In Rides the Devil -- Short Stories

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Act of Confusion

Niko hurried down the massive underground sewer tunnel to gain some distance from his pursuers. Whomever that had hired him for the assignment had neglected to tell him everything about the security at the military research facility. It was like Niko and his men were tests subjects of something far more sinister than just stealing a few prototypes. This had angered him to no end. Usually when he took these assignments he knew his sources, but his person that had approached him on the dark web had the advantage. He wished he had stuck to his routine clientele; those jobs were a cakewalk compared to this one. Those jobs didn’t cost the lives of his crew.

It was to be an easy job, to go in and disarm the sensors and then wait for the protestors to come and then they were to make their move as everyone present were focused elsewhere.

So what the hell went wrong? Niko paused; his eyes went wide with fear. He stole a look back at the surrounding darkness, but what came was echoing sound of splashing, and clicking against concrete. He withdrew his pistol and spun around to greet his pursuers with a spray of bullets.

He spotted their glowing beady eyes and their lasers scanning the sewer tunnel, measuring it, assessing it and all the while triangulating on his location.

These creepy crab-like machines were fast, unnaturally fast and they killed with an almost lackluster precision. These three-legged bastards had an almost organic look to them. As they left the building one of Niko’s men had managed to bring one down. Luckily the bullet struck a soft spot located under the hard exoskeleton shielding and the “machine” exploded into a wet, sticky mess.

Niko however, had lost two fingers in the melee and he had to act fast in order to cauterize the wounds with his mini torch and a mild sedative. As painful as it was, he would survive.

His comrade however had not.

He gave his life to protect me, Niko considered an honorable debt he would never forget. In memory of the man’s life and his comrades, he would avenge them.

He shot once and it ricocheted off the nearest tracker and it resounded through the sewer, making the other two double their efforts to locate him. With his spare hand he dug in his pocket, in it was a pen sized detonator. Just in case, he tucked it back into his top pocket and quickly sloshed onwards.

After a distance he heard a chattering sound from above. He slowly looked up and swore in Russian. One of the damned machines was right above him. Before he could bring his Browning 9 mm up, the crab-like creature splashed down and struck out at him with its retractable mandibles. Niko held up the metal suitcase that kept the samples he stole, but the damn mandibles was so strong, so unnaturally fast, that it had punched clean right through to the other side like an iron spear. Niko let out a scream and his gun slipped into the dark and dank sewage. His hand came up wet with his own blood and the particles of glass from the shattered casing. The prototypes he and his men risked their life to steal were ruined. They had failed their mission.

“If I die,” he mumbled in broken English, “then you and your friends, they can die too.” He spit at the soulless enemy and drove a combat blade between the killing machine’s eye sockets. It proved difficult at first, but after its exoskeleton gave way it felt like he was stabbing into wet flesh. The three-legged crab-shaped machine trembled and went off-line. All of its eyes dimmed and it became nothing but dead weight.

Shoving his dead enemy aside, Niko staggered back and noticed the others were getting closer with every second; he extracted the detonator from his pocket, and as they came into position, he turned away from the blast.

-II-

An hour later, Niko woke up in the back of his van with a big hypodermic needle stuck in his chest. His heart was still beating from the adrenaline shot. He glanced over to Pete, his savior, and then coughed as he took in his surroundings. There were the contents of an emergency medical kit spilled out all over the back of the van.

“Just you came back?” Pete asked.

“They were waiting for us,” Niko grimaced as he extracted the needle from his chest and thumbed the wound closed with a gauze bandage and medical tape. His hands went down to his stomach where the killer machine had punctured through. To his surprise it had completely healed over. As the van started up he stole a look at his assigned driver. “I can’t believe I’m not dead.”

Pete rushed up to the driver’s side and looked at him through the rearview mirror, “you look like you had been fighting the devil himself. When I pulled you out you were holding your guts in. I managed to tuck them back inside of you.” He turned his attention to the mirror looking to see if they had been followed. “If I didn’t see it for myself I’d say you are one lucky bugger. That wound of yours sealed up before I could do anything about it. I still had to get your heart going again though.”

“Thank you,” Nico mumbled and felt his wound. It was like a rubberized covering he had never felt before. “I cannot thank you enough for saving my life.” He pounded on his chest.

“It’s what I get paid the big bucks for,” Pete grinned back, and then turned his attention back to front and started the van.

Niko said nothing; he just held a bandaged hand to his chest. So why does it feel so strange? He scratched at the place where his guts should have been slipping out, but instead it felt weird, like touching rubbery soft plastic. He looked around for a flashlight and then once he found one he glanced down at his stomach. The wound was still there, but it had sealed over with this yellowish translucence plastic. The light from the flashlight showed his organs sloshing around.

Pete looked back and snapped for the old man’s attention. “So I take it that this job wasn’t a complete failure?”

“I don’t exactly know what happened back there. It happened all so fast. The informant was a decoy. They knew we were coming.”

“Shit,” was all Pete could say. He then looked at Niko.

“So what happened to you? When I found you, you were covered in burnt blood, and I must say that you smelled like a steaming pile of shit. Now look at you your practically all healed up. I mean, aside from the smelly part.”

Niko drew a blank as his hands touched his chest. “What happen to me back there?” He scrambled up and locked the doors to the van. He spotted the wound on his hand, hoping that he didn’t get his hand infected from being in the sewer. His brain listed off a number of diseases carried in human excrement and shuddered at the thought. He would seek proper medical help, he would pay in cash and if he was infected with something, he would have to deal with it after he learned about it, not before. So getting all worked up wasn’t going to help his current situation, he would have to keep a cool head.

“You’re not going to freak out or anything are you?” The van started to move. They had to leave the area before they were both discovered.

Niko shook his head and grabbed for his laptop. He then quickly logged into the anonymous server, and after a few minutes of posting, he waited for a response from his client on a private forum.

After twenty minutes his client IceBar07 responded.

Is this channel secure? The client typed.

You know it is.

A digital picture of two severed fingers came on screen. They had belonged to Niko. He touched the screen with his bandaged and sore hand. He had a sour taste in his mouth. That would mean… Niko scrubbed his memory if he had seen anyone watching them of not and no one came to mind. Even security was focused on the protestors outside.

His client quickly added if Niko wanted his two severed fingers back, or sent to the police.

Niko gritted his teeth as he typed back. You knew this was going to go bad, you set us up.

There was a long pause before his client had answered.

I needed to see if they were ready to use, his client responded.

Ready? Niko squinted at the screen, ready for what?

The client had sent another message, I wouldn’t worry about getting paid, and I’ve already transferred all of the agreed Bitcoins to your account. But as for your fingers, if you’d like, I could always keep them on ice and get them dropped somewhere for you to pickup. Maybe there’s still time to reattach them.

Niko gritted his teeth, he was livid as he typed back. No that’s fine. You can keep them as a souvenir. But let me just say that I will find out who you are and when I do, you will be sorry that you had ever crossed me.

Niko waited. The duration of his client’s response took longer that he had wanted it to. The massage was brief, but it was enough to get the ex-spy hurling his laptop against the side of the van.

“That went well.” Pete shook his head, and pressed the accelerator.

-III-

Days later, Niko managed to push himself up from his bed and made it to the washroom and paused in front of the mirror. His body felt like he had been sleeping on a knit of pins and needles. In an opiate and vodka haze he looked at the progression of his unknown ailment. For days he had suffered to a point where he could barely stand, but for today it was one of his better days. It all started when his eyes hated the brightness of day, but instead of seeking medical advice, he had bought and installed little night lights throughout his apartment within a bearable intensity. Even the bathroom was dimly lit, but he could see that whatever he was infected with, it was slowly changing his body into something terrible.

As he feigned a smile in the bathroom mirror his teeth felt loose to the touch. His hair feel out in clumps and his skin looked deadly gaunt, full of ulcerations and in some spots it felt as if he had no muscle left, just a layer of skin over bone.

He scowled at his own reflection; it disgusted him to no end. It had remembered of a street drug called Krokoil, or Russian Magic. A kind of dirty cooked codeine mix that was popular and extremely addictive after one use. He had remembered seeing firsthand what the drug was capable of. Of how it would eat away the user’s body and organs like gangrene, a horrible addiction that once it started it most often ended in the rapid deterioration and demise of its user. Had he been indivertibly exposed to it? He had to wonder. Perhaps, maybe, exposed to some radiation while escaping from the research facility? That would explain those bizarre machines that hunted after him, any one of them could be radioactive or carrying some form of radioactive material.

“Ludicrous,” Niko shook his head, he was losing his mind. He could feel his paranoia taking over. That was no way for an ex KGB agent to act was irrational. He had to be calm, and focus again.

“What did they do to me?” He asked the mirror’s reflection. What was left of him was slowly becoming something else before his eyes. Was it cancer? He mused; perhaps it was a form of necrotizing fasciitis? He chuckled madly as a tooth slipped out of his mouth and struck and slid the porcelain sink. “Didn’t feel a thing,” he mumbled as he turned to the toilet to relive himself. As he opened his robe and fumbling with his boxers he glanced down and cursed in Russian. Nothing was sacred. Even his own manhood had deserted him and fell into the toilet with a rounding splash.

“Et tu Brute?” He watched in dismay as his dethatched member slipped to the bottom of the porcelain throne.

-IV-

Months passed so quickly that Niko in his self-induced isolation he couldn’t tell what day, or even what season it was. He had adjusted well enough to his physical condition. Now all he needed now was something to sustain his interests and physical needs, but every now and then he had to get back into the real world. He preferred going out after dusk, or in pitch dark before he risked venturing beyond his home. Out in the real world he avoided meeting anyone, even good old optimistic Pete. But when he approached a bank machine to withdraw some money, he found his fingers just a little too soft on the hard keypad. His brittle fingernails cracked and flicked off as his pressed harder on the keys to make a withdrawal. To his surprise his fingers melted into the keyboard. Niko’s mind jolted as he began to “talk” to the bank machine. Seconds later billets appear out of the slot like a Vegas jackpot winning.

“It looks like trouble never comes alone, that is — except for today.” Niko smirked as he tongued his toothless gums.

Niko was such a mess. He could barely tell if he were human any more. He decided that new found abilities were indeed a curse, but they would help him locate the son-of-a-bitch that had done this to him, and that had killed his best men. He knew that going back would have disastrous results for him, but that didn’t stop him from spending all of his free time (which he has a lot of lately) monitoring everything that came in and out of the research faculty that Pete supplied him with. His new found ability to tap in a network and communicate with computers had started to make him wonder what he was becoming. Niko’s consciousness stretched across the vastness of the globalized network and sought both solace and recognition for his ability. He could see patterns of code and could intuitively shape them to his bidding. If he wanted to he could so easily become a billionaire, but he never wanted that. All he wanted was restitution. One thing that Niko had learned from his years as a field agent and that was: patience meant everything.

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