Short Story: Six-Leggers

She was running. Faster than she thought possible. She might’ve been small, agile-looking, but at heart, she wasn’t. At heart she was a lazy-ass couch-potato, something vaguely organic growing from one side after months of stagnation. Often enough, beneath her festered a lukewarm indentation from her time there. Now, it was aching, pain, exertion. Blitz was running like hell, and faster than any human had a right to.

She’d pissed off exactly the right people at exactly the right time in exactly the right way, so she started running. Problem was, something had gone wrong. They were running too. Faster than she’d anticipated. So fast, in fact, it was obvious they were no longer human. They’d never been human, she knew now, but whatever they were, she wasn’t about to stop to find out.

She threw herself down an alley, took it as fast as her gait allowed, power-slid across a puddle to face its open side. A fence half-way through inexplicably barred her way to the far-end of the alley, its freedom. She swore under her breath, hoping her boots fit the chain-link without a struggle. Even now the galloping six-legs charged her like the low rumble of a Maiden bass-line.

If hell was real, she decided, its minions were vacationing Earth-side.

She leapt at the fence, scrambled up it, caught her first bit of luck in the perfect fit of chain-link.

Blitz could smell them now, didn’t dare look back. They reeked of rotted sewage hinted with days-old corpse. She guessed the human suits they’d shed had hidden the smell too. Otherwise, she’d have stayed the hell away from them to begin with.

She clambered over, snagged her pants on rattling chain-link and leapt for the ground below. She landed with cool air on the small of her back. The fence had taken more than its share of her pants. She couldn’t care less about it, wouldn’t have missed a beat if suddenly ass-naked.

This was Dover’s fault. Stupid bitch. She should’ve never cooked up the scheme, never involved Blitz. Then again, Dover wasn’t busting ass down four-thirty-third street with the creds and six-legger demons. Blitz wondered if she’d ever go back to that shit hole now, but knew that was just anger talking. If she survived, she’d be back, and with Dover’s cut– less now, but her’s all the same.

It was really Yuki and Kris’ fault. Anger aside. They’d done the scam, bragged about it over beers. How the hell was Dover not supposed to try running her cousin’s scam? It wasn’t even really a scam, just a misdirection. It was only the fault of the stupid six leggers who’d put their money where their mouths supposedly were. How could they have expected not to get burned in a place they hardly knew?

Fact was if it hadn’t been Blitz– and Dover covertly– that burned them, it would’ve been someone else. They were wearing suits for fuck’s sake. No-one wore a suit this side of town unless looking to get taken for a ride or packing enough heat to fund a small army. Blitz decided, if she ever got to stop running from them, and wasn’t being eaten by them, she’d have to explain their obvious mistakes.

Then again, that also required facing them without screaming. Enlightenment wasn’t looking good for them.

She raced out into roaring traffic, completely unfazed by it. Headlights swerved and weaved on both sides of the street. Horns blared protests. She passed onto sidewalk, sprinting away from screeching tires. Something heavy thumped metal. Glass was crunched and crushed. One set of galloping legs clambered into a wrench of metal. Screams and horns said one was dead, the other still chasing her.

Even beneath the street noise she heard it, felt it; a rider from hell galloping in charge across a battlefield of blood and fire.

This couldn’t have just been about their money. There was no way. Between Blitz and Dover, they’d made a little over a G hustling through-out the night. Only a couple hundred of it was the hell-riders’ though. If only she could get away, get back to the bar, reach the range of Dover’s double barrel. She’d wanted to keep Dover out of it though, wanted to handle it herself. Do the job like a pro.Not possible now.

Dover ran the bets, upped the numbers, made the stakes look good against Blitz’s skills, and for a few hours, the dough and odds piled up. Then, when the time came, Blitz’s skills took over.

Kris and Yuki had run the scam at the Arcade in Jackstaff. Why couldn’t she and Dover run it at the Circuit Board in Seattle? Each of them do their part, form a whole, and make bank. Like pros. Not possible. Not now.

There was no way around it. Blitz was on E when she’d started. Short of giving back the couple hundred, she saw no way around making the wide bank back toward the C-B. Hoping she’d catch the last six-legger up in the panic of traffic, she sprinted back through it traffic; back toward the C-B and the way she’d come.

Galloping and screeching said the drivers and six-legger were prepared his time. She missed her chance to end things that way. No matter, she had a plan now. One she knew even Dover’d be prepped for, so long’s she knew ahead of time.

Panting for her life, pumping her legs, Blitz dialed her HUD-comm. Dover answered. She panted out a few words with spittle-laden exhaustion. “Comin’ back hot. Be ready!”

The comm cut. She angled back, around the block. The C-B was close, mid-way down. She’d have to play it right, else the six-legger’d grab her at the door, do fuck knows what. In fewer than rightful steps, she was there, half-fumbling the door grab.

Panic took over. Her center of gravity shifted. She was on her back, on the ground, eyes clenched shut in defense as something ranciddripped drool and breathed steam. She felt it reel back, ready to lunge. The air pulsed.

The legger exploded backward from a roaringblast. Screeches shredded the air. Blitz scrambled back. Buckshot tore through legs, severed them from the carapace.Dover’s double-barrel cracked open, ejected the pair of spent shells. Two more slipped in. The gun snapped shut. She let the beast have it again. First, with one barrel. Then, with the other.

It stilled into silence as she cracked open the barrel and reloaded again.

Blitz swallowed hard. “Th-Thanks.”

Dover offered her a hand. “Just protecting my investment.”

They stood, staring at the creature, wondering what the hell’d just happened. Dover decided she didn’t care to know, about-faced back for the bar. Blitz took a moment longer to watch the beast, shuddered at its reality, then hurried in after Dover, glad she was no longer on anything’s menu.

Into Her Darkness: Part 11 (Final)


Into Her Darkness

The vent grate crashed to the floor. Crystal rolled out, across the hall. Shadows flitted beneath incandescent lights. A figure appeared down the hall. Crystal’s hands clacked a suppressed burst. Blood sprayed from the suited chest. A second form appeared. The fire shifted. Holes were chewed open across it. Crystal stance stayed low, her gun out. She crossed the threshold, arms jerked in and around. She slammed the corner of the door, TMP ejecting a round.

Her heart stuttered, her muscles engaged. She head-butted the man with a staggering blow. He stumbled back. Blood streamed along his front from a broken nose. His hands went for his gun. The quiet triplets of fire met shell casings that clattered along the floor. His body crumpled to the dirty tile with a thud.

Crystal was already rushing to a nearby computer. Her hands danced over keys to cycle various video feeds. Aging black and white monitors jumped with random views of the factory’s interior. It flipped to a wide angle of a room. A few men occupied its edge, its center filled by a figure tied to a chair. A man with his back to the camera stepped forward, beat a cross against the figure.

Crystal’s blood boiled. She fumed, keyed up her HUD map to pinpoint the camera, then sprayed the surveillance panels with ammunition. She rushed out, took identical corridors in sprints, machine pistol out. Cracked windows and filthy frosted-glass doors passed amid heavier steel ones. Corners led to a stairwell, up to its terminus and T-intersection that around a central room before meeting again in a complete square.

She juked left, boots echoing off the walls. A door opened mid-way up the hall for a man as oblivious to her as anyone could be. She clacked her last pair of rounds into him, released the empty magazine, and slapped in another. Someone stumbled to the door in alarm, was dead as soon as he appeared. Another fought for his gun near the hall’s edge. Terror gripped him, but the murderous creature they’d unleashed didn’t hesitate, didn’t think. Death was automatic, instant. Movement flitted, then ended. Muzzle flash and clack. No stride broken, the creature gone before the bodies hit.

The quickest path was opposite the second T-Junction, through it and over a catwalk above a chemical-mixing floor. Crystal reached the doors, threw herself against them. They rebounded, knocking her back and stealing the wind from her sails. She recovered with speed: chain was fitted around the doors, held in place by a simple pad-lock.

In a moment, she was picking the lock. Her fingers worked deftly. The padlock was no match. Not anymore. Weeks earlier, perhaps– but now, never. The chain slipped through itself, clattered to the floor beneath the lock. She rose to full-height, again, but tempered her pace. A fast tempo might thunder off the catwalk, echo through the mixing floor below. Angela was close. Too close for mistakes.

Crystal found she could sense Angela– as any student sensed their lingering master. This was different, she felt it. Angela was bleeding, bruised, emitting waves of pain from somewhere ahead to the left. A definite air of past and present violence mixed with ethereal despair, pain. If she’d been more attuned, Crystal would’ve sworn she’d sensed Angela’s life-blood draining onto floor and knuckles.

Crystal rolled through the opening of the next hallway, and stopped in a crouch, keeping herself low. She shouldered her way past dirt-clouded, cracked or missing glass panes and stopped beside one. A large, open room was visible through it: to one side, an old metal desk was pushed against a wall. Beside it and behind it, panels, screens, and various instruments were formed into the wall.

Arthur had been right. The room was large, clearly intended for worker-meetings, and with a commanding view of the factory’s particulars. Through a second series of glass panes ahead, was doubtless the control room that glowed, back-lighting Angela in the chair. Her face was bloody, bruised, no part of it untouched. Sweat and blood mingled to form streams that trickled down her brow and black eyes. One was swollen shut, purple and fat, plum-like above split lip and eyebrows where piercings were brutally torn free. Her platinum blonde too, was stained red, matted by blood and sweat.

Crystal’s mouth snarled in disgust. That one human could treat another human so barbarously only seemed possible from her sudden desire to repay the favor. Death was one thing; it could be quick, simple, painless. This was different. She wasn’t going to give Caruso the satisfaction of one breath more than necessary. She steeled herself against coursing adrenaline threatening to overwhelm her sense, and formed her attack.

Judging by her view and the silhouettes playing over the windows behind Angela, roughly six men were near enough to jump into combat. Adding to that Caruso, and any others that might hear a gunshot, direct confrontation wasn’t the best option. Then again, it might be the only option. Crystal could see no other way in, but trying to take too many people at once could just as easily kill Angela as waiting much longer to strike.

Crystal pulled away as a wet thud of bloody meat being pounded echoed beyond the glass. She winced, activated her comm. “Arthur, do you read me?”

He hit a button on the car’s dash. “Eh. What is it?”

She glanced through the window: Caruso reeled back for another punch, landed it across Angela’s face, left a gash behind. “I need a distraction. Something big. Now.”

Arthur started the Ferrari, tore ruts in the grass. “Give me sixty seconds.”

“Go,” she said, firing a stop-watch on her HUD.

Crystal leaned forward again, watching through the cracked pane with sharp, quiet breaths. Angela’s body bucked from another blow; it was involuntary, a displacement of force, nothing else. She was long too numb to feel it. Her head hung to one side, limp. Blood and saliva dripped from her mouth into her lap, wetting already-damp, stained jeans. Caruso sensed her lulling. Even Crystal could tell he’d been at it a while. He was just prolonging the inevitable now. He’d long since worked out his aggression, but he flexed his back and shoulders, suggesting he wasn’t done yet. He rubbed his knuckles clean with a cloth, and turned for the desk, sitting against it with one leg braced on the floor.

“You know,” he said, tossing aside the rag for a glass of scotch. “After you escaped that warehouse, I figured, “what the hell? Kid’s got some fight. She’s learned her lesson.” Guess I was wrong. Never met such a stubborn bitch in all my life.”

Angela’s head tilted, her tongue swollen, “You soun… dizzappoint’d.”

He chuckled over a sip of scotch. Crystal snarled: the sick bastard was actually laughing. Fury boiled in her, she felt her adrenaline peaking again.

“Disappointed?” Caruso laughed. “Fuck no! I admired it. Such resourcefulness. And you managed to drag that cunt’s body out with you. That’s just goddamned heroic right there. If she hadn’t been dead before I put the last bullet in her, they’d have written fucking ballads about it.”

“Julia…” Angela said distantly, delirious from pain, blood-loss.

“Yeah, Julia,” he said with a deluded reminiscence. He sipped his scotch with pleasure, “You know the first time, it was nothing personal. No. Just business.” He rose from the desk, tossed the rag down, and took slow, forward steps. “You know how it is. Can’t have anyone thinking you’re weak. If a couple people gotta’ get offed so no-one crosses you, so be it, right? If one manages to get free, well, no harm no foul, so long’s they get the message, keep their noses clean.”

Angela gazed up with an incredulous look. That he seemed to believe his lecture had a point was more deluded than his skewed interpretation of business ethics.

He leaned in, “Then, lo and behold, one of my pieces gets ripped off– and in my own town no less.” Crystal watched him eye the guards behind Angela. “And of course, who else operates outta this town that might pull such a job? Well, the one and only, of course.” One of his men snickered with mischievous arrogance.

“I … didn’t know,” Angela said weakly.

“Doesn’t matter,” Caruso replied, straightening. His fist balled up again. “Business is business. But you made this personal– between us— when you off my boy at the museum. Just be glad I left your friend alive. Maybe your corpse will be a better message than your life.” Crystal grit her teeth. He slugged Angela another time. “You’ve stolen from me, and I intend to take repayment.” He stepped away to the desk, wiped his hands again, then lifted a pistol from it.

“C’mon, Arthur,” Crystal hissed, readying to leap madly into the fray.

Caruso leveled the gun on Angela. Crystal’s heart stopped. He sneered, “Your death will repay the debt. For now.”

The hammer dropped on the pistol. A rumble in the distance accelerated to a full-blown explosion. Then another. And Another. Caruso lowered the gun, commanded his men to go. He stopped, ready to follow, and snarled at Angela, “Your friends won’t be getting off this time.” He snapped the hammer up with a malicious grin. “You’ll watching die first, then join them.”

Crystal ducked into cover on the cat-walk. Mobsters rushed out, into the hall, away with. Caruso landed another wet thud, then followed after them, gun stiff at his side. Crystal waited until he was around the corner, rushed into the office.

“Angela,” she whispered testing her bonds. “Angela, can you hear me?” She slipped a knife through the ropes, circled the chair in a crouch to look up at her swollen face. She lifted her face, “Angela?”


“Yeah. Yeah, it’s me,” she said, sweat and filth and pain forcing her eyes to well-up. “Can you walk?” She shook her head, unable to do much more. Crystal slipped under her side, “We’ve gotta’ get out–”

The door burst open. Caruso and his men stood before them, guns raised. Crystal froze. Angela dangled limply off her left shoulder. The led to a raised TMP, its laser-sight hovering on Caruso’s heart.

“You stupid bitch!” Caruso shouted, thrusting his gun forward. “You could’ve lived. Now you’re going to die. And for what? This two-bit thief? This hack con-artist?”

Crystal’s eye twitched, “I don’t think so.” She mentally opened her comm-channel, let her words and aural emulators transmit to Arthur. “You know as well as I do, you shoot me, you die too.”

Caruso glared at the laser-dot on his chest, “Looks like we’re at a stalemate.”

Crystal’s eyes narrowed. “I disagree. From my perspective, you’re in check. You can’t kill me or Angela without dying yourself.”

“You can’t save her if you’re dead.”

“I wouldn’t have come here if I weren’t willing to die for her,” Crystal said, stalling for time. She glanced at his goons, “Those men are all you have left, Caruso. Walk away now. Keep them and your life. Otherwise, you’ll die here tonight.”

“Bullshit!” Caruso barked.

“Don’t believe me?” Crystal asked, aim firm. “Check the security-room. No back up left to call, and the equipment’s shot. You’re cut off.” He growled. “So the question is, do you want to die over a two-bit thief?”

His face twitched, teeth ground in his jaw. He kept his raised. “If I ever see you again. I will kill you both.”

Crystal kept her aim tight. Caruso did the same. She began to angle around the chair, his gun followed her. The laser-dot kept its place. The next moment was flashes, sounds– a slide-show of carnage. The air cracked with supersonic blasts. An un-suppressed pistol downed two of Caruso’s men. He turned his head, mid-step. Crystal threw herself to the floor atop Angela. The TMP loosed a prolonged burst, sprayed Caruso’s blood through the air. Two more cracks dropped the last of Caruso’s men before they could retaliate.

Caruso hit the floor. His gun landed out of reach. Time found its pace. Crystal panicked, felt Angela for holes. Then herself. She found none. Arthur limp-sprinted in, pistol sweeping the bodies for anyone still alive. Caruso’s body bucked, shook, his lungs full of blood. He choked for his dying breaths. Arthur’s gun turned.

“Julia sends her regards,” Arthur’s gun cracked twice more. He strode over. “You alright?”

Crystal helped him lift Angela. They each took a shoulder, carried her along. She hesitated to look down at Caruso, then spit a wad of blood at his chest.

“Sadistic Prick.”

Arthur started forward again, “Come. Let’s plug those holes before you ruin the upholstery.”

Angela managed a small laugh, more of relief then anything. They carried her from the factory, sat her upright in Crystal’s lap. She cradled her until she passed out from utter exhaustion. Arthur let her sleep. Crystal did too; and wouldn’t have disturbed her for the world.


All told, Crystal’d passed her tests. She’d guessed as much. Angela was waiting until they’d returned from the jewelry store job, but given everything, it was forgotten. Still, her choice remained to stay or go. With Angela’s injuries so extensive, Crystal planned on sticking around long enough for Angela to return to fighting shape. Only then could it feel fair to make such a decision. Questions still bubbled up here and there, but nothing that couldn’t wait.

Crystal was shocked then, to enter her room after her daily work-out and find Angela sitting on her bed. Her arm was still in a sling, and more than a few butterfly bandages and stitches held her face together, but the bruises had begun to yellow, and her wounds to heal– even her swollen eye had re-opened. It was obvious she was headed for a full recovery.

Angela stood at Crystal’s entry, steadied herself with her undamaged arm. Crystal stopped short, “Angela? What’re you doing up? You should be resting.”

“I needed to move. Being stuck in a bed’s not my style.” She smiled weakly, hoping to soften the slight tension in the air. Crystal mirrored it, but Angela’s mouth twitched and her smile wavered. “Crystal, I’m… I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth. I didn’t think Caruso was…” She trailed off. It felt too much like an excuse to go any further. “I’m just sorry, okay?”

Crystal nodded, “I told you before. I understand.”

She shook her head, “I saw myself in you, Crystal. When I found you in that diner, I saw someone whose life hit bottom without their control. Like mine.” She breathed, easier than she expected. “I was born in Seattle, just before the web 2.0 crash. My name is Angela Dale. I’m 30 this year. I have a brother and a sister, two parents, and haven’t seen any of them since I was a teenager. Julia, she… I was angry at the world. I hated living. I hated myself. Julia changed that. I thought, maybe if I could repay the debt, do for you what she did, I might find solace. Some peace. Over her death. But what I did… It was wrong to involve you like I have.”

Crystal squinted, “So… do you want me to leave?”

For the first time, Angela looked vulnerable, almost frightened by the thought. “No. That’s the opposite of what I want. I want you to stay. Even if you don’t work with me. I just… I need someone– a friend. Arthur is– well, he’s not enough sometimes. I-if you still wanna’ leave, I understand, b-but I wanted you to know how I felt. Where I stand. And all I want to know otherwise, is where we stand.”

Crystal’s face was blank. She’d trained so hard and with such singular purpose, she wasn’t sure how to feel about this new choice. She’d never been more certain of wanting to stay, but after Caruso, what she’d done, it felt almost wrong to– as if some line were crossed and she’d turned from would-be thief into murderer. She’d killed to get to Angela, killed to save her— killed for more than to survive.

But was that a choice? Angela was all Crystal had. Like family now. Angela was standing before her, saying the same thing. Were her actions really so depraved? Or was it just the nature of their lives, the dangers it presented? She wasn’t sure, but ultimately, leaving felt more wrong than anything thus far.

She cleared her throat, “Angela, I’ll stay, but I won’t waste what you’ve taught me.”

Angela’s eyes welled up, her voice barely a whisper, “Thank you.”

Crystal stepped over, “Thank you. For everything.” She hugged her gently, careful of her injuries. “Let’s get some food into you.” Angela managed a sniffling laugh.

Long ago now, it felt, Crystal had plunged into a darkness knowing nothing but hope for something– anything, better. There she’d found Angela. And as the darkness deepened around them, they found it evermore depthless, evermore eternal. Yet now she and Angela stood side-by-side, beyond it, wielding a torch of hope never to be extinguished.

Into Her Darkness: Part 10



Something wet slid across Crystal’s face. Her eyes snapped open on blinding light. Arthur was leaned over her, easing her back with a hand. The other dabbed a wet cloth against a tender area near her temple. It came away bloody. Her room took shape around her, and she sat up in bed.

Arthur hissed, “Easy. You took a helluva hard hit.”

She sat up, head-splitting migraine with her. She powered through it, “Where’s Angela?”

“Gone. Found you unconscious outside the weight room.”

She pushed herself up, swayed. Arthur steadied her. “We need to find her. Now.

“We will. But you shouldn’t be up. You have a concussion. Not exactly fighting shape.”

She waved him off, “Caruso has Angela. He’ll kill her.”

He squinted a wily eye at her, “You sure it was his people?”

She nodded, began sweeping the room with her eyes for anything useful, “They hit us on the road. They must’ve followed us back. Found out where we–” She cut herself off. “Jesus, Jonas!”

She raced from the room, grabbed a random key, and rushed into the garage. Arthur strode after her. She hit the key-mote and a black Ferrari California winked across the garage. She rushed over, slid in, and double-checked her gear. Arthur sat inside. The turbo-charged engine came to life, rising in a growl before falling back to a purr. She dropped it into gear, tires chirping, and raced to the surface. At ground level, the Ferrari howled a V8 war-cry and rocketed for the pawn-shop.

Sunrise wasn’t far off. Whatever Caruso had planned would have begun long ago. He was likely to make it last as long as he could, prolonging her suffering to make the most of the “example” he aimed to set. At least, Crystal hoped that would be the case. Counting on the man’s depravity to torture her friend as long as possible made her sick– though, she preferred it to Angela’s death. The bizarre, mental gymnastics taking place to accept her reality were becoming more ludicrous by the day.

The Ferrari came to screeching halt outside the pawnshop. Crystal rushed in, car still running. The place was a tossed cell in a jail-house: she was forced to wade through damaged and piled merchandise for the office. She stopped short just inside. Arthur entered, saw her face fall into blank emptiness away. He worked his bum-leg over the obstacles toward her and into the office.

They stood amid a brutal scene, the main-room’s damage evidently done on the way out. Jonas had been surprised: blood was splattered across a computer monitor and keyboard. Bone fragments and scattered gray matter had painted the immediate area of carbon invoices, print-outs, and ledgers. In their center, Jonas splayed, face against his keyboard entrance wound in the back of his skull.

“Holy mother of God,”Arthur said.

Crystal’s drew taught at one side, “It’s how they knew where to find us.”

“Now what? Any idea where they might be?” Arthur asked, a paternal aggression to his tongue.

“No. But Titus may know.”

“How d’you intend to contact him?”

Crystal replied with action; she eased Jonas back in his chair. His head lolled back, revealing the exit wound. Pulverized bone had congealed in a mass of fleshy, brown gore and hair. Identification was nearly impossible, but she knew it was Jonas. She suppressed a gag, smearing blood across his keyboard to seek out a video-messaging program. She fought sickness to find and dial Curie.

The tone rang. A woman’s voice answered, would-be image replaced by a black screen, “Who are you? Why are you calling from Jonas’ line?”

Crystal choked on her breaths, “Madame Curie? I’m Crystal, Angela’s partner.”

“Yeah? Who gives a rat’s ass? Why’re you calling me? Where’s Jonas?”

“Dead,” she said bluntly. “Angela’s gone. Alfonzo Caruso raided us and took her. I need to know where she is.”

Curie’s voice hardened, “You fucking with me?”

“Never,” Crystal bit back. “I want my partner back.”

“Prove you’re not lying.”

She yanked the camera from the monitor, angled it at Jonas’ body. A silent pause passed, as if Curie were gasping but too professional to let it be heard, before Crystal replaced the camera.

“Now you believe me?”

Curie was stiffer now. “Titus will meet you in twenty minutes outside Harbor View motel. Waste no time. Go.”

The line went dead and Crystal turned away. “We need to move.”

The Ferrari idled long enough for Arthur to climb in, then burned rubber toward Harbor View Motel. Titus’ quick response told her Curie had long been planning offensives against Caruso. No doubt there was professional rivalry between them, but losing Julia had likely made Curie thirsty for vengeance. Losing Angela to him too was unacceptable. Personally, Crystal just wanted Angela back alive.

The Ferrari shed a trail of rubber along half a city block. Tires squealed in a corner, before the turbo-charger’s whine dominated the night. They whipped around corners, barreled along straights, and caught air on micro-shifts in terrain. For Crystal nothing existed but pavement and the motel. It wasn’t far; a place on one of the long-abandoned boardwalks as rundown, discolored, and ravaged as the rest of the harbor.

The whole area was something from a post-apocalyptic vid. Knurled steel, rotted wood, boarded or shattered windows; all it needed was nuclear winter to complete the image. If the street lights hadn’t been shut down years ago to save taxpayer money, even they’d have flickered from neglect. Instead, the place was pitch-black, dead-quiet. It was almost vulgar, vile, any manner of things lurking within it.

Crystal didn’t care. She was too focused on the large parking-lot, and the only other car in it. She zoomed toward it. Twenty-minutes had been liberal for Curie’s runner. His coupe waited patiently, as if it’d been there hours but neither days nor seconds mattered to it.

She rolled to a stop near it, “Stay here.”

She climbed out for Titus’ open window. The interior panels and electronics lit his face from beneath with hard shadows. Despite being as suave as ever, they tinted him with a hint more violence than before. As she approached, he handed over a file-folder that Crystal immediately opened.

“He’s got an old factory ‘cross town,” Titus said without hesitation. “Gotta’ few other places ‘round town, but this is isolated. He’ll need the space to keep her from being heard. She’ll be there.”

Crystal flipped through the folder, “Good. Thank you.”

Titus stopped her before she could turn, “Crystal. This guy’s gotta’ screw loose. And his men– well, there’s gonna’ be an army between you and her.”

“I know.”

Titus nodded approvingly, “Then you know the stakes. Get her back.”

Crystal whirled for the Ferrari. The engine revved, purred. The stream-lined body whipped, tires screaming. Crystal and Arthur left billowing smoke and headed for the far side of town. Arthur sifted the file-folder, find satellite maps, and directed her through the fastest route. The car whined and roared, never stopping nor slowing. It weaved through traffic, left sane speeds in the dust, and did its best maxed out along the straight-aways.

Crystal’s fear tried bubbling up; she might easily die like this. Her senses wrestled the fear away– Angela would die if she didn’t get there fast enough. Her grip tightened, knuckles white. Her boot dropped, squeezing every ounce of speed it could from the screaming, turbo-charged V8.

“There,” Arthur said, pointing left.

The skyline opened along yet another coastal harbor area. This one was different, as abandoned as the last– or so it appeared– but the water was black, pitch formed of an unyielding primordial ooze. A long-disused industrial shore of pipes, gravel, cement, and sand pits rolled inward from the water’s edge. The factory itself was dark, a conglomerate of man-sized pipes, smoke stacks, and angled steel patchwork from a bygone, industrial era.

Crystal killed the head-lights, gliding forward as a wailing specter. She passed derelict guard-houses and limp chain-link, moving from asphalt to gravel. It crunched and rattled in the Ferrari’s wheel-wells, spit out again by thick tires that raced toward rowed, ramshackle trailers. Their size and placement suggested they’d once been foreman’s offices, meeting places, but were now little more than the rusted skeletons and marred sheet-metal.

The factory was no different. Aside from ever-blinking red and white aircraft warning lights, nothing signaled the place was known to exist. But somewhere nearby, Crystal knew, were Caruso’s vehicles. Wherever that was, she couldn’t risk getting too close. The element of surprise– and the fear of Angela being suddenly executed– was all that kept her from driving straight through the front doors.

She kept her head level, half-circled the factory, berth wide, engine quiet. Near a rear-entrance and loading bay she found the mobsters’ cars. The collection of luxury sedans said more than she cared to hear as she maneuvered to the factory’s left. A large patch of overgrown grass appeared beside more, rusted-out trailers spanning the factory’s shorter side.

The Ferrari came to a rest between two trailers and its engine cut off. She took the file-folder and dug out the factory’s blueprint, studied it in her HUD’s night-vision. She memorized the layout, rendering it on her HUD with a mental command. Arthur leaned over, squinting to study the map in the darkness.

He pointed to a central area, “Here. Foreman’s office. It’s big. Enough for staff meetings.”

“You’re sure?” He nodded. “What about security?”

He pointed to a corner near the rear-entrance “Check-point. Same place workers would’ve checked in. If anything’s still live, it’ll be the surveillance gear running from there.”

Crystal handed the folder back, drew her Baby Deagle, and checked the magazine. She slapped the mag back in place and repeated the check on her TMPs. She tested the lasers and suppressors, then re-holstered them and climbed out. Her long, leather coat trailed behind her, buttoned mid-way up.

Arthur ready to follow her, “You can’t go in alone.”

She stopped short, “You’ll only slow me down. I need you as my back-up.” He eyed her skeptically. “No bullshit. If I get into trouble, drive straight through the building and get us out. You can’t back me up trying to play hero.” He gave her a look meant to accost, but she snapped, “Save it, Angela needs us.” He grumbled, returned to the driver’s side.

Crystal started for an entry-point on the factory’s near-side, stormed over to it. The man-sized ventilation duct, accessible a foot or so off the ground, was roughly halfway along the building. She rubber-neked the grounds between her and it, pulled her mini pry-bar from a pocket. She breathed, popped a corner of the rusted grate loose.

She froze, listening. Heart raced. Fifteen seconds was an eternity. Her free-hand hovered near a TMP. Her aural monitors at full-gain. Only after was she certain she hadn’t been heard. Another moment of prying before she was in and replacing the vent-cover.

The darkness inside forced her night-vision to further dial up its contrast. Dirt and dusted covered aluminum ducts appeared, outlined, beneath her. Small clouds formed from her ingress, her knees and hands leaving clean trails in her wake. Her hands were soot-black in moments. She moved carefully, a Decibel meter on her HUD beneath the small map to ensure she remained quiet. The mobile pip at the map’s center turned where she turned, drifting ethereally over otherwise fixed blue-prints as she progressed through the vent.

The stink of dead bodies and decades-old sickness from various chemicals, powdered and otherwise, forced her to breathe through her mouth. She suddenly understood why a mobster wanted an old chemical plant, and why he might bring an enemy to it. The epiphany quickened her pace. Her pulse doubled its time. There was no telling how long she had. Caruso’s desire to take his time might’ve been wishful thinking. Angela could already be dead.

Crystal couldn’t allow the thought further purchase. She followed the ducts to a central point; a long intersection both above and below that stretched into darkness and beyond. If her map wasn’t betraying her, she should’ve been directly above the factory’s main control room. She needed to leave the vents, get her bearings, otherwise she’d be lost just long enough for everything to go to hell.

Deft hands and careful planning forced her across the chasm of intersecting ducts. A ledge of bent, thick aluminum gave enough purchase to pull across. Midway through, her legs slipped, slammed the vent loud. Her Db meter spiked red. The sound echoed through the vents– and likely the entire factory. She swore under her breath, stomach rising to her throat, suffocating, while she pulled herself into the vent.

She started forward again: they’d know someone was in. If they didn’t, it was a miracle and maybe things wouldn’t go so cock-eyed. She wasn’t holding her breath– although given the shit she was kicking up, she probably should’ve been. Her body powered through, mind working on how best to locate and retrieve Angela. Improvisation was the only way. It’d served her well thus far. Angela had taught her well. Crystal sensed a cruel iron in this as her true final test– what might ensure her debt was repaid now or never could be.

The vents split at a T. She headed left, hoping to find the security room. The duct angled downward. Her HUDmap shifted levels, descending as if with stairs. Before long, she was crouched at another grate. Slatted steel looked on a dark hallway interrupted by sparse, dust-caked incandescent bulbs. This was it, she knew. Just beyond here was security. Beyond that, a mile of maze-like corridors. Somewhere in the middle of it all was Angela.

She drew a TMP, flicked the safety off, and threw herself against the grate.

Into Her Darkness: Part 9


Bitter Taste of Victory

“Come out now or we shoot you down!” The voice called.

Angela trembled, “Someone know about the job. They waited for us to grab the goods.”

“Does that really matter now?” Crystal spat.

“I’m giving you ’til five, or we come up shooting. One…”

Angela risked a look at the way forward, careful not to expose herself. “We can make. If we zig-zag between alcoves–”


“Are you crazy!?

Angela unholstered a gun. Crystal followed. “Get to the last one. Stay put.”


They booked it. Crystal didn’t look. Her legs pumped fury and terror. Gunfire barked ahead and behind her. She hit the first alcove after Angela. They angled for the next. Caruso’s men followed. The gunfire’s epicenter echoed nearer-by. The women bolted again. Crystal threw herself into a sideways run, hit the alcove, sprinted off again. They made the last alcove as sparks and gunpowder wafted in ‘round the corner. Small calibers echoed through the dead-night, the steps still moving, but slower. “When I say, run for the truck’s far-side,” she said, yanking away one of Crystal’s holstered TMPs out.

Angela shoved the truck keys into her hands. “What about you?”

“Just go!” Angela spat. She flicked the safety off, snapped the bolt. “Go!”

Crystal fled. Angela leaned out. The suppressed TMP burst in clacks. It cut through the barking pistol fire. Sprayed ammo forced the men to dodge for cover. Crystal reached the truck’s edge. Adrenaline boiled her blood. She shouldered her way along to the driver-side, stopped near the rear-wheel, and drew her pistol.

“Move! Move!” Crystal radioed.

Angela sprinted backward, spraying more fire across the alley. Crystal’s was aimed, accurate. One of Caruso’s men ducked from cover. Crystal forced him back in. It was a distraction: another man opposite him had stepped out, took aim at Angela. He fired off a pair of rounds. Crystal was on him. Angela yelped stumbled forward to her hands and knees near the truck. The gun followed her down. Crystal re-targeted; the man was dead before her could try for another shot. Angela skidded into a roll that put her at the truck’s bumper.


She clambered up the tailgate, fell over into the truck’s bed. “Go!”

Crystal was in the truck. The monstrous engine roared, drowned the gunfire that chased them from the alley. Spinning tires squealed in a haze of smoke. Steel divoted within it. Splintered orbs appeared in the passenger-windows. Crystal burned from the alley, all twelve cylinders firing. She fish-tailed into the street, headed for anywhere. The mobsters pursued them on foot. A block of gunfire saw another fish-tail around a corner, then another, and another, until she’d put enough distance between them to keep from being found.

Angela’s active comm echoed her words, “Son of a bitch.”

Crystal agreed, “That was too close. Are you hurt?”

Angela checked her shoulder: a minor glancing wound. If she’d been an inch further left, she’d have taken the bullet full-on.

“Nothing serious,” she said, compressing the wound. “Pull over. Let me get up front.”

Crystal did as instructed. She let Angela in, then started off again. Angela set to bandaging herself while Crystal drove for Jonas’ shop. Mid-way through, Crystal’s thoughts mounted, forcing her words out.

“You’re not telling me everything.” Angela winced, fixed her bandage in place. “Angela?”

“I heard you.”

She huffed, “Who the hell are these guys? What’d you do? This isn’t just about the museum.”

“Professional rivalry. Nothing more,” Angela said, evasively.

“Bullshit,” Crystal spat. “Something pissed these guys off. Something you did. I can’t work with you if you’re not honest with me.”

They pulled up to the pawnshop and Angela grasped the door handle, “Not now. Not here.”

Crystal growled, climbed out after her. They entered with packs filled with jewelry. The “open” sign was already off, but Jonas sat at the counter writing in a ledger-book. He raised a finger at them, mentally calculating something. He scribbled it in and shut the book.

He looked up, immediately spying the fresh bandage. “Run into some trouble?”

“Just give me the money,” Angela demanded.

He eyed Crystal’s averted gaze, shrugged, “Merchandise?” They handed over their bags. He tested their weight, “Good haul. Prick’s definitely getting his insurance check.”

“Can you make this quick, Jonas? In case you didn’t notice, I’m still bleeding.”

“Gotta’ call Curie first though.”

“Then do it,” she ordered, her irritation doubling as she compressed the wet bandage again.

He disappeared, leaving them to the growing tension. Crystal’s mind raced with questions. Anger frothed from each of them. She wasn’t even sure why. The truth wouldn’t change things. It might have been shock, but she needed to know and refused to go any further otherwise. She was about to say something when Jonas reappeared.

He eyed Angela alone, “Curie’s on the line. Wants to talk to you. Just you.”

“Stay here,” Angela instructed.

Crystal rolled her eyes. “No shit.” She fell into a lean against the counter as Angela left.

Jonas watched the exchange, waited. “That bad, huh?”

“You don’t know half of it,” Crystal said with waning breath.

“Any idea who it was– or how they found you?”

“Some mafioso named Caruso. Angela won’t tell me more.”

Jonas was suddenly squeamish. The very idea of the two being mentioned together made join act as if a wet snake were slithering up his leg.

“Jonas?” He avoided her eyes. “What d’you know?”

He grimaced, glanced back at the doorway, then leaned forward at a hush, “You didn’t hear this from me, but Caruso’s had a hard-on for Angela for a while now. She heisted some piece of his at an exhibit in San Diego– running a crew hired for the job. They set up in a ritzy hotel to case the joint, then made the play. Problem was, Caruso’s people were aware someone was going to move.”

Crystal’s voice lowered to match his, “So they were waiting for her?”

He shrugged. “Angela ran that job. It went off even with the hitch. She got in, got out, made delivery, but someone recognized one of the guys with her. He got ‘im to talk. Messed him up bad before he gave up Angela.” He glanced back again, breathed. “Three weeks later, she shows up here wasted out of her goddamn mind, ranting about Julia– her partner– being dead. Only she knows for sure what happened. Lotta’ whispers say it was retribution from Caruso though.”

Crystal’s eyes doubled in size. “He killed her partner?”

He winced. “All I can say’s she’s gone, and they were close– thicker than thieves, so to speak. A… personal thing, you know. Not my business. Catch my drift?”

Her heart and stomach were once more in her throat. Angela had said her partner left. Dying hadn’t been mentioned at all. Her face went blank and settled into indifference as Angela reappeared.

“Curie’s done,” Angela said, more calm than before. “Get us our money.”

He disappeared again. The tension returned, albeit muted. Angela said nothing, kept herself focused on her injury to avoid any questions. On the contrary, the new information was still working through Crystal’s mind. Threads still unraveled, connected. Facts fell and fitted into place like puzzle blocks, forming an image thus far obscured. She was still trying to work things out when Jonas paid them and said goodbye.

They made their way back home, and climbed out without a word. Crystal stopped a moment to survey the truck before heading in. The truck’s damage was as cosmetic as the bike’s had been, but the clear signs of a fire-fight meant it required couldn’t simply be driven again. The splintered windows and bullet divots were dead giveaways that the truck– and likely its occupants– spent time outside the law’s confines.

Crystal followed Angela into the house. She stopped at one side of the island. Angela crouched at a cabinet, dug for a bottle, and produced an aged whiskey and a pair of rock-glasses. She stepped over to the counter, poured two glasses, downed one, refilled it, then passed Crystal the other. She set the bottle aside and braced herself on the counter. She stared into her drink, the tension draining from the air, and into Angela.

“Sit.” Crystal sank onto a stool. Silence rang. Then, “I never lied.”

Crystal remained silent; it was not the time to speak. Whatever Angela had to say needed to come naturally. Her eyes remained locked on the glass and its contents. “I was twenty-four. Living on the streets. I’d celebrated my birthday by trying to drink myself to death. Nearly succeeded. I didn’t want to wake up to my life again.” She gave a small shake of her head to ward of old, evil thoughts. “I was found on the street, mostly dead. I was taken to a hospital. When I woke up, I was still alive. I didn’t know that. I figured I was dreaming out the last seconds of life.”

Crystal watched her conscious mind disappear, lost as it was in memories. She drifted back slowly, as if remembering she was supposed to be recalling something.

“Point is, I was twenty-four and wanted to die. Tried to die. The only way I could think of. The only way the streets allowed for a coward too afraid to run into traffic– or put a broken bottle to their wrist.” Her eyes rose, focused past Crystal on a point that only existed in her mind. “Julia changed that. She’d found me after taking payment for a job. Took me to the hospital. Paid my med bills out of pocket. She promised to stay while I got clean, but only if I agreed to help her later.”

She hesitated. Crystal suddenly herself mirroring Angela. She knew now how it was meant to repay the old debt.

Angela’s mind was further elsewhere, but her voice remained present. “I didn’t know what I was getting into. Julia never forced me though. She asked, every step of the way; was I willing to do this or that? Would I train with her? Would I drive for her? Eventually, we outright started planning jobs together. Running them. Celebrating. Something had… changed.”

Painful memories played. Crystal was silent, watching. Angela’s eyes shut and her head fell.

“I fell for her. She loved me too, I think–” she shook her head. “–No. She did. I know it. She showed it time and again. I just… never believed it. Not fully.”

She stiffened, gritting her teeth; her memories too unbearable. Crystal wanted to speak, to comfort her, but things needed to play out. She needed the truth– they needed the truth. Angela fought valiantly against the tears welling in her eyes. Soon though, her voice quaked, the levee broke, and they flowed freely.

“A year and a half ago, Curie sent Julia and I to San Diego for a job. Museum job. Problem was, security’d been bolstered by Caruso’s people. We were unknown to him then. But that job…. it had bad idea written all over it. The money was right, but the security was off. We did the job, nearly got popped, and fled. We came back home to make delivery and take payment… ”

She lost what remained of control and her breath stuttered. It stung Crystal’s heart, as if cleaved in two by a lone blow.

“Two days later, a few of Caruso’s guys caught us coming out of a bar. They’d been tipped off by one of the locals on the crew. None of us really knew him, but they beat him ‘til he gave us up. Killed ‘im afterward. They tracked us and–.” Her tears dripped onto the counter, her eyes fixed on her glass and face fighting for stillness. “They chased us for four blocks, cut us off, knocked us out, took us to an abandoned factory.”

Her arms shook, threatening to buckle beneath her weight and white knuckles. Crystal fought with all her might to keep from reaching out to her.

“We woke up, tied up. Caruso was there. He told us he was going to “send a message.” She choked on her next words. “He… he shot Julia three times in the chest. Set the place on fire around us. Left me for dead– or j-just to think on what happened.” Her next movements were apprehensive, conveying all the pain they could: she clutched her glass, lifted it with a trembling hand, paused, then slugged down the liquor. She exhaled hot air. “I broke free. Cut Julia from her chair. Carried her out. She’d been dead minutes. I let the place burn, hoping Caruso would think I was dead. He knows I’m not, wants to fix that.”

Crystal waited for Angela’s words to finish echoing through her mind, then swallowed in a dry throat. She sipped her liquor and finally met Angela’s eyes. A silent question of whether or not she might speak went unnoticed. Crystal took it as a sign that it was alright.

“You loved her. You feel guilty for her death.” Angela gave a lone nod. “I’m sorry. I understand why you didn’t tell me, but you should’ve known it was only putting both of us in more danger.”

Angela’s mouth twitched with guilt. “I couldn’t risk telling you until I was certain you could be trusted– as much as I wanted you to be, if you’d gone to Caruso, told him I was alive, he might’ve paid you off to set me up. I couldn’t risk that.”

Crystal understood her fear, but it didn’t change facts: Caruso knew Angela was alive, even how to find her on the job. Something had to be done. They had to put a stop to it.

“The museum job put you back on his radar?” Again, she nodded. “Then we need a way off it.”

“He’s not going to stop, Crystal,” she said with certainty. “He wants to use me to set an example that he’s not to be fucked with. Just like Julia. Your best chance is to run. Take off. Stay as far away as possible. Maybe he’ll leave you alone. No-one knows who you are. No-one’s seen your face yet.”

Crystal rose to her feet, “Angela, I’m not leaving you. Besides, if we separate, we’re as good as dead anyhow. He might even grab me just to use me as bait. We’re stronger together.” Angela glanced up, eyes wet and face red. Crystal chest fluttered with sympathy, but she stiffened against it to remain composed. “I owe you more than I could ever repay. But more than that, you’re my friend. I’m not going to abandon you. We’ll find a way out, I promise.”

Angela blinked out tears, her voice soft, “Thank you.”

Crystal stepped around the island, ready to comfort her. An alarm screamed through the house. She stopped, glanced around. Angela swore. Arthur’s voice piped in on their comms.

“Someone just breached the escape tunnel. Armed. Armored. Maybe a dozen or so.”

“Caruso,” Crystal said.

Angela drew her gun, started for the gym, “C’mon! We can’t let them get through.”

Crystal followed on her heels. They sprinted for the gym’s atrium, through it to the hallway beyond. The corridor stretched out ahead as the alley had earlier. Doorway alcoves were scattered every few feet, with the escape tunnel far ahead at the right. Angela and Crystal burst into the hall just as the sliding wall hiding the tunnel exploded in a cloud of dust and concrete. They dove for cover at opposite sides of the hall. Gunfire erupted. Angela leaned out, firing.

“Arthur, lock down all interior doors! I don’t want them getting to–” Gunfire cut her off. She growled, leaned out to keep the men from advancing. “Lock the place down!”

The alarm gave way beside Crystal to snapping bolts as they locked in place. The sounds echoed along the halls, and at either end, trapping them in with Caruso’s people.

Crystal blasted off a few rounds without looking, “Now what!?”

“Beat ’em back,” Angela yelled, wasting the last of a magazine.

Crystal leaned out, caught one man in the chest as he hurled something. Her HUD tracked it, spitting alerts across her vision. The object and warnings clicked in her mind. A grenade landed with an explosive bang and a blinding flash. Her eyes and optics reeled. Her head swam. The concussive blast blew her backward, knocked the wind from her lungs. She smacked her head against the concrete-block. The bright light receded. Her HUD deactivated to reboot. Her vision phased in and out of focus.

Moments came in pictures, seconds of blackness between. She saw the wall rise ahead, slumped back against another. Blackness. Then, Angela in a similar heap, gun firing randomly. More blackness. Black-clad figures in riot-gear rushed Angela. She struggled, tried to fight, unbalanced by the grenade. Someone prodded her. Electricity arced along her. She seized, went limp. More blackness. Crystal fought to raise her weapon. A masked man appeared. His boot rose. The last thing she saw was it coming at her before her head hit concrete and she lost consciousness.