Well, that wasn’t supposed to happen.
I jumped through the window, covering my head to protect it and showering the pavement below with shards of glass. A sting of pain spread through my left leg as I landed in a crouch but I pushed the thought aside, sprinting towards the crowded street.
The stupid warehouse was supposed to be empty. That was the deal. Go in, scavenge what you can, bring it back and get paid. Easy-peasy. Why did I even bother listening to people? They either lied or were too stupid to know what was going on. Ugh.
I joined the packed street ignoring the curious glances coming my way. Nothing to see here, just a regular person jumping off a building. Move along.
The stench of sweat, sewage and smoke coming from everywhere and everyone used to make me gag. But like everything else, including the food, you get used to it. Now I just cringed my nose adjusting to breathing through the mouth.
Slowing down, I wiggled my way through the stream of people. A fat man with his cart of stolen kitchen utensils kept bawling, waving a black rusty toaster as if it were a golden crown. There was no way in hell that thing worked.
I kept a quick pace but without running. My heart was pounding in my chest and my mind was telling me to get out of there but I pushed the voices back. Better blend in with the crowd. Safety in numbers, eh? Besides, I was not sure if they managed to scan my face so running would just give me away.
A shadow passed over the street diminishing even further the sparse grey light that usually told us it must be daytime. A few heads turned up to look at it. I didn’t bother, I knew exactly what I’ll see. The Age of Perpetual Night. Somebody named it that in poem and it stuck — the tale about a world where the sun never shows its face through the thick clouds covering the sky. Gas, some said caused it; government conspiracy, insisted others; magic, was the best one I had heard so far. Magic or gas — who cared? We will be dead soon enough. If it wasn’t from the grey depression sucking your life out, then it would be the lack of food or the terrible air, if you can even call it that.
A scream overcame the street rattle and I turned to look against my best judgement. Several men in shiny black suits had emerged from the old warehouse, their weapons ready in their hands. Red lights flickered on the side of their rifles indicating they were set to kill instead of stun. I must have stumbled upon something really important if they were ready to do me in publicly for just stealing a look of those capsules and the weird box sealed in the reinforced chamber. I wondered if that was where the whispers had come from. It couldn’t have been the soldiers, they communicated through internal channel in their suits.
Their massive protective armor along with the whole arsenal of weapons made everybody disperse in a rush. I followed suit, joining the madness. At the corner of the street I bumped into a girl noticing one of the men looking in my direction. I couldn’t exactly tell if he’d recognized me since I couldn’t see his face behind the sleek black helmet but I knew it in my bones that if I didn’t disappear that very second things will get ugly fast.
“Shit!” I growled as I pushed the skinny girl out of my way, ignoring her curses. I sprinted down the street, maneuvering between people, abandoned cars and trash, my heart beating so fast that I could barely hear anything else. I had only one advantage against those men and that was speed. While their suits protected them from pretty much everything they were heavy and made them move like me ten beers in. I had to lose them — that was my only chance.
I took a turn without slowing down, almost crashing into one of the pesky buildings after slipping in a puddle of what I hoped was muddy water. I found my balance and kept running, my brain desperately trying to analyze the area. I rarely went so far south in the city, nothing interesting to steal around here, but that job was too good to miss on. And the food, I reminded myself, my stomach growling in agreement.
The echo of heavy metal steps thumping behind haunted me.
I could run to the outskirts of the city, but they could follow and they will have no trouble searching every damn building that was even half-standing. I couldn’t afford that. I had to get back to the populated area, somewhere where they will be forced to think twice before blowing things up in front of civilians. They had to maintain some kind of image for the masses even though everybody knew what they were really doing.
I ran, lungs burning, for another fifteen minutes. I was lucky I had spent my life being chased by people or I would have been dead by now. I could still hear them in the distance. Damn, they were persistent.
I noticed a familiar graffiti sign flashing at the corner I was just about to pass by and changed my direction. The people of the south side hated Verizon with artistic passion judging by the colorful language that covered the ten feet wall.
I moved to the narrow intersection between the two buildings finding my way in the gloom. I slipped on something squishy but didn’t have the time nor the stomach to look down. Hopefully a dead rat.
I found the tiny back door I was looking for and moved into the entrance hall, feeling my way down the hall. The stench of dust and mold invaded my nostrils making me cover my mouth to stop myself from sneezing. The building was crumbling after years of neglect even though it was in a pretty major area in Boston and could have served as another Verizon center — those tend to sprung up like mushrooms. Fifteen stories high, each of them wide enough to house the warehouse where all of this began, this place was my best chance of making it alive.
I took the stairs to the fourth floor; I had vague memories of it from the last time I squatted in this place running from a job gone bad. Nobody was set to kill me back then, at least nobody who could actually succeed.
Moving silently through the broken furniture, dust and cement rubble proved to be a bitch. I had to stop every few steps to listen in and try to determine if what I heard was one of my pursuers or my own clumsiness. Few minutes later I allowed myself a moment of rest, leaning behind one of the surviving support beams, trying to calm my breathing and catch any tell-tale sound.
I almost missed the subtle steps coming from the staircase with my blood drumming in my ears. I listened, trying to determine if I had imagined it or if I was about to die. In any case, whoever that was, he was impressively quiet for somebody carrying forty-five pounds of armor.
A second passed, then two. Nothing. Then a distinct rumble of a boot crushing a piece of concrete reverberated through the floor like a gong marking the start of a death match. I reached for the saber on my back. Four more knives waited on my belt but they would prove useless against the armor.
The memory of that one time I faced somebody wearing such an armor flashed before my eyes: that had been the worst beating of my life. So I had made sure I found a way to even the chances by getting my hands on an old, decommissioned suit and studying it inside out. I was more than prepared for a rematch. Now all that remained was for him to pass by me and stand very still while I went for that weak spot.
My eyes followed his careful movements, no doubt he was trying to avoid repeating his colossal mistake. He had his rifle propped to his right shoulder, one hand holding the trigger while the other squeezed the pistol grip. This gave me the half-decent opening that I was hoping for.
Even if he heard me move he had no time to react. My saber thrust into the thinner layer of armor between his armpit and shoulder, sinking halfway. I could tell it hit home by the loud grunt that escaped his helmet. I couldn’t let him see me and send the feed to the others, I was counting on the fact that there were so many scavengers around that anybody could try to take him down. But if they saw he found me our party of two will quickly be crashed by a dozen unwelcome guests.
I jumped on his back keeping my blade inside the wound. Dropping the rifle, he tried to throw me off reaching with his good arm to grab me by the hair. I ducked my head down, twisting my weapon inside him. He screamed, the sound muffled by the metal around his head, but didn’t fall. Stubborn bastard.
He threw us both at the nearest support beam, almost crushing my back in the process. I lost hold of my saber and clinged to his armor with tired fingers. He slammed his back against the cement again, my head ringing from the clash.
I held on somehow, noticing with relief that he was barely standing on his feet. My left hand that used to hold the saber was covered with something sleek and wet making it harder to hold my grip. Bleed out already, man!
He dropped on his back crushing me between him and the ground. By the time my eyesight cleared enough he had rolled to his side turning to face me. Fuck.
His face-shield opened to reveal a man smiling. There was blood streaming from his mouth and nose but his dark eyes gleamed with twisted satisfaction.
“We got you.” He said, coughing even more blood. A cold chill ran down my spine.
Not yet, you asshole.
My fingers slid one of my knives out of my belt and it flew towards him before he could even blink, digging into his left eye and spraying me with hot blood. He went limp, a grotesque smile still on his lips. Jumping to my feet I retrieved my saber from his corpse and sprinted towards the stairs. I heard voices coming from where I left the body just as I was reaching the stairs.
The two steps behind me exploded, making a hole big enough for me to fall through. I was already running before the first rubble hit the floor. Their aim didn’t improve although their vigor in decimating the place was more than evident.
“Surrender peacefully and you shall be granted fair trial!” One of them shouted as another blasted the column I had hidden behind a second earlier.
“Yeah, right.” I murmured to myself, tightening my hold around my saber. Running was no longer an option. I had to find a hiding spot they wouldn’t think to check.
Another blast almost took my head off and I bolted towards the wall on my right. I jumped through a half fallen door and ran on, taking a right turn to the next missing door I found. Before I could even realize what was happening the floor disappeared from underneath me. I reached out desperately, trying to catch onto something but my fingers slipped down the even surface.
Darkness engulfed me as I fell, unable to do anything but scream.