Tommy made sure to peek at Dahria before he reported to Townsend. She was there, okay. He didn’t want to upset her with the news yet and he didn’t know what Townsend would do. Tommy thanked Jones for coming with him and being a good friend.
Gebriel’s body lay on the morgue table with a white sheet covering him. A small crowd surrounded the corpse. Silence permeated the room. A few eyes looked at Tommy and Jones. Were they accusing?
The two boys reported the incident to Mr. Townsend, who selected as few people as possible to observe and collaborate. He had questions and needed answers. Townsends limited people involved himself, Tommy and Jones, the doctor named Damon, the tall and lanky Kevin, and Theod.
Tommy risked a slow look around to observe the others. Theod stared right back evenly, an accusing face? Maybe. Tommy held the stare for a few moments. He hoped Theod would observe he wasn’t shying away like he was guilty. Glancing at Kevin, Tommy knew why he was here. Kevin was clever at figuring things out. On the surface, Tommy assumed Kevin must have been known as a geek. He was the smartest person in here, so it was natural Townsend had a spot for him. A guy named Nick started calling him ‘TK,’ for ‘tenacious Kevin.’ He digs into problems like a tick, hard to rip away until he’s done. Damon, the only medical person, was examining Gebriel. Tommy didn’t know the extent of his expertise in his profession. He sure didn’t dress like a doctor, but Tommy figured the dress and supplies were limited. The first impression Tommy had of Damon was a beady eyed ‘better-than-everyone-else’ type of person, but Tommy didn’t want to label him until he was sure.
“We’re going to keep this classified for now people,” Townsend commanded with sounds of regret. “We need to figure out who did this and how it happened. This is a precarious situation here fellas,” He looked at each one of them in turn, then Damon. “This was obviously no accident. We have a killer among us.”
No one said anything.
“There are now twenty-nine people here in this complex. Unverified. I’m assuming that we might know what happened to Jen now. I assume you didn’t find her?” He asked looking at Tommy.
Tommy shook his head, the answer given.
Townsend nodded and continued, “We need to create an inner circle of people we trust and know well. It needs to be a tight unit so we can flush out anyone who might be the killer in secret. We also need to enforce a strict curfew and partner system, where no-one is alone anymore,” Townsend conveyed. He looked at each of them. “I hate to say it, but someone in this complex did this, we must ask ourselves who we can trust.”
Tommy was lost in his own thoughts. Who the heck is it? There were a lot of good people, but someone did it. Tommy didn’t think just pairing people was good enough.
“You don’t think it would be better to have larger groups? What about setting a trap?” Everyone looked at him with curiosity. “Maybe we could have everyone in teams and use one person as a decoy...”
“And are you going to use your girlfriend as bait Tommy boy?” Theod snapped at him.
Tommy stopped and looked at Theod, he didn’t know what to say, but blurted out, “I just think that if we’re only in partners, people will be more vulnerable. It’s going to put a killer with only one other person...alone. To me, that would be a perfect opportunity to kill. It might not be the best idea.”
Before Theod could say anything, Kevin Agreed. “Tommy’s right, we can’t put people together with a killer alone. Larger groups mean we stand a better chance by watching each other. A killer will most likely want to go off alone. This would be a perfect time to draw out who might have done this.” Everyone looked at Kevin as he spoke. “That would make it important that the killer does not know we are in groups for a reason. If whoever’s alerted, they will know we’re looking for them. The question now is, how do we get everyone in groups and spy without the killer knowing?”
“I’ll call a meeting,” Townsend decided. “A routine shift of assignments, shouldn’t arouse any suspicion. We have to move fast because the population check is tonight. We don’t want this killer to know that we know Gebriel is missing much less found dead.”
Townsend looked at Tommy and then Jones. “In the meantime, Tommy, you and Jones group with Nick and Tim. Find Jen,” he said tapping his finger into Tommy’s chest.
Tommy thought, I’m taking Dahria too. No one could argue against that.
Problems and priorities.
Shock and disbelief gripped Dahria’s face as Tommy laid out the situation. She looked like she was turning pale and getting ready to heave.
“I can’t believe Gebriel’s gone...and Jen? No one still knows what happened to her?” she asked. Her eyes were fixed on seeing something through the wall.
Tommy shook his head with a somber face. “The next thing Townsend wants us to do is scour this complex with teams to find her. You, me, Jones, and these other guys named Nick and Tim.”
She gazed up into his eyes with worry. “Tim? I’ve seen him before. Who’s Nick?” She asked.
“I’ve only seen him a couple times. I don’t know, but I guess we’ll find out.”
She hugged him.
Holding her Tommy said, “make sure you stay extra alert. If I am ever not there, never be alone with anyone unless it’s someone you really trust. Okay?”
“Okay,” she confirmed.
“Let’s do what we can, but I want you to be prepared.” There were minimal tools and equipment in this place, but he had a multi-tool knife, which he gave to her after they separated. “If something seems off, don’t be afraid to use it,” he said.
She took the knife.
He stared into her eyes. Serious. “I love you,” he told her.
“I love you too,” she replied.
Townsend called a private meeting for a select group. Seven people would be envoys with the vital information. The plan was constructed and given to everyone. Tommy and Jones were lucky enough to be in the same group. Damon, the physician, had a group. Kevin, the intelligent tall man, and Theod, had their groups. There were two others that Tommy didn’t know that Townsend entrusted with the information. Each envoy was to observe any strange behavior of personnel in their group and report.
The group envoys were instructed to proceed to their small group and project it as an assignment change. Tommy hoped it wouldn’t cause alarm. It was routine.
The time for the population check came. It was done by creating a small distraction and then a classic misdirection. Tommy hoped it worked. At least, it may have bought some time. Still unable to find the missing Jen after several hours of searching, their group continued to hunt in remote areas. Hopefully, some group would report useful information soon.
Why is there no action? They must have found a body by now. The man in shadow wanted the aura of fear to start. It was a pleasant sight watching these animals run like roaches scattering when the lights go on. It made the killing more challenging, but he loved a good test.
He decided to lie low, blend in, and see what’s going on with his prey. Maybe he could even slip one more in before the chaos started. He kept alert and continued to plan for the next kill as he worked. His thoughts were interrupted as he heard a voice...no...two.
And the prey comes to me, he laughed inside.
Two people strutted down the hall and talked to him. They mentioned a re-assignment and they acted as if it was a bullshit duty. Neither one had happy faces.
Even though the man in shadow had a secret hideout, in the beginning he spent time in their mix, popping in and out of the population. It was easy, all he did was disappear at night when everyone was sleeping anyway. The information obtained was an advantage. He knew where people were going to be at certain times and where other people might be at the same time.. The man in shadow had urges, but he was disciplined in the trade and was able to focus. Cunning, quick, selective, an expert. Even better, an expert with passion. Although sometimes his passion got in the way.
The man in shadow stared at them. He knew their faces and names, but nothing else. They were speaking to him, but in his mind he was massacring them.
“So that’s it. Let’s get started on our runs.” Bill was obviously in charge.
Bill was taller, about six foot two and had a good build. He would be tougher to take out. Using the element of surprise would be advantage enough. Dealing damage fast and precise should be sufficient.
The man in shadow was kind on the outside, but being benevolent didn’t matter. He used it for one purpose, it made it easier to kill from the shock. Plus, the pure confusion was entertaining. The victim’s confusion meant they took much longer to react. The eyes of bewilderment were pleasant, just before they realized what was happening. And by then, it was all over, anyway.
The other man, Jeff, didn’t seem to care and looked at oblivion. He most likely knew there was no use in arguing. The man in shadow remembered this guys habit of complaining, but for an unknown reason didn’t work that angle today.
“Come on, you ready?” Jeff said.
Fuck you, he held his death stare inside, covered it well, “Sure bud.” They found her. He was chuckling on the inside. Yes.
No opportunities presented themselves yet. He had a heightened awareness due to the fact that he may need to take out both of them at the same time. All he needed was the right moment. The time came soon enough.
As they started on their new assignment, Jeff went to check the converter power cables by the opening at the front end of the tunnel. The location was around a short curve in the passage.
“Hey Jeff?” Came a question from Bill.
Jeff glanced back waiting for him to talk, giving him an irritated look of ‘what now?’
“Wait a second for me to check this end, before you go.”
Jeff winced. “It’s easier if we do our jobs at the same time. What’s the big deal?” He had a determination.
There’s the complainer I know, the man in shadow had a half smile, but kept it to himself.
Bill tried, but Jeff shook his head and walked to the end of the tunnel, not even glancing back.
Jerk, Bill scoffed and focused on his work.
The man in shadow didn’t risk a casual look at Bill, but he could tell there was some worry on Bill’s face. Red flag. Bill was watching him. The man in shadow used his peripheral vision and observed Bill look down the tunnel at Jeff walking away. He needed to get closer to Bill. He unclasped a coupling housing as he pretended to check it and laid it back down, rigging it. As he moved closer to Bill he could see he was uneasy. The killer picked up the cable. There was a flash and sizzle a few feet away from the spark. The man in shadow let out a sound of confusion and shock, let go of the cable, and stumbled backwards, right into Bill. Perfect.
Bill tried to catch him the best he could trying to keep the stumble from implementing damage. They fell on top of each other and Bill broke the fall. As the killer fell on top of him, there was pain in Bill’s oblique abdomen area.
“Urgh!” Bill let out in frustration, thinking it was a severe elbow that plunged hard into his side mid-section.
“Shit, sorry Bill, but thanks,” the killer said for breaking his fall. “How are you feeling?” He laughed close to him.
Then, the pain felt strange, wrong. Bill gritted his teeth as the blade was ripped out and a hand came over his mouth so fast he didn’t have time to speak. The other hand held the erect knife, bloodied, and the killer made the blade disappear into the side of his neck. Bill tried to struggle, but the pain was intense and it felt as if his strength was leaving at an alarming rate. The struggling became less and less and the killer held him tight. Bill was strong, but he wasn’t able to keep up the intensity.
The killer repositioned himself over Bill to observe where Jeff was. He had to be fast. He was. Releasing Bill he left him gurgling and moved in position to alleviate line of sight for as long as possible. Concentration and energy were elevated in his system, waiting. Jeff came around the corner...he was easier. The killer stared down at the new corpse of Jeff. Well, I guess there won’t be anymore complaining. His smile was filled with sarcasm.
The man threw more popcorn in his mouth. The satisfying crunch echoed in the room. Crunchy yet fluffy and soft, the corn was perfect. Buttered and cheese-salted for a crisp great taste. Feeling his mouth becoming a little dry, he took a refreshing drink and washed down the salty buttery popcorn. He breathed in deep and exhaled, letting it out slow. His glasses beeped. God damn it, he thought. “Fuck you,” he said to a video image popping and crackling up in the corner of his vision. The man wearing the glasses was pissed.
Laughing at the remark, the person in the image responded, “That’s another ten thousand asshole!”
“You are one lucky son of a bitch!” the guy with the popcorn accused. “He’s killing all bitches so far…”
“He had to kill a dude sometime!” The laugh was hysterical.
They had watched the ordeal from their comfortable private video rooms. More beeps came in and other people started chatting. The sounds of voices coming out of the surround speaker fabric built into the wall. They were high end sound systems to make sure the gamers were enjoying it as much as possible. Gambling was one spice of the event.
Leaning back in the comfortable lazy style floating chair, video glasses on his head, the man with the popcorn chuckled. “Did you see that guy’s expression? He didn’t even know what was going on.”
“The first two-person kill!” A voice plowed on the line, “Yes! Before week five even! That’s two hundred’n fifty thousand!” he concluded with excitement.
“I can’t wait to see when all the shit hits the fan!” another said with a large amount of energy.
Someone else chimed in, “I know, remember that first one? That shit was bad fucking ass wasn’t it? That kid slipped in the blood and didn’t even know it,” his laugh loud and gaudy, “showered it off!” he howled.
“Yeah, that was ridiculous,” someone said. “Stupid moron. I still like the one where the dude was tied up.” There was a couple second pause in conversation as they all thought of it.
“Yeah, the real deal. Fucking great!” the guy with the popcorn jeered. “Still got the first one on all of you shit heads! Ha! He threw it in her big time!”
Plenty of people laughed for a long time, echoing in welcoming ears.
“She sure was a bloody virgin!” A male voice plowed on the line.
“Nothing like live…fucking…entertainment!” Someone else said and laughter belted out even more from the jokes.
A different man, not part of the hilarious conversation, was sitting comfortably at a large video screen, observing the man with the popcorn. The image of him relaxing on the chair and eating his popcorn was an easy sight. Sound vibrations of his talking displayed visually under his video image. There were nine video feeds on the same large screen, squares in a tic-tac-toe pattern. The gamblers, the players, gamers. He looked at the next screen, another nine. There were a total of five different large screens in his cubicle space. These were the different people involved in the entertainment group. In charge of them, he was known as the cubicle operator, or ‘CO.’ He wore a headset and had communications equipment close by. The CO’s job was to observe the group and make sure everything was operational and proceeding smoothly.
The next cubicle held the same set of equipment with another CO manning five screens, all featuring nine different people each, totaling forty-five per cubicle. Over these cubicles stood a man in a suit walking a path managing fifty cubicles. The ‘path-walker’ spoke into the small dot microphone in his glasses.
“Master path-walker Dennison on site 3A-GD. Two more confirmed kills. Players responding and having a good time, proceeding as planned.”
The other end of the message, a man received the information. A sinister smile of enjoyment was on his face. Another game, better than ever.