The List Episode 21: The Precinct

I walked right up the stairs that wrapped around the base of the Tri-Star Tower, past a couple dozen loitering officers, and kicked in the two-story tall glass door at the entrance.  Before the glass could even chime on the obsidian floor of the lobby, I had somewhere in the neighborhood of two hundred guns sighting in on my head.

I held my hands high, in the same instant taking an actual count of each gun and summing up their respective owners.  Needless to say, I was impressed with how Arachnos ran things.  Even the secretaries and interns handled their weapons like pros, able to put a bullet between my eyes just like the rest.

“Opening fire might not be the best idea,” I announced over the alarms that were now whailing.  I pointed with my thumb towards the cylindrical canister attached to my back.

One of the women behind the desk holstered her weapon and killed the alarms.

“What do you think you are doing?” she asked.  The dull look in her eyes told me she wasn’t the one speaking.

“How about we take care of all the guns first?  Or do you want to find out what I’ve got in here?”

“You’re not in a position to make negotiations,” another puppet said.

“What do you think it is?  Deuterium?  Tritium?  Or something even viler cooked up in a lab a ten miles below the surface?”

There was a five second period where none of his people gave in.  I thought he might actually sacrifice them just to test the truth of my words.  But then the woman who had cut the alarm sighed, followed by the collective sound of guns rubbing against the inside of their holsters.

“I know you’re busy, Arachnos,” I said, “but I’m sure you can pencil me in if you cut your lunch short.”

“Right this way, Mr. Cole,” the woman said, and extended her arm to a bank of elevators behind her.

I jumped on the first elevator and looked out the glass enclosure, which faced a clearing that went straight up and leaked blue sky over the rim of the building.  You couldn’t see it from here, but from low orbit you’d be able to tell that the building was somewhat shaped like three stars forming a triangle, with a pentagonal hole in the middle – the Tri-Star, insignia of Arachnos’s forces.

About half way up, the next floor number lit up, and the elevator came to an abrupt stop.  Before the doors even opened, a storm of bullets punched through the metal and shattered the glass.  Fire licked in through the widening gap, warping the frame and melting whatever glass was left.

The three men who had been waiting for me stepped closer to examine my mangled body.  Except I had crawled through the escape hatch in anticipation of something like this, and the elevator I was really on dinged open a couple feet over.

They spun to face me.  The first one had a nicely sized gatling gun where his right forearm should have been, with chains of bullets hanging off the spool on his back.  The second man had twin flame nozzles on the back of his fists and tubes running in and out of his body, probably supplying the fuel.  The third was covered in metal spikes from head to toe, and swung a length of chain that glowed white hot.

I pressed the hold button on the elevator and cracked my neck to both sides.  A good warm up was just what I needed.

✓✓✓✓✓✓✓✓

The elevator took me to the top floor this time, and I scuffed the blood off the sole of my boot as the door opened.  I did a double take as I recognized the girl greeting me at the entrance.  Her hair was pulled back tight into a neat ponytail, makeup done in a way to make her look older, and she wore the female issued officer uniform – but it was still Cortege.  At least somewhere behind those dull eyes, I hoped it was.

She didn’t immediately attack, or turn the hallway into serrated jaws of death, which was a good sign.

“You look…nice,” I said, not sure if that was the right word.

“Arachnos is waiting for you,” she replied, and gestured down the hall.  “Follow me.”

I shrugged, interested to see why Arachnos had changed his mind about seeing me.  Surely he didn’t care about his lackeys enough to seek revenge.  Cortege led the way to a set of doors that silently scanned her and opened.

Cortege nodded forward and I entered into a giant gymnasium, complete with rows of workout machines and a sparring ring off to the side.  No hint of Arachnos in sight.

The door slammed shut behind me and the locks clinked in place.  Figures.

“Arachnos, show yourself you coward!”

“Don’t confuse cowardice with intelligence,” his voice boomed forth from hidden speakers.

“What kind of games are you playing?  Haven’t you ever heard of a deadman’s switch?”

Of course he had, which explained why he wasn’t there currently.  I had considered the possibility that he would escape, and had contingency plans in place – but not ones my body would easily forgive me for.  From cross referencing Corrosion’s previous activities with the Arachnos’s schedule book, I knew he couldn’t control his slaves from a very long distance.  And more than likely he’d want to drop down as soon as the fight was over to examine my dead body – contingent on whether or not I really did have a bomb strapped to my back that would destroy this building along with half the city.  But I didn’t plan on letting things escalate to that point.

So my gut told me if I went up to the roof, Arachnos’s personal sky yacht woudn’t be parked on the landing pad.  And if I looked up in the sky, I’d find it resting in the clouds, hovering straight above his tower.  If it wasn’t, I’d likely end the day a very flattened Levi Cole, on the sidewalk however many hundred meters below.

But first things first, I had to survive Cortege.  Right, a walk in the park.

“No games,” he replied.  “This is my City.  I call the shots.  And this, Levi, is your execution sentence.”

Cortege sauntered by me, walking up to the weights and machinery as their forms twisted and melted.  I held my fire, not just out of curiosity, but for the sheer fact that my bullets would turn to powder before they hit her skin.  She turned towards me, arms stretched out to the side.  Her face lacked even the fake cheer she loved so much to put on.  Instead it was a void, staring through me like neither of us existed.  The metal groaned and screeched, wrapping around her torso and lifting her feet off the ground.  It then separated and jointed until it came to eight distinct and very sharp looking points that resembled limbs.  I hadn’t expected Arachnos to be so obvious.

I figured now was as good a time as any to run.

The metal legs clicked against the floor behind me.  The set of doors in front twisted into metallic sharks and lunged at me.  I jumped, planting a foot on the snout of one as its teeth ripped through the floor, and continued running the length of its body as it burrowed down.  The second shark slammed into the first and my feet lost contact.  A finned tail slapped into me, throwing me back towards Cortege.

At that point the floor gave way, or Cortege opened it up – it didn’t matter either way, really – and the hole swallowed me along with a couple tons of concrete and steel.  I rolled with the landslide and skidded to halt on my side.  Ignoring my dust stung eyes, I took in my surroundings.

I was surrounded on all sides by officers.  Or so I thought at first, until I recognized the dull rubber flesh tones and charred bullet holes.  They were dummies, positioned through the long room, poking out between obstacles, used for shooting practice.  Not sure when the cops used them, seeing as how they got enough target practice in Old City.

Cortege dropped down, but I had already made myself scarce.  I crouched behind one of the obstacles and listened as the tips of her spider legs scurried across the ground, heading in my direction.  I readied my Seiver and held my breath as the clinking grew louder.  One leg impaled an obstacle adjacent to me and slung it off.  It crashed against the far wall a second later. The scrapping of movement came again, until I could hear it in my teeth.  It drew closer, until it was right on top of me, and then passed, suddenly diminishing in the distance.  I dared a glance over my cover, trying to keep Cortege in sight while searching for an exit.

Something grabbed hold of my shoulder, and dug in tight, until the talons of whatever was gripping me pierced through my jacket and cut into my flesh.  I responded with a burst fire of explosive rounds from my Seiver.

The grip didn’t release, which was pretty damn odd.  I turned to face the mangled form of one of the target dummies.  It flailed its half burnt limbs, not sure of what it should do now that it had caught me.  Two more dummies came in on my left, erratically stumbling over obstacles.  As I blew their rubber legs to nubs, four more converged on my right, reaching out in slow jerky movements.  With the flick of my wrist, I had my beam blade jutting out and slicing through their torsos.  Their shapes melted and withered as their polymer hides took bullet after bullet, cut after cut, but they continued lumbering on, picking up mass along their way, growing more and more demonic as they came.

They crowded around me now, their claws and stumps and things that didn’t resemble any kind of human appendage branching and grasping for me.  Their combined weight tore into me, taking me off my feet even as I continued to sever and excise.  Pain worked its way up my legs and into my sides as the dummies took root.

My fingers searched my belt, frantically shoving through the dripping and twisting forest, until they finally found the small cylindrical object about eight inches long – my newly devised grapple wand.  I held it above my head and pressed the button inset on the side.  The magnetic head shot out, and I could feel it catch as the micro-wire went slack.  It only took a millionth of a second for the signal to reach back to the handle, and the wand yanked me out of the mob of plastic at 100 kilometers per hour.  Polymer arms and fingers ripped out from where they had been dug into my flesh.  The micro-cord coiled, slowing my velocity to a measly 30 kilometers per hour before sending me crashing through a layer of concrete and metal.

I holstered the wand and lay there for a second, waiting for the overhead lights to stop spinning.  Once it became apparent that wasn’t going to happen, I forced myself to my chest and wobbled to my feet. I found myself in a cured hall, its outer wall made up of large glass panes that overlooked the clearing at the center of the building.

I staggered to one of the panes and emptied the rest of my magazine into it.  The glass splintered out from each of the holes, and my foot did the rest of the work, sending the shards careening down to the grassy park below.  I brushed some of the remnants out of the frame and leaned out.  I caught a glimpse of the sky yacht above, a dot in the sky but right where I had guessed it would be.  I glanced back at the stone paths and reflecting pools below before stepping back a few meters.  I estimated about ten seconds to the ground. Plenty of time.

The mechanical groan of Cortege’s legs caught my attention.  I briefly patted down my belt and jacket, and then checked the canister on my back, making sure all the necessary tools were still there.  Might as well give her some time to catch up.  She strolled into view on all eight spider legs, and I put my head down and launched myself out the open window frame.

The plan went something like this:

First, the belt of force grenades would come off and I would throw them ahead of me.  The first nade would go off in three seconds, and the rest would follow in split second intervals.  Second, I would activate the suspension sphere that would hold me secure, and ride the wave of blasts safely up the inside of the building like a bullet shooting through the barrel of a gun.  This would, in theory, get me close enough to Arachnos so that I could finally use the secret weapon I had been lugging around this entire time.  The idea worked on paper.

In one motion, I flung the belt of force grenades down and spun to face the eight legged silhouette that blocked out the sky.  Cortege hurtled towards me, all legs pointed down like the tip of a diamond.  I had just enough time to activate the suspension sphere, and the foam material bubbled out from the device on my belt hook, catching the incoming spider legs just inches from skewering my face.

The sphere dampened the inertia of the blasts, but I could see the exterior of the Tri-Force building streaking by through the milky surface.  Cortege clung to the outside of the sphere, her body acting as a counterweight that sent the sphere spinning. We scrapped past the lip of the roof, and the last force nade went off – shooting us even higher.  But carrying us in the wrong direction of the sky yacht.

Cortege’s weight had thrown our trajectory off, and the sphere arced on a path that would lead to certain death. My finger still rested on the button that had activated the suspension field, ready to flick it off.  My view alternated between city and sky.  I timed the rotations, and waited for the perfect moment. That time never came. I deactivated the sphere anyway.

Cortege’s spider legs lashed at me, but I was already pulling my legs up to my chest to protect myself.  The tips slammed into the soles of my boots, and I fired off all the muscles in my thighs and calves.  It wasn’t much, but it jettisoned me that much closer to the yacht.  I turned in the air to face it while Cortege thrashed in the opposite direction.  I sent her a mental apology, but I knew it would take much more than a fall like that to kill her.

I launched the grapple wand, and watched as the micro-wire coiled outward, the gossamer line gleaming in the sunlight.  My heart seized and my blood went cold.  The wire was completely straight.  At the end of its line.  And it had maybe two meters to go to the hull of the yacht.

I felt it tug in my palm.  The magnetic head was still throbbing, trying to gain purchase.  I stretched my hand out, willing every tendon and joint to give me just a couple more inches, until it felt like the arm was going to pop off.  And then the magnetic field caught, and snapped the grapple head snug against the hull.

The signal sent down the wire to the handle, and it reeled me in, jerking my body like a ragdoll as I fought to hold on.  When I neared the yacht, I switched the wire to loose mode, which let me continue sailing on by the yacht instead of smashing headfirst into the side of it.  The momentum shot me under the yacht and whipped me around in a loop, bringing me to a not so soft landing on the upper deck.

I navigated around the rejuvenation hot tub and muscle relaxant laced lounge chairs, to the door that led into the cabin.  The dark windows of the cabin would probably stand up to almost anything I could throw at them, and I had used up most of my grand entrance allotment for the day.  So I knocked.

It didn’t surprise me much when the door opened to a generously sized lounge.  The right side of the room was decorated with bar tables and stools, bolted to the floor.  Various holo feeds of celebrity gossip played at the center of each table.  On the other side, Arachnos stood at the bar that lined the entire wall.  With his back to me, he picked a bottle of whiskey out of the vast array of overpriced spirits and liquors and filled a tumbler that had already been set out.

He gazed fondly at the row of pictures of the wall – portraits of the last three generations of police chiefs – before tossing back the booze.  You could see a strong resemblance in each of the pictures, the pronounced jaw line, no-nonsense brow, herculean nose – yes, Arachnos came from a prestigious line of law enforcers.

“Going to offer me one?” I asked, referring to the whiskey.

“All I have to offer you,” Arachnos said, spinning and slinging the glass tumbler at my face, “Is death!”

I smacked the tumbler out of the air, and it exploded into a million crystal pebbles against the far wall.  Arachnos lunged, fist raised, and I brought my arms up to take the brunt of the attack.  They only served to keep Arachnos’s knuckles from digging into my lungs.

I crashed into one of the tables, smacking my head against the edge and sheering one of the stools off its stand on the way down.  The container on my back broke free from its harness, and the metal cylinder rolled to a corner of the room.  Blood gushed from the fresh wound and filled my right eye socket like a well.

“Finally willing to get your hands dirty, huh?” I said as he towered over me.

“Trust me when I say these hands have seen plenty of dirt,” he said, popping his knuckles.  “But I take it that’s not what you meant.”

“You know damn well what I mean,” I said.  He stomped down on my hand that had been creeping towards my belt, and I clenched my teeth as the small bones crunched under the weight.

“The system needs order to run smoothly.  My method accomplishes this in ways my predecessors never dreamed of.”

“And you think they would want this?” I asked, but knew they had raised him specifically for this purpose.

“I’m carrying out the legacy left to me, cleaning the cogs of bugs like you.”

“What about Old City?  What about the innocents you’ve punished under the name of the law?” I didn’t wait for him to answer.  My other hand had found the pole of the broken barstool, and I drove the sharpened end into his calf.

Arachnos grunted and stumbled back towards the bar.  I found my feet and rammed him into the countertop, rattling the bottles.  I grabbed him by the back of the scalp and slammed his face into his expensive collection, admiring the fact that what I had just destroyed was worth more than some people dreamed of making in their lifetime.

I pulled his head back to slam it again, and he slashed back with a shard.  I dodged at the last second, and could feel the sting of alcohol as the booze soaked glass nicked me right under the jugular.  He swung his arms into my chest, throwing me across the room.

Before I could make it to my feet, the yacht dipped, shifting almost to one side, accompanied by the thunder of a large metal object striking the hull.  I rolled and braced myself against one of the tables.  The rest of Arachnos’s collection crashed to the floor and sloshed my direction.  The ship shook as the stabilizers fought to right its balance.  There was a moment it felt like the yacht would completely capsize, and then it rocked gently back until it settled in the upright position.

But the calm didn’t last more than a second.  The roof of the room peeled back, the metal structure groaning as an unforeseen force opened up a new skylight.  Cortege dropped in, her spider legs searching for footholds in the now crammed space.

Unfortunately for me, one of the legs found a foothold on my shoulder.  It slipped right through the layers of jacket and flesh and bone and continued until it had me pinned to the wall.

“You’ll pay for what you did,” Arachnos said between pulling bits of bloodied glass from his cheeks.  “We’re going to take it nice and slow killing you.  Isn’t that right Cortege?”

Cortege’s face was level with mine.  I was hoping for a flicker of recognition at least, but she continued to stare straight through me.  I thought of petitioning to the side of her that held hatred for Arachnos, but I knew it was a waste of breathe.  That, plus where she had pinned me put me right on top of my secret weapon.

Archnos’s gaze intensified, and in response one of Cortege’s spider legs lifted up and split into what looked like a thousand barbed spears.  I didn’t plan on finding out what that felt like.  With my arm that still worked, I twisted the canister out from under my butt and pressed the release on the handle.  A sick smelling fog gushed out of the opening, and I continued to pull the contents out.  I held it up in front of me – The Mayor’s rotting head, mouth gapping and eyes hollowed out, but brain still very much alive thanks to the electrodes protruding from his skull.

Taxation – The Mayor’s power that reversed telepathic powers back on its user – took effect like a psychic frag grenade.  Instantly my brain was bombarded by Arachnos’s web as he shot it frantically, fighting to keep Cortege trapped in his power.  They pierced the top layers of my psyche, the cruft of fake and implanted memories.  As if hitting a barrier, the strands stopped.  I could see it clearly, for just an instant, the raw power hidden deep beneath my consciousness.

In the real world, Arachnos howled and doubled over, fingers clawing at his temples.  That was just enough for Cortege to break free.

The thin spears turned away from me and sunk into Arachnos’s chest, the force of it causing blood to geyser out of his mouth.

“Took you long enough,” Cortege said.

“Glad to have you back,” I said, smiling but still shaking off the effects of Arachnos’s struggle.  “I take it you had this planned all along?”

“Not a bad assumption.  I knew it was going to suck being under his control, but I didn’t anticipate it being this bad.  I need a cold shower,” she said, and a shiver ran down her back.  “Maybe for a month straight.”

Arachnos let out a laugh that got caught in his ravaged throat and turned into a gurgle.

“You find death funny?” Cortege asked.

“All this time you’ve hated me,” Arachnos sputtered.  “Sure, I sent men in to clean out your block, resulting in the death of your parents.  We couldn’t have your types running around, causing destruction in the city.  But you never stopped to ask yourself, why did you have the power in the first place, the one that condemned your family?”

“What are you getting at?”

Arachnos just chuckled, and using his last breath he raised his gloved hand, extending a trembling pointer finger at me.

“What does that mean?” Cortege asked, shaking Arachnos on the spears, but his head rolled back and he stared straight at the ceiling, mimicking the dull look of those he had trapped in his net.

“Levi.  No games.  What is he talking about?”

I shook my head.  I didn’t know, but I was starting to form a pretty good idea.  And I knew there was one place I was sure to find the answer.