Chris stomped into his apartment, throwing his blue bandana and keys into a dark green, homemade bowl on a stand beside the door. He stretched, popping his aching back, and headed for the kitchen. Alicia looked up from her notes and textbooks strewn about on the coffee table before her. The laugh track of some god-awful sitcom she insisted was good background noise blared from the TV.
She mustered a weary smile and said, “Hi dear! Late night again?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “Marcus is super pissed. Me and Delta can’t go five minutes without him bitching at us.” He grabbed a beer from the fridge and called out over his shoulder, “Want anything?”
“No, it’s eight in the morning.”
He blinked. “Really?” He checked his watch and said, “You’re right. I thought it was earlier.” Of course our feral had to get involved in a running gun battle on the streets. How dare I get some sleep? he thought.
“You thought it was earlier? That’s not better.” She moved over on the couch cleared a small area on the coffee table for him to rest his feet, and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “You need to shave again.”
“I know. Gearing up for another exam?” he asked shooting a glance at the medical textbooks that may as well have been written in Greek to him. “I thought you finished midterms.” She looks as tired as I feel.
“I’ve still got Unnatural Diseases tomorrow,” she replied with a sigh. “You know it’s bad when the textbooks says get a mage and pray.”
“Maybe poke them with a stick,” Chris suggested.
That got a smile out of her. “They frown on that in most hospitals. Are you almost done with your craziness?”
He sighed and leaned back, taking a drink. I know, I want this to be over with too. “It’s been almost a week and we still don’t have the feral. If it hurts someone, that’s on me.”
“It’s already attacked, hasn’t it?” Alicia asked.
“No. Well, a few thugs here and there. It’s only a matter of time before it runs into someone we have to care about.”
“Really? I’d heard that it was attacking certain people already.”
“That is true.” Chris stopped for a moment, considering his words. The vigilante is a hush hush detail. “It’s a strange case. I’ll tell you about the rest once this is over with.”
“Oh, cheating on me with a coworker I see,” she said, in the same placid tone of voice used to discuss what was for dinner.
“Yes. It’s a torrid romance. Stolen kisses in the armory, dodging detectives in the building, all that,” he replied, maintaining the same deadpan expression as Alicia. It took only a moment before their facades cracked and they burst into laughter.
She punched his shoulder and said, “You’re not going to be able to find it at all if you keep working fourteen hour nights.”
“We’re close. I’m probably going to be heading out in a couple hours. We think it’s nocturnal, and we’re trying to catch it in the day when it’s tired.”
She nodded, settling back in the couch alongside him. They enjoyed their rare moment of quiet, the terrible sitcom with its intentionally idiotic characters forgotten on the TV. Chris let the stress of the day seep out, eyelids growing heavy. His head jerked up as someone patted him on the cheek. He blinked the sleep out of his eyes to see Alicia smiling at him.
“Alright, go get some sleep,” she said. “I’ll have a lunch ready for you when you wake up.”
“I’m fine,” he grumbled, even as he stood and headed for the bedroom.
Hours later, he found Alicia curled up in a ball on the couch, notebook and highlighter in hand. On the kitchen counter lay a wrapped peanut butter sandwich. Oh hell yeah. He planted a light kiss on her forehead, then began the trudge back to MHU headquarters.
Chris skirted around the wall of empty instant noodle cups around Delta’s chair and tapped her shoulder. The morning shift at the MHU gave him pitying glances as he had come in, but no one said anything. He sighed. His partner threw herself at every problem like it was her last, even if she had no idea how to do it.
Delta waved him off, eyes still glued to something happening on the laptop in front of her. Two others lay off to the side, fans spinning faster and louder than Chris thought was healthy for a computer. He tapped her again.
“What?” she demanded, spinning in her chair to face him.
“Did you sleep here?” he asked, careful to keep his expression neutral. I get that spinning our wheels is frustrating but this is unhealthy. You are exactly where I left you six hours ago and smell like you haven’t taken a shower in the last day.
“What? Yeah. It’s almost done,” she said with a yawn, flicking a lazy finger over to the screen, as if Chris could easily decipher the code without context.
“What is?” he asked.
“The drone path-finding,” she replied. At the sight of his blank stare, she added. “So we can check rooftops
“No, I got that. It took you all night to make a drone go in a grid?”
“No, that took thirty minutes. And it’s five drones that I made prioritize certain areas based on the density of abandoned buildings on that list you made.”
“Good. Did you have anything to add to that?”
“Only a couple things. Oh, and I removed one or two that weren’t actually abandoned.”
“Great. Do you need me to do anything?” he asked. You look dead tired. “You don’t have to do this on your own.”
She beamed a smile at him. “Great!” In a flash, she grabbed reams of paperwork and shoved them into his unsuspecting hands. “Fill these out. Thanks!”
With that, she returned to her computer, leaving Chris little to do but return to his own desk and pull out a pen. He settled into the familiar, if mind numbing, routine of paperwork, simply approving anything Delta wanted so long as the number didn’t stick out as insanely expensive.
Cyrus approached the desk in a hurry, his black beard longer than Chris had ever seen it before. He looked almost nervous, eyes scanning Chris’ nearly unadorned desk.
“What are these?” he asked, eyeing the forms on Chris’s desk.
“Requisition forms,” replied Chris. Did I do something wrong?
“Why are you doing them? These are for engineering.”
“Yeah, Delta asked for help. You partnered us up for the feral,” Chris explained, apprehension filling him. How could you possibly forget that?
Cyrus started at him for a moment, expression blank. “Oh, right!” he said, realization dawning. You aren’t old enough to have Alzheimer’s, are you? “Sorry, there’s too much to keep track of lately.” He hurried off before Chris could question him further. Oh god, my boss is losing it, he thought, leaning his head on his hand. What was he even over here for originally?
“What did he want?” asked a slightly lisping voice from Chris’ side as two sets of footsteps approached. Jeremiah, the short haired, clean shaven man who’d spoken, grabbed a nearby chair and sat down across Chris’ desk. Bob beside him shoot a concerned look at the retreating back of Cyrus.
“I don’t know. Cyrus is going insane. Delta is going to work herself to death. One day I’ll get used to this job.”
“Techies, man. They’re weird,” said Jeremiah with a grin. As tall as Chris, though not nearly as broad shouldered, Jeremiah was part of the same squad as Chris and Bob, serving as the second in command.
“I’m just trying to lighten the load for her,” said Chris, motioning to the paperwork on his desk.
“Give her little tasks,” said Bob, his booming voice carrying through the whole office. “Techies aren’t used to dealing with things they can’t cut through in a day.”
“You’ve worked with techies before?” asked Chris.
“Yeah, a couple times,” replied Bob. “How is you two’s hunt coming along?”
“Slow. We’re planning on checking out more of the city today. We could use the help of the rest of the squad. Just house clearing, they’re probably abandoned.”
“Makes sense,” said Bob. Jeremiah nodded along behind him. “I can spare a few men. Where will we be heading?”
“I’ve got a list of locations for the rest of the squad to check out. Delta and I will be checking out everything south of Kipling.” Chris dug through the cabinet and
“We’ll get on it,” said Bob, taking the paper. “Good hunting.”
Less than an hour later, Chris watched five small black drones buzz as they took flight. If the feral was camped out on a rooftop, it would show up on their bottom mounted cameras. They rose in perfect synchronization and spread out, far above the city. It didn’t take long for them to fly completely out of sight.
“Everything is green,” said Delta, eyes glued to her laptop.
“Then let’s get to work.”
They went from store to ATM to store, checking camera record after camera record in the timespan they knew the feral to be active. And every time came up empty. Chris found himself forced into the role of talking, and occasionally smoothing the ruffled feathers from Delta’s brusque manners. As he listened to the old owner of a computer repair shop gripe at Chris about the rudeness and moral degeneracy of his generation, his eyes wandered to the window.
Across the street stood a huge cluster of buildings in terrible shape. Most hadn’t seen work done on them in decades, and thus a perfect place for a feral to hide. And there are no homeless around. We’re a good ways away from the shantytown, but this would be perfect for a little homeless community. This little shop they found themselves in, that reeked of cigarette smoke and desperation, was the only place in the area still in operation. But a little cluster of numbers caught his eye. Though he’d been the one to comb through the catalogued buildings that were slated for demolition in the next century when the local government finally got around to it, the address of the shabby six story apartment building hadn’t been one.
Once Delta confirmed there was nothing to be found in the shop’s records, Chris smiled and nodded to the owner as hurried her out and to their patrol car.
“Well, there’s nothing here,” Delta grumbled.
“What about that building over there?” he asked, eyeing the seemingly abandoned apartment building across the street.
“What about it?” she asked, following his gaze.
“I went through a ton of records, and found a lot of potential hiding places around here, but not that one, even though it looks perfect for the feral. Can you find anything on it?”
Delta opened up her laptop and began typing. “That’s bizarre,” she said, after a full minute of silence. “It’s not anywhere.”
“No, there are no official records of it.” She typed in something on her keyboard. “It’s apparently haunted, according to this old shitty site from twenty years ago. That’s about all I can find on it. Scratch that, that’s the only thing I can find on it.”
“There’s something going on there. That seems like a good place to check once we’re done checking cameras.” Not that that’s getting us anywhere. But we’ve already called ahead, the store owners will complain and than Marcus will actively make us miserable.
“I don’t think a feral can just delete buildings from public record.”
“No,” he said. But someone did, and might have made a perfect area for a feral to hide by accident.
Early the next day, just as the sun rose, Chris drove them back to the area around the hotel. There’s so many abandoned buildings here. We can’t just work down a list with something like this staring at us in the face. If we keep hoping for a lucky break with cameras we’re going to be too late.
“Should we start with the apartments?” asked Delta, still upset that the drones came back with nothing, and she’d spent all night examining the footage they’d come back with to discover nothing.
“No. Our feral is avoiding people, so whoever is messing with the apartment building probably spooked it off. But there are a few unsecured shops right next door that would appeal to it,” explained Chris, climbing out of the car and grabbing his carbine and three magazines. “We’ll end there, just in case.” He shoved a magazine into his carbine and checked that the safety was on, pocketing the other two in his grey combat uniform.
She nodded, letting him lead the way, pistol drawn just in case. The baton at her hip, dull black metal instead of the standard hard plastic, practically reeked of techie tinkering. If their feral attacked, it would be in for a rude awakening.
The first building they came to was a boarded up shop, the sign long ago stolen or faded away. After testing the handle to find it locked, he motioned Delta to stand back. He shifted, body and everything on him turning to a pale blue liquid blob. Now free of pain receptors, he slammed into the door, breaking the lock and shoving it open.
Nothing but dust greeted them. Chris popped back into human form with a brief shiver and raised his carbine, keeping an eye out for any sign of life. Delta followed, pistol similarly raised. Not more than ten steps in, however, nearby popping sounds cut through the still air, in the direction of the apartment building. He and Delta exchanged worried looks.
“That was gunfire,” he said.