Zip yawned, bored, took off his headphones and dropped them on his laptop keyboard, while stretching ominously. It was shortly past midnight, and the hacker was in the New York City sewers, under the foundations of a department building making some of his usual trouble.
Since he’d been fired from VCI, the African-American man - only known by his code name – he had been dedicated to fulfilling small computer revenges in exchange for money. That night a colleague had paid him to disrupt that company’s database, responsible for the monopoly that had sunk his own business.
For Zip it was a piece of cake to get the password and introduce a deadly virus developed by himself, which he’d named Leviathan. Now he could pick up his materials and leave happily. Tomorrow morning all the employees would find a comical screen message announcing that all their database files and accounting records had passed away.
Too easy, he thought with contempt, and began to collect his materials.
He reversed the path he’d taken in the dark sewers. However, he hadn’t gone more than twenty yards when he stopped at seeing the distant glimpse of a flashlight beam. Shit, he thought, and immediately extinguished the small LED light that served him as a guide. Who the hell’s there?
But whoever he was, he didn’t move, standing still. In the end, tired of waiting, Zip approached quietly, fearing it could be a trap. The more he approached, the more he realized that something was really wrong. The beam became more and more intense, but didn’t moved an inch. Neither did the person who held it.
Zip almost jumped back when seeing it was a policeman. But he wasn’t moving. Feeling increasingly confused, he stood at his side. And when he looked at him closely, a chill went down his spine.
The man’s face was frozen in a hideous rictus. His eyes were bulging, his jaw dislocated, his mouth open in a failed scream. And the whole body was just as rigid as his face.
“Hey!” Zip nervously shouted, moving his hand before his eyes. “Hey, man! Hey! Wake up!”
The police remained motionless. Zip tried to snatch the flashlight from his hand, but the fingers were so stiffly fixed he could barely move them.
“The hell is going on here?” He muttered, increasingly nervous. He put his hand on the policeman’s shoulder and shook him slightly.
Then the body rocked back and began to fall. The hacker tried to hold him, but it slipped and, upon impacting with the ground, he could plainly hear how it broke every bone in his body, but not with the typical opening crack, but a kind of pop, as if filled with crystals. As if he’d burst into pieces on the very inside.
Zip’s knees buckled and he leant against the wall to avoid falling. The laptop slipped from his grasp and crashed to the ground. The dim light of the lantern flickered and died.
Suddenly he heard a strange sound. First he thought it was a murmur, then a hiss. Thousands of hisses. As if hundreds of tiny snakes were hissing in that thick darkness. The hisses became louder and clearer. And then a female voice, also hissing, overcame that ophidian concert and whispered: “Come, cute boy, let me look at you...”
Zip shuddered and cried out involuntarily. Run, dammit! cried a voice in his mind, Run!
Meanwhile, the creature had come to his side and whistled softly: “Cute boy, look at me, let me see you with my eyesssss...”
A hot breath fell on his neck. He was almost deafened by the multiple hisses while he noticed long, cold fingers creeping down his throat...
Finally, he found the strength to run. Letting out a cry, he turned away from that thing and started running down the drain, blinded by fear and lost, while the snake hissing was chasing him...
“Damn him.” Kurtis muttered, hiding in the dark. That damned guy had ruined his plans. He intended to use himself as bait to lure the Gorgon, but when he managed to make her follow him, suddenly the guy appeared. And after he’d been seen by the monster, he’d started to run, pushing the prey away.
He let out a sigh and went after them. Maybe if he surprised her from behind, entertained as she was with her new prey, it would be easier to finish her. Leaving behind the policeman’s crushed body, he went ahead, feeling the walls as he ran, hoping that foolish guy would not venture out of the sewers, leading the Gorgon out on the streets. If that happened, the real problems would have just begun. Under no circumstances she should be noticed by anyone. By anyone.
Since the existence of demons - the generic name with which the evil creatures to be eliminated were called by Kurtis - was something to hide. Of course, there had always been leaked rumours, legends, and great myths, but nobody could prove it since the elimination of the evidence was another fundamental obligation for the Lux Veritatis, and so was to silence witnesses.
That meant, if the Gorgon failed to kill Zip with her withering gaze, Kurtis would be, as always had been, forced to kill the witness.
Zip grabbed the manhole cover with both hands and pulled, trembling in panic. He climbed into the enclosure, which proved to be the basement of the building, and hid among some cardboard boxes. He no longer thought of his broken laptop or police catching him. He just wanted to save his life.
The ophidian whistle, loud and constant, again filled the small room. Zip began to retreat, crawling on all fours, covered in sweat.
“Cute boy...” Hissed the Gorgon. “Come with me...” Suddenly, the whispers ceased. Even the last snake remained silent. Then he heard the creature turning sharply to the manhole cover and hissing: “You! Veeeritaaaatisssss maaaaaggooot!”
As if it was an invocation, suddenly Zip glimpsed a heavily built figure pouncing on the Gorgon who, enraged, started screaming and hissing. The narrow room was dark - dimly lit by emergency light - and wedged against the wall unable to move, Zip saw two confusing shadows fighting each other.
The Gorgon hissed angrily, squirming like an eel and fighting with teeth and nails, attacking the man who tried to get rid of her and knocked her over. The creature bit him again and again in the arms and dug her nails into his face, trying to turn his face towards her, while he struggled to keep his sight away from her. “Look at me, basssstard!” She yelled. “Look at me!”
Zip looked around, feeling he needed to do something. He saw a fire extinguisher near the wall and, after hesitating he got up, ran towards it and unhooked it from the wall. Although his legs were shaking, he ran to where they were, and lifting the heavy fire extinguisher, dropped it with all his strength on the Gorgon’s head.
Although the cluster of snakes which made up the strange hairstyle on the Gorgon’s head cushioned the blow, the impact was strong enough to momentarily stun the creature, which the man took to get rid of her and threw her down. Instantly, Zip, still close, heard a metallic click and saw five blades shining in the gloom.
Apparently, the Gorgon sensed she was in danger, for she tried to get up, but the man stepped on her stomach to keep her on the floor. As driven by a spring, the horrible creature rose and sank her teeth into his leg, but the attempt proved to be fatal. In a split second the man grabbed her snake-crowned head and slit her neck with one blow. There was a thud when her head hit the floor, and then the hisses faded.
For a moment, all that Zip could hear was his own strong heartbeat; whose sound must be reaching the other end of the world, and the man’s breathing. At last he heard his voice, in a deep tone: “Turn on the light.”
Zip moved his trembling hand around the wall until he found the switch and activated it. He almost passed out when that gruesome scene appeared before his eyes.
On the floor laid the naked body of a woman. Well, it seemed a woman but her skin was scaly and completely grey and waxy like a corpse, her forms were bony and angular and the blood on which she lay had a blackish colour.
A pretty beefy man in his thirties was still astride the body and held her severed head against the floor, waiting for the jerky movements of the small snakes to cease. Then he stood up slowly, holding the head which rocked with the movement. The Gorgon had a reptilian face with yellow eyes, which had lost their power to kill. His attitude reminded Zip of a sculpture he’d seen on TV, Perseus with Medusa’s head. But this man was very different from the Greek hero.
The man snorted, threw the severed head down and picked up the strange weapon with which he’d decapitated her. The beast had defended herself vigorously. His hands and arms were covered in bloody bites, his shirt was almost shredded and his face was streaked with scratches and cuts. He didn’t seem to care about that more than the leg, bloodstained through his pants. He bent down and touched it, making a gesture of pain. However, Zip noticed that he remained stiff, his face alert, looking at him with his blue eyes. The scared hacker wondered if he’d fallen out of the frying pan into the fire.
“What was that?” Zip faltered at last, looking at the head lying at his feet. “A Medusa?”
“Don’t know if her name was Medusa.” Replied the other, wincing as he settled on his injured leg. “As for the species, she was a Gorgon.”
The computer whiz would’ve never said that monster could have any name. “I guess I should thank you...” He began.
“Don’t.” The other cut off. “You knocked her off. Also, you won’t be so grateful after all this is over.”
Zip noticed a cold sweat running down his back. He didn’t get what he meant. He tried to swallow but found his throat dry as stony ground. “What do you mean?”
“Shut up and help me hide this.”
He’s gonna kill me. When least expected...he’ll behead me with that chopper. He’s a psycho!
Zip was stumbling down the drain, painfully dragging a bag containing the Gorgon’s body and head. The “psycho” was behind him, alert, looking around, and illuminating him with the flashlight. He was limping slightly because of his injured leg.
“Can’t go anymore, man.” Zip snorted, no longer feeling his arms. “Won’t drag this thing anymore.”
The man peered around and said: “Throw it to that pit.”
Zip dragged the body to the hole’s edge and pushed it with a kick. Several seconds passed until he heard a “plop” from the bottom. He remained there trembling, waiting to feel the cold steel barrel on his neck. That man would shoot him and he’d fall headlong into a black abyss, to rot with that Gorgon forever... And nearly fainted when noticing something on the neck - it wasn’t an icy gun barrel, but a warm hand that pulled him back.
“Move aside, puppy,” a sarcastic voice said, “or you’ll fall to the bottom.” He released him, turned and limped away. He was still displaying a cynical smile. Was he playing with him? “You hear that?” He said suddenly.
Zip acute his hearing. And then he heard sirens and voices in nearby tunnels. “Shit! The cops!”
“That cop you’ve shattered surely called for aid before our friend petrified him. Now they must have active patrols in the area and the tunnels – and maybe the whole area is cordoned off.” The hacker asked himself what he was going do with that Van-Helsing-like adventurer. As he followed him, the other said: “Now show me the area where you came in from and we’ll try our chances.”
Zip then had a hint of defiance and said: “Why? So you can kill me after? Hell no!”
The man turned round so suddenly that he collided with Zip. His blue eyes sparkled. “Real nice, you moron. Ruin your only chance to escape from here. Cuz if you piss me off I’ll leave you here. You’re a hacker, right? I’ve seen your computer and your mark. Doesn’t take a genius to know when those cops get their hands on you, you’re gonna spend the next twenty years watching the sun through bars. Is it what you want?”
Zip didn’t answer.
“Good boy. Now show me where you entered.”
He’d no choice but to guide him through the sewers, his common field of action. They began walking hurriedly and ran away as the voices sounded closer. Zip almost felt satisfaction in thinking that running would be a real torture for the other’s injured leg.
“Fuck!” Shouted Zip slowing down. There were lights in front of the tunnel. “Road’s over, man! Wait...over here!”
They got into another bend and came to a dead end tunnel. A manhole cover lead to the outside, but after forcing it a few moments, the burly gasped: “It’s sealed with concrete!”
Zip let out another curse and looked back. The crowns of headlights were approaching. “We gonna get caught, man! Unless you shoot ’em...”
The other drew back, without looking away from the manhole cover: “Not if I can avoid it.” He closed his eyes, breathed deeply and stretched out his arms.
“What are you doing, man!” Zip gasped. “Ain’t no time for yoga...!”
There was a brutal pop and the manhole cover jumped up, shattering the concrete seal and causing a noise like an explosion.
“What the fuck...!!” Zip howled, falling on his ass to the floor, staring in horror at the huge hole in the concrete.
“Let’s move.” The other said as if it was nothing, and pushed upwards. The hacker followed him, took his hand held out to him and took to the streets. They immediately ran a while, went into an alley and got into a large waste container.
In that silence Zip could only wonder how he got into that mess. He looked at his tour-mate, who, with his ear glued to the container’s metal wall, was trying to hear something outside. “What now...?”
“You talk too much.” Said the other dryly. “Learn to shut the fuck up.”
“Then tell me what you’re gonna do with me. I’m tired of the show.”
The man stared at Zip, who noticed then a sorrowful glance on his bloodied face. “Leave.” He said, and shook his head. “I’ve already killed too many people.” And he fell silent.
Zip leaned back in the garbage and didn’t move. Now that a death threat didn’t weigh on him anymore, he reviewed the latest events. After a while, he said: “Hey, man...what you did before...with that manhole cover...that was really cool. Don’t know how you did it, but that was th-the-e most incredible thing I’ve ever s-seen...”
The man squinted and said: “Zip, I guess. You’ve left graffiti like cathedrals to advertise your misdeeds.”
“Yeah, everyone calls me that. Almost no one knows my name, and I don’t like being called otherwise. And you’re...?”
Zip chuckled and said: “What a cool name! Can I call you Kurt?”