* * *
They slipped through the twisted gate barring the entrance of the underpass to enter a concealed world filled with the stench of stale water mixed with urine. Their hoods came off, eyes blinked to regain sense of the impenetrable darkness. Anne produced a glow stick and snapped it, a steady blue glow soothing the atmosphere. Massey followed suit providing light from behind revealing spray-painted panels, faceless caricatures of people and grotesque snails made up from swirling letters. They jumped down from the white-tiled platform and swiveled along with the curve of the primitive tunnel with its single lonely track.
On some nights while going through the routine, Anne thought the walls of the tunnel echoed her rising heartbeat back and forth along the hollow length of the dank sleeve, multiplying it to make it sound like some giant beast was there with them crawling like a shadow along their weak ones, waiting patiently in the dark ahead. The hiss of air coming from her parted lips whistling back through the ceiling holes didn’t help battle the image either. The first time they had come down here they were met with two mole people securing themselves from the pouring rain on the basic platform stretching along the rail. Massey scared them off easily enough but now every time they crossed this path of dangerous righteousness, Anne expected a worse type of guest waiting for them. Her mind liked putting Globe there, a ridiculous thought. Jacob Globe would never dirty his expensive suit in a sewer like this.
The gravel on the narrow yard crunched under her boots as she followed the imprints of long lost train tracks, no doubt dug out and cut to be sold rather than reused on another line. The remainder of them had collapsed, submerged under the pool of water gathered in a slope.
The gray water pooled ankle deep then knee deep and Anne slowed down to let the refugees get their bearings. Fragile light from outside briefly entered the tunnel through punctured holes in the semi-healthy roof. The walls leaked with cool water from ancient yellow pipes, the drip-drop the only other sound apart from their sloshing feet and labored breathing. They reached a man-made clearing in the debris where the roof had caved in creating a dam of large blocks of cement and century-old materials from the original construction. It still required them to crawl through a gap on all fours scraping foul smells and muck on their palms. The 1930’s collapse followed by the 2009 collapse had permanently locked the better part of the tunnel abandoning it to stream in the city filth, creating a convenient escape route in the process.
Years ago while still functional, the tunnel would have opened through a wide portal climbing to the surface, rising from a lower level before descending again after the train had made its brief stop. Now, this was its last stop as the tracks faded into gravel blending into sand. The rest of the tunnel was nonexistent, collapsed fully and cleared away abandoning the territory to the spread of industrial, red and yellow shipping containers stacked behind a fence. Anne quickened her pace, dropped the glow stick, crushing it under her boot.
Once on the surface, Anne knew they had a short window to disappear. A concrete wall lay to their right shutting the track from the world beyond in both view and sound. It was in that clearing that they had to make their move. A quick jaunt to the left, where Andy would be waiting to slip them under the fence and through the labyrinth of containers to the docking area.
Anne could almost hear the gentle splash of steady waves and on them the dark shape of the boat tilting in the night, lights off. In that image of peacefulness and calm, a new noise interrupted. She stopped abruptly hovering in the dark. The exit lay less than 600 feet away.
Massey stepped beside her, his voice hushed. “What’s wrong?”
Anne silenced him, one hand raised stilling his questions. That urged him to unclasp his gun. Anne already had her own handgun swinging loosely from her lax hand. Her grip tightened slightly. She listened. There it was again. The anomaly, the paradox. Of all the sounds she had become used to in this place, this was not one of them. It belonged to another world, one dealing with frequencies.
“We’re not alone,” she whispered through clenched teeth, “step back.”
There was a whoosh, then a thud, and an object rolled to her feet. The flashbang exploded in front of Anne, blinding her. But through the haze she caught their alien lights beaming straight at her face, invading with a blue hue that covered her eyesight like a film she couldn’t quite blink away. More flasbangs followed creating a curtain of white smoke and blindness. Anne pushed forward, saw their smooth, black visors reflecting the flash of gunfire and realized Massey had begun firing in rapid succession aiming nowhere in particular.
“Drop your weapons!”
The return fire was deafening, a sick cackling from their rifles but it was aimed above their heads making dust and bits of concrete rain down on them. The supers scurried like frightened rats and Anne rolled her eyes at their uselessness.
She shouted over the ceasing fire, “Don’t just run around, use your powers!” She ducked instinctively watching their figures advance into the tunnel, impossible to count in the disorientation. She saw that there was nowhere to fall back to, so she went forth bringing up her red handgun, reflexes sharp again and fired aimlessly through the settling haze. She heard a bullet connect, heard the grunt and the hard fall. But they just kept at it, shuffling around their fallen comrade. There was dissatisfaction seeing how many bullets she’d wasted missing arms, legs, and heads.
“I can’t make out their positions!” Massey shouted.
Anne snapped back at him. “Just shoot anything that moves this way!”
“This is an order! Drop your weapons and put your hands behind your head or we will be forced to use lethal rounds!”
Anne cocked her head at the barked command, a smile tugging at her lips. Behind her someone followed her command and decided to make a move, heating the air as he went clumsily through the smoke. The blue lighting came out unannounced, a bullet whizzing past her head wiping her smile away. Five more rounds were released, finding their desired targets. Anne snapped her head back witnessing in amazement as the first bullet connected with the super, catching him in the chest, flinging him back to roll unconscious on the ground. A second bullet struck another super in the neck, ricocheting his head against the wall, his body slumping in a fit racked by crawling blue electric ripples. The bodies of the others went down like dominoes, limbs twitching in quiet pain. She growled. Her knee dug into the sharp pebbles covering the floor, her finger sure on the trigger as her sight finally cleared. The Nightprowlers had formed a barrier separating them from thei salvation. She counted the white stasis rifles gripped tightly in their hands, three of them tasked with the capture part of the plan.
“They’re all down!” Massey exclaimed, voice raw. He allowed three rapid rounds in the direction of the masked assailants.
“They’re fine. Just don’t die you fool,” she shouted back at him.
The prospect of facing an army alone frightened him. Anne’s eyes returned to the Prowlers. Their body language wasn’t displaying murder which made Anne curious about what they were waiting for. They just stood there, training their regular rifles at the fugitives. There was a hint of hesitation. Or an order yet to be received.
Anne called their bluff, tightening her grip on her S&W. They were all about capture and this was a well-orchestrated hunt. There was probably a debate whether to kill her and Massey or bring them both in for interrogation. Her eyes were ablaze with fury, her mind flickered from one memorized info sheet to the next, weighting each super in her present company. Andy had sworn the six supers were clean, no past crimes or connections to Globe. But there had to be a mole, a leak, a link that had brought the Prowlers here… Anne decided that it was something she would have to ponder on later, after she’d killed these men. Testing the promise given by their leader she shot one of the Prowlers in the knee. In response the front line of Prowlers released single bullets that didn’t harm but aimed to push them back against the point of no return, against the deeper water and slippery floor.
A quick glance toward Massey told Anne he thought they had zero successful retaliation options. A flicker of disbelief crossed his face and Anne knew her widening smile was confusing him.
“Throw your weapons down!” The leader urged again.
Ah, she thought, they were to be taken in for questioning. Anne smirked, licking her lips. “I don’t think so, darling.” She began to stand up from her crouch, feeling the pressure go out of her limbs, stretching like a cat.
“Stay back with them,” she ordered Massey.
“I got this, Frank!”
Just as she was about to launch herself in the direction of the closest Prowler, a piercing scream rumbled the foundations of the tunnel. The high-pitched sound vibrated within her bones, tearing her skin apart from within, the volume like tiny needles piercing the skin. Anne grabbed the wall for support fearing her ears might bleed. Even with the stun depleting her abilities, the young girl who’d shied from the van to this point belched in her unconsciousness, hands flailing and failing to cover her own ears as she thrashed. Anne recognized the screech. Damned Grendel descendant, she grumbled picking herself up. Oh how she’d loathed the sound thinking she would never have to hear it again.
But the effect as weak as it was carried through and halted the Nightprowlers. It broke their chain and threw them off balance, rifles were dropped, their bodies rejecting the advance and instead lolling back.
Massey was slouched on the ground too, unable to withstand the powerful voice. Anne took her opportunity smacking her lips in anticipation of the blood flow that would follow. Absentmindedly she reloaded and gained ground using their confusion to her advantage. Her knee connected with the face of a man to her left, shattering his visor. She took the flashlight strapped to his shoulder and shoved it deep in his exposed eye listening for that satisfying slick sound of blood running.
Adrenaline pumped and another determined prowler made a grab for her slashing with a knife, abandoning his lost weapon. The blade caught her belly slicing through the red leather of her jacket. She chuckled. In his attempted retreat Anne grabbed his wrist and twisted it back snapping the bone and gaining his knife. She stuck it under his armpit breaking through the armor and felt it sink.
Her eyes locked on a rifle neglected on the ground and the crouching Prowler who went for it. She kicked his hand away breaking the tiny bones in his fingers and when he reeled back in pain Anne put him out of his misery with a bullet clean through the armor. Globe should have thought better about equipping them.
Under the reeling howl of the Grendel girl Anne felt refreshed doing this dance of death. It had been too long; she’d missed the sensation of taking a life. Coming to their senses the remaining Prowlers closed around her, circling her meticulously. She turned the red handgun toward another body propping the muzzle against his chest and fired before the soldier could bring his rifle up.
“Really, boys, big guns like that in such a tight space? How quaint.”
A return bullet caught her square in the shoulder throwing back her trigger hand but she brought it back swiftly in time to burry two of her own bullets in the neck and shoulder of another Prowler. She jumped at him wrestling his body, rolling it like a shield. Rounds from a far off stasis gun caught him, shaking his body with the stun before Anne dropped him. Three quick steps and her fingers were digging into soft flesh pulling the body flush against hers. She slapped the stasis rifle from his hands and sent it flying across the floor. He had lost his helmet, revealing, terrified and enraged eyes staring back at her. An elbow connected with her chin followed by a fist knocking her head sideways. Her S&W was taken from her, thrown away. A gun for a gun, Anne thought laughingly. She tasted her own blood intoxicated by the forgotten sensation. When had been the last time someone had gotten close enough to draw blood from her ruby red lips? The Prowler turned his body for a mid-kick catching her in the ribs. Anne blocked his first attempt at her face and reached for the pistol holstered to his leg. Able hands brought it to his face and released a round that caught him under his left eye.
She was all for intimate melees and her fun was escalating, washing her body with an irreplaceable heat, but drawing the remaining Prowlers away from Massey and the supers took precedence. She turned to the exit, playtime over. In the conscious distraction an onslaught of rounds pierced the wall next to her halting her progress. Anne was caught unawares but a friendly rain of bullets pushed back the attacker, rounds piercing through his kneecaps. Anne delivered the finishing blow by snapping his neck. She sought out Massey checking whether he was still alive.
“Go on, I got this!” Massey shouted shaking the screaming girl out of her fear induced panic attack.
Anne ran into the night and right into the trap. She was clumsy, rash. She should have seen it coming. From atop the shipping containers a stasis sniper painted a red dot on her chest.
The decision on what to do was snatched from her as a hand grabbed her hair and pulled her back, arm twisting around her neck in a deadly lock. The rifle fired and Anne braced herself for the impact. But it never came. Instead, she snapped her eyes open, Anne found herself in a position similar to one from seconds ago. Identical.
“Go on, I got this!” Massey said again. She hesitated watching the display of bodies, swinging the stolen pistol by her hip. The scene was identical in every aspect. Her head swam stalling her actions. She looked around frantically for Silas but time jumps weren’t his thing and she had just repeated a fragment of time. She hadn’t felt time slow down either, a sensation she was all too used to now.
Kill him and step aside when you see the rifle.
Anne straightened her back finding her own voice give such commands unusual. But as that concern came, it went and Anne found herself complying with the demands.
She rushed outside facing the snipers and when the Prowler made to grab her she twisted her body pushing her hand deep inside his chest cavity, a laugh rising in her throat. She heard the sniper fire and wrenched free off the body, sliding aside and tumbling in the sand, her right hand red with blood. The bullet dug a hole where she’d stood, the time to relocate and reload enough for Anne to kick his head back with a bullet, throwing him off his tower.
Bree, Anne thought feeling a weight slip off her, a distant presence.
* * *
Andy was hurrying along the towering containers to the meeting point when he heard the first signs of gunfire close-by. He froze in his tracks eyes rapidly searching the dense shadows. Swallowing the lump in his throat he wished he had a concealed weapon to draw out now and put faith in.
Thinking of joining the fun, eh? Hurry up or the Red Lady will take them all out.
Andy resumed his quickened pace ignoring the voice. It had become so prominent in the weeks after his accident in the apartment he no longer threated it as a symptom of anxiety. It was a symptom of insanity he’d decided to ignore altogether.
Bent over he neared the rendezvous. His eyes widened as he stared through the intricate knot of the fence catching the rapid bursts of gunfire illuminate the entirety of the tunnel. There were so many Nightprowlers in a tight line advancing on the opening, tossing smoke grenades. Andy’s stomach twisted when he saw the bright light of a stasis rifle erupt. The chances of Anne and Massey surviving this, let alone the refugees were slim.
Andy carefully slipped through the gap, feet uneasy on the slippery, thin sand. His mind was busy manufacturing a distraction when a high-frequency scream reached his ears and Andy stumbled. He dabbed at his nose catching a trail of blood, smudging it between thumb and forefinger. He made a humpf sound. The impossible noise put his brain through a blender, thoughts incoherent, the obnoxious voice reeling in pain. He chuckled at that and put a hand over his mouth to die down the wheezing laughter building up. Unable to reach his friends he could only lift his gaze back to the scene and watch. His eyes caught the sight of her in her red fury tearing through Prowler bodies. Andy admired determination and haste with which she dispatched each attacker coming at her but the scene reminded him all too much of her warehouse massacre, the one he’d witnessed and had nightmares about. The same joy of doing the deed was present now, the way she plunged forward. A nerve twitched in Andy’s core. He didn’t even see the Prowler creep behind him.
The butt of a gun connected with his head and Andy didn’t know when he slipped into unconsciousness but when he came to, he tasted sand in his mouth. A raspy cough escaped his lips and he managed to roll over facing the sky. In the distance dull and muffled the screeching cry continued. Andy tried to orient himself toward the tunnel twisting his head in a painful way. A figure was standing next to him. No, not standing, more like floating.
“yOU ARE SOMEwhat Useless IN COMBAT, aNDY. yOU SHOULD LET ME tiCKle THAT TALENT.”
Andy blinked the nausea away finding a twisted, inverted in color and clothing version of himself hovering in mid-air. It drew its thin lips into a teasing smile over a white, thin face. Its hollow eyes bore into Andy as the haunting voice continued.
“i’M not THAT uGly, C’MON. oH, BEHIND YOU. wATCH for THAT KNIFE,” the phantom said and Andy looked back up just in time to catch the muzzle of a gun and twist it away. The bullet dug into the sand next to his head giving him a ring in his ears. Andy saw the knife in the hip before the Prowler reached for it, so he prevented the action and kicked the hand away from the hip reaching himself for the knife. He buried it in the prowler’s stomach putting his own weight to bring down the black-clothed elite.
“Whoa, how did you know?” Andy turned around finding no one there. The sudden emptiness of the air made him run for the tunnel.
What he found was Anne bathed in blood, panting heavily. She brushed the streaming blood from her split lip with the sleeve of her jacket.
“You’re late,” she said to which Andy flopped his arms. Massey emerged from the tunnel supporting the young girl still suffering the stun bullet. “This,” Anne pointed to the girl, “wasn’t in your report. She nearly turned my brain to mush with that screech.”
Andy bit his lip. “What the hell happened here?”
“We were compromised.” Anne pointed toward the spread of bodies. “This operation is blown.”
Letting the girl sit down Massey finally concealed his empty weapon. “We raised too much noise, we need to move out. There might be more Prowlers on the way.” He nodded toward the radio strapped to the vest of the nearest Prowler. It gave out a static noise, broken now but they couldn’t take the chance the dead men hadn’t given a distress call before Anne had mauled them.
“But I don’t understand, this was perfect, untraceable-”
“Someone talked!” Anne snapped at him and Andy raised his hands in defense.
“We’ll argue later now help me move the supers before anyone shows-”
A loud explosion brightened the sky turning night to die, displaying bright red flames against the background of the dark blue sky, before turning to thick black flames clouding the stars.
Anne’s jaw was set.
“So much for the boat.”
“And Dave. Dave was on the boat,” Andy added grimacing at the thought of the good ol’ captain who’d silently obeyed their secret voyages.
“Shit…” Massey swore.
This is getting interesting, the voice joined and Andy pushed it back inside shivering at the ebbing, spiraling laughter.
Next: Seismic Evening