[Part 12] 08:34:46 // 04-JUN-2042

Updated: May 24

Dodge didn’t move, stunned stiff as an increasingly distraught Klaxon Overdrive wrestled with the folds of his raincoat. Then the windows exploded.

He spun, squinting at the fresh sunlight silhouetting the two heavily armed figures swinging in to land on the floor. Thin nylon ropes trailed up and out the windows. They wore white fatigues, their faces obscured by form-fitting helmets and black faceplates. Silver assault weapons hung at their sides. The soldier furthest away dropped his rope and reached for his weapon first, his partner an instant behind. Their faceplates lightened in the dark room, revealing focussed expressions behind the visors.

Dodge glanced at Blair, wide-eyed, expecting her to be paralyzed in fear right along with him—but she was already moving, dropping and twisting to face the soldiers. The movement twirled her jacket open, exposing a small weapon tucked into a holster at her hip, then the slender matte-black gun was in her hand.

Her left arm shot out and her right hand cupped her left as she put four precise shots into the soldier furthest from her. The bullets smacked his hands with fleshy thuds, shattering them through his gloves. His weapon fell from his ruined hands and clattered to the ground, and his face collapsed in pain as he sunk to his knees.

Still on the floor, curled in the fetal position, Klaxon clutched his head and shrieked.

The second soldier glanced over at his wounded partner.

Hesitation cost him, and Blair snapped a bullet through the edge of his unprotected neck.

A red arc geysered out from the soldier’s throat. He dropped his weapon and wrapped his hand around the wound. Blood seeped through his fingers, poured over his white uniform. He gurgled something, his calm façade replaced by complete disbelief, and then collapsed onto Len’s hardwood.

Finally regaining his senses, Dodge realized he was still holding his gun, flailed his arm out, and jerked the trigger four times in quick succession at the blood-covered man on the floor. The four shots resulted in four loud bangs and four splintered holes in the floor nowhere near the soldier.

Blair looked over her shoulder from her crouched position. “Give me that before you hurt someone.”

Dodge blinked at the gun and released it as though he had just noticed he was holding a vial marked ‘Ebola.’ Blair caught it as it fell.

Still crouched, she replaced her gun in her waistband and ejected the magazine from Dodge’s. After thumbing a bullet free, she examined the tip for second and let out a short burst of laughter.

She replaced the bullet, reinserted the magazine, and handed the weapon back to Dodge, butt first. “And where did you get this?”

“Ummmm…” His head was pounding. He wasn’t sure what he should say.

“The Needle?”

“What? No, I’ve never even been to the Needle…” Even he didn’t believe the lie.

She responded with a smirk and a shake of her head.

“Who were those guys?” Dodge asked, trying to force some sense into what he’d just witnessed. His ears were ringing and he felt like he had just climbed a mountain, but surprisingly he didn’t feel panic tugging at him. He was exhilarated. The combat had lasted less than five seconds.

“The Burning Spear. I told you they’d be coming, although, to be honest, I didn’t think it would be so soon.”

Panic picked decided this was a good time to make its reappearance and smothered his exhilaration. Dodge took a deep breath and tried to retain his composure.

Blair rose, smooth and steady as a bot, and turned to face him. She didn’t seem at all bothered that she had just shot a couple of guys.

“Well,” Dodge said, trying to calm himself from the welling panic. “They didn’t seem all that tough.”

She cocked her head, looked into his eyes and smiled. “I guess you must have scared them.”

Behind them, Klaxon was sitting on the floor, his sobbing quieted. “I feel terrible,” he mumbled into his hands. “I’m dying. Can’t anyone see I’m dying?”

Blair ignored Klaxon and strode over to the first soldier she’d shot. He was sitting up, back pressed against the wall with his hands draped limply on his thighs. She kicked his silver weapon into the far corner, then reached down and grabbed his helmet. He tensed his arms to stop her, but abandoned the attempt as she pulled it from his head. Mangled by the bullets, his hands must have been a screaming agony, yet he remained defiantly quiet.

His face now exposed, the soldier kept his eyes locked on the floor. He was maybe forty, with hollowed cheeks and graying hair matted to his head. His all-white, lightly armored uniform seemed to shimmer in the sunlight streaming in through the shattered windows.

Blair pointed to the man at her feet and turned her attention back to Dodge. “This is the superior officer,” she began, her tone that of a professor conducting a lesson. “He came through the window ready to fire. We were lucky it’s so bright outside. A design flaw in these Halo-212 model helmets means they take a millisecond too long to transition between extremes in lighting.”

The soldier didn’t move.

“Their uniforms are electromagnetic AracKevlar, with excellent protection ratings. The gloves, however, don’t channel the EMF as they distort the electronics in their weapons. While the fabric itself is enough to stop a bullet, the hands still absorb most of the impact.”

She stood before the wounded soldier, hands on hips, as if trying to communicate with him through the sheer force of her gaze. The soldier raised his head. They traded diamond-etched stares for a beat before the man broke and averted his eyes. That defeat would still hurt long after his hands healed.

Satisfied, Blair motioned toward the other soldier. He was still alive, barely. His shaking hands had managed to apply enough pressure to staunch the blood flow, but he wouldn’t be able to maintain it for long. If medical attention didn’t arrive immediately there’d be two dead men in Len’s apartment.

“This one is green and too cocky to know how dangerous he is. He thought his weaponry and armor made him invulnerable. This was probably his first field assignment.” She glanced back towards the older soldier, as if expecting confirmation. “Except he forgot to fasten his neck protection. Forgot or decided it unnecessary to apprehend three civilians—one of them only a woman. The commanding officer on this mission should have known better. Instead the rookie learned the hard way about being prepared before going into battle, and the commander has finally learned something about what it means to lead.”

She turned back towards the older soldier, pivoted on the ball of her right foot and caught him in the shoulder with a brutal kick. A groan escaped his tightened lips. Leaning in, she whispered something in the wounded man’s ear. The soldier’s eyes clouded with fear.

Blair again rose and faced Dodge and Klaxon.

“Now do you believe I know what I’m talking about?”

Whoever she was, she wasn’t crazy. Psychopathic maybe, but not crazy.

“Get up,” she pointed to Klaxon. “We need to not be here. Their Captain will already know he has wounded men and he’ll be angry. The rest of the unit is will be running intercept drills for a week because of these two.”

She again palmed her gun, ejected the empty magazine and replaced it with a fresh one from a holster under her jacket.

“No way,” Dodge said, holding his hands in the air. “I’m not going anywhere with you. You just shot two men.”

Blair clenched her jaw. “Shot them before they shot you,” she replied.

Dodge had no idea what was going on and, honestly, he didn’t want to. He just wanted somewhere to hide.

“I don’t know anything about you, except … except you’re fucking dangerous and playing babysitter to a man who’s supposedly dead.” His voice was rising. “For all I know, those two over there—” he pointed to the wilted figures “—were coming to save me from you.”

“You have no other choice,” Blair said. “Because if you don’t co-operate, I’ll shoot you myself. You have something I want and I need your help. If you’re going to be difficult, then I have no use for you. Simple as that.”

Dodge’s heart lurched in his chest. “What do I have that could be so important?”

She couldn’t know he’d been in the Needle. There was no way she could know.

“Don’t play games with me, Montrose, I don’t lose. I want the g-code you collected at the Needle, and one way or another I’m going to get it from you.”

She knew. 

But she definitely wasn’t working for Entropy. If she really wanted the DNA that bad, she’d have to keep him safe until he gave it to her. Or he saw another way out.

“Now, are you coming with us, or will I be leaving your body here?”

He didn’t have a choice.

Dodge took one last look at Len’s crumpled corpse and slunk out the door.