The List – Episode 6: Party Crashing (Part 2)

The List Episode 6 - Party Crashing Pt 2

The burlap sack grated across my face, accumulating more blood as it was yanked off of my head.  I squinted to give my eyes time to adjust to the harsh lighting of the room.  The bag had been an annoyance since I’d gained consciousness, and I had been given a straight trip to Force Industries CEO building courtesy one of their new hover tanks.  Well, not a completely straight trip –we had a little detour before we arrived to allow some of the nice soldiers to acquaint their fists with my already smashed in nose.

And now I was kneeling there in front of the head honcho himself, Jason Force, who leaned back in his chair with his feet propped up on his oversized desk.  The man looked like a lumberjack, from the coarse beard to the broad shoulders that required custom sized doors just to fit through.  The only thing he was missing was the flannel shirt in place of the expensive pinstriped suit he wore.  He rubbed his grizzled chin as he studied me, then finally cracked a wry smirk as if someone had just whispered a joke in his ear.

Mr. Tricks strolled from the entrance of the room to take his place beside Force’s desk.  I growled as I tried to lunge forward, but the butts of about ten rifles slammed into me simultaneously, leaving me an even bloodier lump on the ground.  I tightened my hands, imagining Mr. Tricks’s throat in between them, but my arms were tripled bound and I could move them a couple centimeters at best.  I’ll give these Force goons credit that they were careful, but they had already made their biggest mistake – letting me live.

“Levi Cole,” Force’s voice boomed as he leaned over his desk.  “It’s about time you and I talked.”

I spit blood and part of a tooth onto the polished marble floor.  “What’s there to talk about?”

“Don’t play dumb.  You know what this is about.”

“So what are you doing, recruiting?  Plan on building an army?”

“You could say that.  We’ve been trying to get a certain villain to come join us, but she always seems to disappear after causing large amounts of chaos.”

“So you’ve run into Cortege then?  I guess I’ll have to settle for second best if you’re just now offering to me.”

“Second best?” Force chuckled.  “Somebody’s delusional.  You’re not bad, Levi, but I you overestimate yourself.”

“You know, a little flattery wouldn’t hurt, especially after the VIP treatment I’ve been given,” I said.  “Saying I do help you accomplish your goals, what do you stand to gain from this?  A couple of stock options will go your way?”

“It’s complicated.  Let’s just say that I don’t exactly agree with their methods.”

“Sure, because you’re a perfect angel.  What about your dog Tricks over here?  Now, my memory might be a little fuzzy on account of the beating, but I definitely recall him being saved by your men.”

Mr. Tricks tugged at the hem of his white glove, pulling it tight on his fist.  “Let me put him out of his misery.”

Force waved his hand, dismissing his words, and Mr. Tricks seemed to skulk back.

“I know you’re not a team player.  I’m not asking you to join my team.  All I want is some cooperation.”

I shrugged, or at least I did my best impression of a shrug since the guards still retained their death grips on me.  At least I could still grin – and I was sure it was a pretty sight with all the blood and broken teeth.   “Don’t try to hide it.  You want Rune.  And all that technology that his company has been producing.  You and your corporation may not be on my list, but I’m sure I can squeeze it in.”

“Is that so?”  Force tilted his head to one side until his neck let out a deafening crack.  “I know you’ve been receiving money from a third party.  Do you think they’re any better than us?”

“I know they haven’t bludgeoned my face in.  That counts for something.”

Force let out another chuckle.  “I like the way you operate.  I’ll give you some time.  Think it over.”

With that, the guards lifted me up and shoved the bag back over my face.  I was pushed out of the room, a dozen rifle barrels digging into the flesh of my ribs, prodding me along.  I paid careful attention to each turn we took, noting each shift in momentum, each long and narrow corridor, counting the exact amount of steps that would take me right back up to Force’s office.  At one point we stopped, and I heard the familiar sound of elevator buttons being depressed.  It didn’t matter how far down we were going, I already knew the floor I had business on.  The ride was quick, and then I was led on a bit longer until we stopped again – this time to the sound of a heavy door chinking open.  The sole of a boot planted itself firmly on my lower back and sent me face first into a concrete wall, and the door slammed shut behind me.

✓✓✓✓✓✓✓✓

                Sitting in that cell gave me a little more time to think than I would have liked.  Was I a hypocrite?  Maybe.  Did I care?  Not in the least.  I didn’t know what organization supplied the funds that Silas had been appropriating for me, and I didn’t know what goal they had.  What I did know was that as soon as I found that goal out, if I didn’t agree with them, I would destroy them as well.  In the mean time, I figured I might as well use them.

Force was a different story.  Even if they hadn’t beaten and imprisoned me, I wasn’t a fan of what I knew.  Whether he pretended to be a superhero or not didn’t matter, he was playing the same game and needed to pay for it.

It was hard to conceptualize time in that compact cell.  I could have been rotting in there anywhere from an hour to a couple of days.  Either way, it was about time I went to work.  I managed to wrench the bag off the lower part of my face using my teeth, and from there it slipped right off.  I didn’t do much good – the room was a void, no windows or sources of light.  I couldn’t see any more than when I had the bag on, but at least it got rid of that annoying itch caused by the burlap.

I started pumping my arms, working them back and forth to start in on the triple binding.  It was a product that had been advertised as inescapable – a theory which I had disproven earlier on with a bit of patience and a lot of pain.  The binding was designed to tighten the more the captive struggled, but there was a flaw in the way it worked.  The tighter they got, the weaker the joints became.

The binding around my wrist bit into skin as I flicked my hands in and out.  The first trickle of blood ran down my arm as the upper band chewed into my biceps and triceps, followed by more streams as I continued to resist.  My teeth ground together, turning the top layer of enamel into a fine powder as I resisted the urge to give into the pain.  One more push, and the bands were slicing into the top layers of muscle.   My legs and entire backside were now covered in the sticky liquid that flowed from my shredded arms.  I heard the final click of the bindings, signaling the end of their torture, and I raised myself up out of the pool of crimson.

I backed my way into a corner and steadied myself there, careful to line the bindings up with the right angles of the cell walls.  I had to do this right, or risk shattering every bone in both arms.  I sucked in a deep breath, and jammed myself into the corner.  A jolt of pain shot through me as the bindings shifted and cut into new flesh.  I slammed back into the unforgiving wall, and repeated this process until I was woozy from the loss of blood.  I shook my head, gathering all my thoughts and dispelling them at the same time.  I yelled, throwing my weight against the wall, crushing my arms over and over again until they were raw slabs of meat dangling from my shoulders.  The bindings groaned as they started to crack.  A couple more times, and the bindings were scrap metal heaped up on the floor, an island surrounded by a murky red sea.

Now it was time to wait.  I sat there, in a yoga position, conserving my energy for when that door finally opened.  I was broken out of a meditative trance, some minutes – or maybe hours – later, by the clink of the lock mechanism releasing.  The door swung open, and in that instant I was on my feet, tearing into the unlucky grunt that had been standing at the entrance.

I knocked the man to the ground, and brought my hand back to deliver a fatal blow.  I had to make this quick.  There was a good chance that I was surrounded by a dozen more guards, and I didn’t want them to get jealous that I was spending too much time on only one of them.   I stopped just before my fist would have crushed the man’s throat.

My eyes finally adjusted to the light, and at the end of my fist was Silas’s smiling face, his straighter than straight, whiter than white teeth glaring up at me.  It was out of curiosity that I didn’t smash those teeth in, and instead I hopped up off of him.  The actual guards – six in all – sat slumped over, their brains splattered against the wall behind them.

“I thought you might want a little assistance,” he said, holding a briefcase out to me.

I clicked the case open, revealing a Seiver and a beam blade, along with a few other useful items.  I dug through it, pulled out a can of medspray, and went to work on my arms.

“I’ve gotta say, you look terrible Levi.”

“Really?  Cause I feel like entering a beauty pageant,” I said as I finished applying another coat of the medspray, its agents already clotting the wounds and dulling the pain.  I let it set for a couple of seconds, then holstered the blade and gun on my arms and equipped the assortment of grenades and gear.

I started down the hall and felt my legs wobble underneath my weight.  Between all the beatings and the bindings, I’d lost a lot of blood, and it was finally starting to have an effect on me.  Silas pushed a small strip of paper in front of me – a stimstrip.

“Need a little pick me up?” he asked, but I already had the strip in my mouth.  The strip was time released, and would hit its peak in about fifteen minutes.  The first wave of the drug came over me, clearing the fog from my mind and already steadying my walk.

“I’ve already taken care of all the guards on this level, so we’re home free to the elevator,” Silas said as he pulled a small gun out of his jacket and followed close behind.  The gun was a relic, relying on potassium nitrate and chemical reactions, unlike the electromagnetic propulsion the Seiver made use of to send bullets into my enemies.  It seemed Silas was able to get the job done with it, so I couldn’t complain.

We passed several bodies piled up to the sides of the hallways and I halted in front of the elevator.  I held my hand up to stop Silas.  Maybe sitting in that cell had given me too much time to think, but I needed to get something out of the way before proceeding.

“Something’s been weighing on my mind recently.  For a while I thought it was a possibility that you worked for Force, but now it appears that assumption was wrong.  So where is all this money coming from?  Rune?  Another member of the Superior Six?”

“Getting curious?  You know that it’s part of the deal that we keep that hush hush.  What the hell, I’ll throw you a bone:  This isn’t the first time we’ve worked together.  We go back, to before you had those memblocks put in place,” he said as he tapped on his temple.

I searched my memories, past the barriers that I had put in place, and caught glimpses of him, same old grin.  That was as far as I could go before the images blacked out.  So he wasn’t lying, but that didn’t clear anything up at all.

“If I trusted you before, I must have known what I was doing.  We’ll drop this for now, but eventually I’ll want answers.  Got it?”

Silas’s grin widened, until it looked like it was going to stretch off of his face. “Got it.”

“Now let’s kick some ass.”

✓✓✓✓✓✓✓✓

                The elevator doors opened to the top floor, and we caught the four stationed guards by surprise as we stepped out into the hallway.  I took the two to the right down with a quick flick of my blade.  I turned to take out the other two, but Silas was already blowing the smoke off the barrel of his gun.

The alarms would be sounding off shortly, if they weren’t already, so we set a steady pace as we winded through the labyrinth.  I played the directions my capturers had dragged me in reverse, which would lead right to the to the boss’s office if my woozy memory served trustworthy.  I cleared the corridors in front of us with some well placed nades and bullets, and pushed through the smoke and debris.  Silas stayed tucked behind me, picking off guards with that little gun of his as they popped out behind us.  Something told me he didn’t need to follow me to find his way to Force’s office.  There was a good chance he already had the schematics of the entire Force Industries building committed to memory, but I couldn’t complain that he decided to hang around.  We were making good time, and even though I kept a piece of my attention glued to the area behind us, I knew I didn’t need to with Silas as backup.

We reached the final turn in the hallway that would lead us right to Force.

“I’ll keep watch from here,” Silas said as he jammed a full magazine into his gun.  “I’ll let you go have the fun in there.”

“I appreciate it,” I said.  It wasn’t a lie, I was itching for a rematch and no doubt Mr. Tricks would be too.

My blood surged inside me as the stimstrip dumped more drugs into my veins, right on time for me to make another grand entrance.  I released a couple more nades around the bend in the hallway, and rushed through the door as it blew open.  Smoke trailed behind me as I rolled onto the smooth marble floor of Force’s office.  I popped up and put a bullet into each of the guards as they tried to recover from the shockwave of the explosion.

I swung the gun around to fire a volley at Force, who sat hunched over his desk, watching me as if he wasn’t amused.  I pulled the trigger, but before my bullets could hit their mark, a giant black void in the shape of Mr. Trick’s top hat swallowed them up.  The hat returned to its normal size, and Mr. Tricks spun in around until it was back on the crown of his head.

“I’m disappointed, Levi,” Force’s voice boomed.

Just then, the entire floor started to shake as the ceiling opened up above us, revealing a gloomy overcast sky.  Force’s desk rose up with the ceiling, and came level with the roof, where I could see a squad of hover tanks awaiting departure.  Force made no hurry to scamper off to the safety of retreat, and instead lingered at the edge where he could watch the upcoming battle.

I shifted my attention to my current opponent.  Mr. Tricks pulled on his sleeve with a smile, revealing that he had nothing hidden up it.  At least he had the decency to maintain character.  I could feel the next wave of the stimslip’s effects swelling up as we circled around the room, waiting for the other to make the first move.  Mr. Tricks twitched, and I fired my Seiver in his direction.  Of course, he wasn’t there when the bullets hit, and I spun to dodge his incoming wand.

Mr. Tricks appeared right up on me, and he twisted the white tip of his wand.  Miles of chains shot out the end of it, and they clinked together as they surrounded me.  They seemed to move with a mind of their own, blocking me in until there was no way to escape.  A long antique style lumber saw wobbled in Mr. Tricks’s hand as he whipped it in a direction where its teeth would rip into my neck and cleave my head off.  The chains continued to constrict, some of them already tightening around my legs.  I had no way to dodge the coming attack.

Then the stimstrip kicked in.  Everything came to me in super clear slow time.  I could make out the wielded spots on each of the links in the chain as they came into my vision.  I could see each ripple in the thin metal of the saw as it reacted to the speed at which it was thrust.

I extended the beam blade, and with surgical precision sliced through the chains that bound me.  I yanked the blade up in time to cut through the saw, turning it into a million gobs of molten liquid steel.  The beam continued up through Mr. Trick’s arm, splitting it down the middle, and didn’t stop until it was clear through the other side of Mr. Trick’s back.

The chains dropped to the ground as time returned to normal.  Mr. Tricks looked at me desperately for a second, then the life was gone from his eyes.  He fell to the ground in two pieces, rattling the pile of chains as he hit.  My heart thumped in pain from the overexertion.  It could be pushed further – and needed to be, so I ignored the irregular pounding in my chest.

From his perch above, Force sneered at me.  He turned as if he was in no hurry to head towards one of his hover tanks.  A squad of his men jumped over the ledge, guns at the ready.  I wondered if they knew they were walking into certain death, their only purpose in life to slow me down.  I cut through them with a clean swipe of my blade.

I could hear the hum of the hover tank as its drives kicked in.  I readied a nade as I scaled up the tower that had risen from the floor.  I grabbed hold of the edge and swung my weight up, and was immediately thrown back to the ground by a heavy force drilling me in the chest.

I clutched my sternum, just to make sure it was still there.  My gaze shot to the platform, half expecting a smoking cannon after the blow I had just taken.  Instead, Rune stood there, but that’s not what froze me in place.  A figure stood to each of his sides.  The man on his right was easily recognizable by the high ranking officer uniform, complete with the tri-star insignia on his lapel.  He was the man that pulled all the strings behind the New City Police Department, and was seated in the second spot on my list – Arachnos.  The man to Rune’s left looked almost like a shadow of Rune, but I knew he was as solid as he was impenetrable.  The fourth on my list, Shell, was covered from head to toe in a dull black armor, but there were no seams in this armor – his skin had been replaced with a special superinium-nanite composite that could harden in an instant, and was supposedly impervious to even beam blade attacks.

“Thanks for doing the heavy lifting for us,” Rune said.  “But we’ll take it from here.”

I could do nothing but stand there, grenade fixed to my hand.

Shell dropped to the floor and landed next to me.  His featureless face seemed to study me for a moment.  A seam opened where Shell’s lips should have been, and he spoke with a voice that even made Rune shudder.  “I don’t see why you don’t let us kill him,” he said.

I thumbed the pin of my nade, thinking of the possibility that I could shove it into Shell’s mouth before he closed it up.  At best I could take one of them out when I died.  At worst, Shell would see it coming and the nade wouldn’t even scratch him.  All I could manage was to grit my teeth at him.

“We’re not through with him yet,” Rune said with a smile.

Rune’s smug attitude broke me out of my trance.  “What about Force?”

“Unfortunately, we can’t allow you to have Jason Force.  Synapse and Vignette are taking care of him as we speak.”  So that explained where the other two members of the Superior Six were.  They were all here.  It was about the worst possible situation I could be in.  As much as I hated it, as long as they obeyed Rune’s orders I would be allowed to live.

“I’m not your dog.  I’ll kill you and all your misfit lackeys.”

“Keep believing what you want to believe,” Rune said.  “That’s the spirit I like to see!”   With that, they were gone.