melissa was just glad to yet live.

Barnet involuntarily rushed and hugged Kennedy; a grievous breach of protocol. Sarah was quick to redirect his shame before protocol took precedent, “We picked up Walters and were trying to get your location from him.”

Kennedy replied distantly, “We made it during the chase. I saw it on the news.”

There was a long silence. Barnet finally broke it, “I’m glad you’re alright.”

Kenned shrugged. That was the end of it.

She did eventually retell of the warehouse and the events there, but that was as far as she’d go. The job wasn’t over yet, not by a long-shot. She still had two patients to care for, one in better shape than the other, near ready to come out of her induced coma. The other though, had days of work and monitoring left before he could even be considered for it.

A week after the short-lived kidnapping, Kennedy arrived at the safe-house to find the others yet to make it in. Mendez was still drugged too heavily to do much more than sleep and sip water. Currently, she was occupied with the former. Kennedy did her level-best to remain quiet, wishing not to disturb the injured, young woman.

She went about her usual routine of checking vitals, charting, and rehanging banana bags. Once finished, she whirled around to find a stocky, balding man had sneaked in behind her. He seemed to want to make his presence known though, given his bearing. He wore polyester rags, liberally called a suit, his face was pinched in a perpetual scowl. Kennedy didn’t need med-school to tell her he was an asshole.

“Can I help you?”

He flashed an NCPD badge, “I’m Matthew Roberts with NCPD’s Internal Affairs division.”

“That supposed to mean something?” She asked combatively, certain he wasn’t allowed in.

He waddled over, “I’m here to check on Officers Mendez and Torres to ensure they’ll be ready to face indictment for their botched operation.”

Kennedy’s eyes narrowed. Unlike Roberts, she was aware of two, crucial things; one, at its heart, Hot Iron was meant to suss out a mole; and two, no-one in the NCPD was supposed to know either of the two officers were alive.

She faked out the cop. It was too obvious. She needed to act, and fast.

She stiffened up as if suddenly fearing his authority, “Okay. S-sorry. We just aren’t supposed to have anyone in here.”

She moved for a drawer across the room. He stepped before the two officers, surveyed them with a wide sweep of his eyes. He made casual conversation more forced than it should’ve been, “And how are they, doctor?”

She almost corrected him, didn’t. It was all the more evidence he present for something impersonal. She stepped beside him, drew out a large dose of something in a syringe.

He eyed it, “Everything alright.”

“Oh yes,” Kennedy lied. “Just a little something for the pain.”

He nodded. She turned, jabbed the needle into his neck, and flooded his veins with sedative. He was awake long enough to fumble for his gun. She forced it away, snapped his wrist with an expert move. The gun fell to the floor. Roberts went with it, hit harder, louder.

***

Kennedy sat in bed, reading a Scientific American about psychology and burn patients. She’d gotten authorization to awaken Torres soon. If Barnet had been truthful– and considering they were now sleeping together, she doubted he’d lie– it wouldn’t be more than a few days before both officers were moved back to the ICU. With them, any black marks would be removed from her license, and more thank likely, she’d be commended for capturing Roberts. That was, again, if Barent’s sentiments had been sincere, and again, she doubted he’d lie.

Her phone vibrated along the table beside her. She answered it habitually, “Hello?”

It was Kevin. “Kennedy, don’t hang up!”
She rolled her eyes, “What d’you want?”

“I just wanna’ get my stuff back,” he said quickly.

She sighed, “Kevin you left your shit here and I threw it out. Call here again, and it’ll be the least of your problems.”

She hung up the phone and returned to reading.

Advertisements

Bonus Short Story: To Strengthen One Another

Exhaustion. That was what he felt as he sat, hunched over on a concrete barrier. His orange vest and hard-hat were the beacons of his status as a rescuer– one of a few-hundred. Like them, he’d worked for near-on thirty-hours to dig corpses and even fewer survivors from the rubble. What used to be a downtown office block was now a post-war zone. The dust had settled, but only for those outside the quarantine zone lined by emergency vehicles for half-a-mile in every direction.

Every few minutes the dogs and their handlers would scurry past. The hounds nosed the ground while their handlers’ eyes were locked on their ears, tails, and muzzles. Like the rest, they waited for any sign that would prompt them to dig. They would hand off the barking dogs, scope through the debri for what weakened scents of the living or dead had been caught.

Across the one-time plaza, a woman in a police uniform with a radio to her mouth took orders to sweep and clear every few minutes. No-one was sure why; the damage had been done, and it wasn’t likely whomever had done this would return. They wouldn’t need to. All they had to do was flip on the TV to see the live vids that revealed the loss of an entire city block, the lives of most workers therein. The woman wasn’t even sure why she was there, but she knew she couldn’t leave. At that, she couldn’t have been dragged away either.

Most at the scene were like her; lost, confused, tormented by a moral quandary of whether their exhaustion was more important than the suffering of others under the rubble. No-one escaped the buildings before the bombs, but just as well, few people had been found. Most were dead. And now the rescue teams were beyond exhausted.

A great rumble kicked up from one of the blockaded roads, and someone shouted something about a convoy. A firetruck’s engine revved to part from the center of a barricade, then a convoy from the Army Corps of Engineers rolled in. It led the way for a series of construction and demolition vehicles. Flat-bed eighteen-wheelers arrived with curious looking, mechanical vehicles atop them. It wasn’t long before their purpose was revealed.

The Engineers piled out, ready to aid the rescue teams with blue-prints, enlivened vigor, and coffee by the barrel-full. The construction and demo-trucks fanned out around the inner-perimeter of the disaster, immediately began work. Bulldozers and back-hoes, front-loaders and excavators, and a quarter-mile’s worth of dump trucks worked with the dogs and handlers.

Together, they combed small areas with resonance scans that gave three-dimensional views of the rubble and Earth beneath it before beginning removal as gingerly as possible. Wrecking-ball cranes were hitched to the largest chunks of debris and lifted for the dumps.

A few more bodies were revealed, all but one dead. The woman was barely breathing, obvious even through her dust-caked, high-quality blouse. Her abdomen had the tell-tale bruises of internal bleeding.

Everyone present had seen her on television at some point– most during the business-segments of news-vids. She was an unliked, well-known contrarian that argued business matters for payment against most definitions of ethics. Even so, she was loaded onto a stretcher as carefully as anyone else, rushed across the site to a triage, and worked on as anyone in need. If it were any normal day, perhaps those present would’ve had words against the woman’s nature.

But this was not a normal day. It couldn’t have been. It is said that sin has no place in disaster; so benign seemed even her greatest sins that no-one even hesitated to help her.

More work, hours passed. More bodies, more dead, fewer survivors. Then came the Mechs;

those peculiar-looking vehicles on the trucks– like giant, hydraulic legs with clawed arms and blocky, snake-like heads atop metal shoulders. They were super-strong, mechanical exoskeletons built of high-strength steels and powerful hydraulic limbs. They could lift, carry, even hurl tons as easily and competently as a human with a tennis ball.

Each Mech was an armored cock-pit, accessible from the back, that an operator stepped into. The operators thrust themselves into computerized braces along the feet, legs, arms, hands, head and torso to allow for full-range of mobility. When the back came down, sealed the operator in, the Mech’s systems engaged to work with the strength of a full platoon of men. In time, the Mechs even gave most rescue workers time to sleep or recollect themselves.

When those workers sat for water or food, they fell asleep without pause, as dead to the world as its reaches beyond the quarantine zone had become to them. The Mech operators were praised for their appearance and timeliness as they quickly sifted through what remained of the buildings, filled the convoys of dump-trucks twice over, and uncovered more than a few people both living and dead.

It was said, after the fact, that over a million collective man-hours had been spent in the search and clean up of those few days. Most there agreed, if only due to the extreme fatigue they all eventually succumbed to. Were it not for the Mechs and their operators, some men and women might have literally dropped mid-dig. Though all there feared it, so too did they know that no man nor woman would stay down long. Each of the rescuers– from the dogs to the EMTs– were ready to commit themselves so fully as to rise in defiance of any would-be collapse.

There is much that can be said of the human spirit, but those few days its existence wasn’t debatable. Not in the sense that it had been before. Whether metaphorical, metaphysical, or just plain curious, that collective spirit became more real, corporeal. It became a wall of bagged sand against a tidal wave of grief and tragedy that, like Pandora’s Box, rose as a lid that closed to keep the worst at bay. Such is the nature of the Human spirit, and in it, the true purpose for our dominance of this planet; to live, love, and strengthen one another.

Short Story: The Murder of an Angel

I found her wandering the Ginsu Corporate Japanese garden. I’d been called to the scene to address a public nuisance. Such is the way of our culture now that even this woman, goddess though she was, could not escape our surveillance drones nor there automatic report. Though she was non-violent, I knew from the report I received en-route, that I’d have to take her in. What I found when I arrived though…

The Ginsu Corp’s Japanese garden is an enormous courtyard in the center of a sky-scraper made of all modern, sleek angles, stainless steel trim, and large, open windows. That last bit seems the most important for what I found, but it was hardly on my mind when I entered from the lobby-side. The door there was designed to open and close like a sliding door, but was hidden in the windows to appear as one. Something about architects and their styles– or some such nonsense– made it necessary to hide the door.

There was a persistent, purposeful gurgle of water in the garden. A make-shift river was cut through its center with clever, hidden plumbing and a slow-trickling waterfall to the left side. The water would slip down those rocks endlessly, follow the twists and turns of its man-made banks, flow beneath a foot bridge in the middle, then exit somewhere far to the right to start the process again.

The few, Japanese Maples Ginsu had imported were delicately placed around the garden’s stone pathways and small clearings so as not to overshadow the countless foreign hedges, flowers, and ancient, potted bonsai-plants. Over the sky-scraper and through the foliage, the sun’s rays cut streaks through a mist that persisted over the area. It gave the garden an almost ethereal look.

It was surreal. There I stood in heavy, corp-sec armor with an LR-30 five-five-six in my hands, in a veritable garden of Eden. It was even more surreal when I made my silent progress to the footbridge, then clomped over it in my weighted gait into the Garden’s heart. Somewhere behind me a Koi jumped at one of the various water-dwelling insects. It landed with a splash that I missed but caught the ripples of. Even at the distance I could see the Koi in the river; they were massive, all manner of mixtures of orange, black, white. Some were wholly patterned, the rest mostly solid colors with speckles of others splattered across them. There must have been a few hundred that swirled through the water, added life to the already-teeming garden.

I found her a few paces from a split in the hedges. To say I was breath-taken would be an understatement. She sat in the dewy grass in one of those shining sun-rays that gleamed down from the heavens. The metaphor was all the more apt then. Her knees were drawn up, legs curled beneath her while she leaned on an arm. She glowed with an aura of the sunlight– or maybe it was her angelic features– while a hand pensively hung at the back of her neck. She stared upward in trance, as oblivious to me as I was of what was to come.

I don’t know how long I stood there, but it was enough to eventually rouse her curiosity. I should have said something, anything, but I knew I couldn’t. To add anything to the sounds of that low gurgle, distant, quiet birds, and the faint scent of fresh mist would have been blasphemous. Instead, I watched her. As if of her own volition and nothing else, she rose from the ground and angled toward me.

She was clad in little more than a transparent dress. It wasn’t a thing from any of the corp-owned stores in town. They’d have never allowed it. Even so, she wore it like a goddess, could have fit in with any of the old myths about ancient women whose beauty brought men and women their knees.

She tilted her platinum blonde head– which curiously seemed natural despite its impossibility– and drew a slow hand upward. My eyes caught the motion to see her pale skin beneath the dress, her body bared for the world, for me. The glow behind her gave an outline of something voluptuous to her already-transcendent beauty. It was difficult not to stare. Even so, something in the way her hand curled beneath the hard angles of her jaw made it seem as though she wished me to, took pleasure in it.

Imagine me, all corp-sec clad and rifle-toting ready to rain hell-fire on rebels and revolutionaries, being met with a match so fully inverse of myself– in appearance or otherwise. Surreal didn’t quite cut it anymore, if only because of the ethereal, extra-worldly magnificence before me. I was the beast in the metaphor, a perfectly sculpted image of terror, torture, and pain, and somehow I’d found beauty that brought me to my knees. Literally.

My rifle dropped from my hands first, the safety thankfully on. She was within arm’s reach, could see all the subtle curves of her supple breasts, perfectly-rounded hips, and the glistening green of her eyes. The left side of her head was shaved. The rest short but with bangs that angled around her forehead. The seemed to weight it into a tilt to one side, then drifted in the light breeze that made it over the gargantuan walls of the around us.

I met her eyes with a breathless, parted mouth. I was only vaguely aware of the people gathered around the garden and surveillance cameras. Most would be watching out of curiosity, others out of arousal. So repressed has our society become that this woman was committing a crime simply by existing. By then, I had forgotten my job there. She could have murdered me, if it meant only a touch from her unearthly wonder.

Our eyes were still locked when I fell to my knees. Her mouth formed a sadness then that still stabs my heart when I remember it. With a pair of nimble, silken fingers, she lifted me upward by the broad-underside of my chin. Her touch sent a shiver through my spine. I was ready to faint, so powerful was she.

Why what came next happened, I don’t know. Maybe she knew what was to come from it. Maybe, like I with her, she’d been captivated by something in me that I didn’t know existed. Or maybe she was as enthralled as I by the unseen, primal forces of lust and love that have allowed our species to propagate. Whatever it was, she gave a small shake of her head as I rose to full-height from the light pressure beneath my chin. Then, slowly, both of her soft hands rose to either side of my face. She pulled me into a long, deep kiss that nearly made me buckle again.

Her breath was hot, inviting, her tongue soft and trained like a dancer. Between us a slow, almost mournful ballet began. I’m not sure how long it lasted, but I never wanted it to end. My hands were warmed through my gloves at her hips while the breeze tousled the creased, see-through dress around them as its anchors.

I know she sensed what was to come. I felt it in a burst of passion that surged between us. If I had known though, I might have done something more. But all I knew was her; a glowing, pulsing beacon of beauty, love, and good in a world literally gone to hell. Outside that garden, there were a dozen different corps all vying to carve out the largest part of the world they could. Anyone that got in their way was labeled a traitor, dissenter, terrorist.

My job was to rid the world of those people, the undesirables. All I ever did was drive wedges between people and their families, murder the righteous, and taunt the rest into choosing sides in a war for the most basic of freedoms. I will never know her name, but I’m sure that she was all of those things and somehow… I couldn’t have done more than I did in that moment.

There was a sound like a someone shouting in the distance, but I didn’t hear it. Then a hiccup in the low gurgle. I was a million miles away, riding a beam of sunlight with a queen of stars. Her passion never faltered; not from the moment our lips met. It merely stopped as she slipped down my body, clutching at my armor. I was hit by reality like a freight-train ramming an unseen motorist off the tracks. Another apt metaphor that was just as bloody as my armor as she slipped away from me.

Before I knew it, she and I were surrounded by one of the Corp’s Emergency Response Squads. The ERS are guys sent in to “contain,” a “situation.” In other words, I didn’t do the job fast enough or well enough, and some assholes kicked down the door. They murdered an angel. I know no-one believes in that stuff anymore. Neither do I, really, but then again I never believed in love, or love at first sight either. I do believe in those last two now.

She bled to death in my arms. Her glowing gown was stained red from the exit wound in her chest. I was safe from my armor and its built-in kinetic compensators. I wish I hadn’t been. I’d have rather died there with her.

I held her, breathless tears welling in my bestial eyes. She never stopped smiling. Not even after the life left her eyes and her last breath eased from her chest and tore out my heart. I was arrested for indecent public conduct and displaying affection while on-duty. The latter was a reprimand, the former a felony.

I took my forty licks– corporate lashings that we all agreed to allow when we signed on with corp-sec. Why wouldn’t I? I was cold, numb, without feeling. I had become the very thing the corps always wanted out of us. It wasn’t until I realized that that I finally understood why she’d smiled even with a bullet through her heart and her life fading: she’d made a statement with her life, her death, and the moments leading to it. I was the punch-line to a joke about trying to remove the humanity from a human.

Even now I don’t mind. Every day I wake up in my dingy hovel, help more people to escape the prison-compounds the Corps have turned most cities into. I use my power, my authority, despite my Spartan living and appearance, to do the one thing I know she would approve of. I help people find feeling again, just as she did for me. Even if she didn’t love me, I loved her, and I’ll go to my grave doing everything to honor that. It took the murder of an angel to awaken me, but I’ll be damned if it was in vain.