A nurse rushed by Rob as he leaned against the wall of the corridor. He gripped his knife, keeping it out of sight behind his forearm. He kept an eye on her until she rounded a corner. No threat.
“Shit. Where are the others?” asked Miya. She paced in front of Amanda’s door.
Rob simply folded his arms, keeping the knife covered. I’ll try to not be a dipshit and cut myself by accident.
“I don’t know,” said Quarrel. “I think Roach is getting in contact with the hospital staff.”
Rob glanced at the locked door of Amanda’s room. Don’t know for sure if they’re here for her. Might be here for the rest of us, maybe just for recon, whatever. But I don’t care what they’re doing, they need killing.
An alarm sounded. He recognized the blaring sounds and red floodlights. Most public places had that kind of alarm: Attack is not contained, highly dangerous, seek safety. Man, they’ve got some serious hitmen. Or spies, whatever.
Feet pounded down the hall. Miya and Quarrel turned towards the sound. Rob continued leaning against the wall, looking in the other direction. No backstabs. Chris and Ben barreled down the hallway, skidding to a stop right before reaching Miya and Quarrel.
“What happened?” asked Miya.
“Olivia butchered two of the three hitmen. A couple security guards got to the last one before we could ask her anything. We have maybe three minutes until the cops get enough people here to lock down,” explained Chris in a rush. And we’re probably wanted for breaking Olivia out. Speaking of which, where is she?
“How did they find us here?” asked Quarrel.
“The docs an’ whoever else were all hush hush, but ya can’t cover up a frantic new patient like that. Janitors, service boys, maintenance people, hell, the nurses. They talk,” explained Ben in a rush. Rob cocked an eyebrow at Ben’s hand. Namely, that he had it stuffed in his pocket.
Everyone’s getting injured. But people aren’t simple like cars or perpetual motion machines. I like fixing things but I can’t do shit for a hand or stomach. What could I do?
Rob glanced at Ben’s hand again. Mechanical fingers, maybe? How would that work? He glanced at his own hand, flexing the two middle fingers Ben’s hand was missing. He’s got two small stumps there, the fingers aren’t completely gone. There’s some movement. Hell, my finger curling just looks like the little muscles are pulling the bones back. His head buzzed.
–Imitate the old fingers. Model it off of your own, or anyone else’s. Stump moves back in a curl, moves some trigger. That trigger, based on how far it’s moved, can curl the other two segments of the fake finger. Treat the joints as gears. The muscles or tendons can be treated as chains or ropes.–
Rob curled his fingers again.
–That solution is a bit too simplistic for full recovery. It won’t restore the full dexterity you’re observing right now. However, with what you’re trying to fix, there is no other method of providing energy and direction.–
“We need to get out of here,” ordered Chris. “Roach can only delay them for so long. Olivia is already gone, we told her to run before the cops came.”
Rob noticed the muscles of Chris’s face extend and contract as he talked. They pulled his jaw up and down, the gears below his ears on either side keeping it attached to the rest of his skull.
“Won’t they arrest Amanda once she’s fit for trial, though?” asked Miya.
“We can’t do anything about it,” said Chris. “Unless we can wheel her out of here right now and patch her up ourselves.” Rob tightened his grip on his knife. Nothing stopping this gang from just trying again, and I wouldn’t trust the same cops who have lost half the damn city to keep Amanda safe.
Ben nudged him. “Hey, come on. Can do more from the outside,” Ben said under his breath. Rob glanced at him. Really? Ben noticed. “Come on, murder time. Can’t do that in a cell.” Rob nodded with a grimace. Fair enough. I may not like it, but fair enough.
“Alright,” said Quarrel to the group at large. “My car is this way.”
She led the way, jogging to the stairwell on the far side of the hallway. Her knees acted as two larger gears. Her calf muscles contracted, pulling her leg back. Different muscles, pulling different gears.
Rob followed once Ben tugged on his arm.
“Gotta strike back somehow,” said Ben, wedged between Rob and the car door in the back seat. The engine of Quarrel’s car purred as she drove them through the dark, abandoned streets. She knows cars, I’ll give her that.
“We’ll have no way of knowing what we’ll be walking into,” said Chris from the shotgun seat.
“He’s right,” said Quarrel. “That’s just suicide otherwise.”
“Well, the fuck are we gonna do now, then?” asked Ben.
“Regroup, then strike at the head,” answered Chris.
“That’s what we need to find out.” Talk, talk, talk.
Quarrel pulled into the driveway of a small whitewashed house. “Alright,” she said. “I think I have enough room for you guys to stay. Roach might stop by, but he has his own apartment.” They’d judged going back to the hotel too big a risk, in case the police were looking for them.
They climbed out of her car. “The police won’t bother you or Roach?” asked Miya.
“No. We have an agreement with them. We can technically count as law enforcement, so that’s why they didn’t investigate you guys at the hospital earlier. So far as they were concerned, it was our investigation. But if your friend killed those hitmen, they’re going to get involved in that.” Ain’t no rest for the wicked.
The still air whooshed, and Olivia landed behind Rob. She can use her phone for something besides jaguar pictures now. As a group they hurried inside once Quarrel unlocked the front door. Thank god for her it’s about one in the morning. We’re suspicious as hell.
Quarrel sighed. “OK, crash wherever,” she said, motioning to the living room. “Just stay out of my room and my workshop downstairs. You’ll probably get shot with a crossbow if you go into the workshop, just as a warning. I’m going to grab some blankets and pillows for you.” I like her philosophy on that.
“We’re just gonna crash now?” asked Ben.
“We’ll plan that out tomorrow. Thank you for the place to stay,” said Chris.
“No problem. Me and Roach have a score to settle too, don’t worry.” Quarrel walked off, presumably to find the blankets.
Rob sat back as everyone else drifted off, the conversation ended.
Ben nudged him with his elbow. “Sleep?”
Rob shook his head. Been sleeping for too long already.
“Don’ do anythin’ dumb, OK?” Rob shrugged.
I got work to do. He jumped off the chair once everyone had left and went out to the backyard. Like most homes in Arizona, the backyard had lots of rocks and not much else. After a moment, he grabbed one.
Rob scraped the single edge of his knife along the stone. The long, curved blade more resembled a miniature machete than a knife. The blade was about ten inches long, not including the well-worn, leather wrapped handle. He didn’t bother with the tip, this knife was meant for wide slashes, not small, important holes. His fingers ran over the intricate Celtic knots he’d worked into the flat of the blade with another scrape of his impromptu whetstone. Got to make this sharp as possible.
–Sharpest things you’ve ever seen are Aztec obsidian knives. You can make steel that sharp too, with enough carbon, folding it correctly, and so on. You’ve done that already with this knife, if the color of the steel and resistance to the whetstone are any indication. But that makes the metal too brittle. It’ll shatter the instant you use it wrong. But if you work that kind of steel into only the very edge, and leave the rest of the knife pliable, the knife will be sharp and usable.–
–If you had enough time and a good source of heat, you could induce small purposeful fractures in the edge that won’t affect its utility, rather than let random ones form from wear and tear. But you don’t, so that’s a project for later.–
He threw the flat rock back to the ground. Now for the test. I’d rather not accidentally cut my thumb off, so hair it is.
Rob plucked a hair from his head. He held it about an inch above the knife edge and released it. The hair floated down and split in half the instant it touched the knife’s edge. Good enough. He returned the knife to its sheath, and placed it next to the two others he’d given the same treatment. Never leave home without some.
He stood, stretching kinks from crouching for an hour and a half of his neck. He glanced back at the house.
They’re going to stand around and talk forever tomorrow. Well, maybe not Ben, but he’s taken enough shit here. He strapped the smallest knife to his boot, covered up by his cargo pants. He placed the curved knife at the small of his back, and the last knife in the large pocket on his thigh.
Alright, good to go. He hopped the fence to avoid going through the house and possibly waking the others. Wait. He paused at the street and checked his wallet. He rifled through the few bills within. Think that’s enough for a bus fare. We’ll see.
Rob walked down the streets of the industrial district, hands in his pockets and head down. He checked a nearby street sign. Maybe a block left until the scrapyard. Damn well better be gangbangers still there, otherwise this is going to be infinitely more annoying.
He skirted a large pile of trash on the curb, noticing how close that put him to the dark alley to his left too late. A metallic click accompanied the tap of a gun barrel on the back of his head. He froze.
“Wallet,” demanded a rough voice from behind him. Not entirely unexpected.
Rob drew his hands out of his pockets with exaggerated care, holding his nearly empty wallet in one. He extended his hands to either side, taking care to let them tremble convincingly. He released his grip on his wallet before the mugger could grab it. The guy cursed as the wallet hit the ground. He heard the mugger move to grab the wallet. Someone isn’t very good at this, could have told me to pick it up myself.
Right as he heard the man bend down to grab the wallet, Rob made his move. He twisted to the side as his hand shot down to the knife at his hip. The man, maybe the same age as Rob, still partially crouched over Rob’s wallet reflexively fired. The shot went nowhere near Rob. Yep, dipshit.
Rob pulled his knife out, handle towards his thumb, and stabbed. The man finally burst into action.
–Cords of his left shoulder and arm tensing. He’ll put his arm up, it’ll probably hit your wrist. Right arm is shifting to point the gun at you.–
Rob corrected his swing, bringing it in by an inch. The knife hacked through the man’s forearm and cut everything, bone included.
The man screamed and dropped his gun as he fell to his knees. Enough of that screaming. Rob’s next stab caught the man in the eye. The mugger stopped screaming. Rob crouched and grabbed his fallen wallet. Shoving that back into his pocket and returning his knife to its sheath, he checked the neck of the dead man. There it is. He tapped the dark blue skull tattoo on the man. Guess they’ve expanded to this area.
Rob hurried away, leaving the body and the gun. Got no ammo and no way to carry it discreetly. He only resumed walking pace once close to the scrapyard. A couple unfamiliar cars were parked out front. Home sweet home.
Rather than barging in through the front door, Rob skirted around the yard itself. The barbed wire topping the fence and the lack of hole in the chain links gave him pause for thought.
–There, that slight discoloration in the wire. That means that a small tug, not much force, could break the wire. You see two other points like that.–
Easy day. Rob scaled the fence and loosened the barbed wire, enough for him to jump to the other side without tearing a hole in his skin. He headed not towards the building, but his ad hoc forge he’d set up to the side. Wonder if they touched anything. Not much to sell on the black market, it was all prototypes that needed testing. Maybe the wirepatch killed a couple if they were dumb enough to fuck with it.
He passed a couple scrap heaps before finding what he was looking for. Motherfuckers. Half of his makeshift wall had been knocked down. The heating apparatus was in shambles, different pieces strewn all around in the ground and propane tanks completely missing. The gears of the clock he hadn’t had time to pack were buried under dirt. Rob took a moment to control his breathing. There’s a special circle in hell for these people.
Something on the ground a few feet from the detritus caught his attention. They didn’t find the wirepatch. He picked up the dark grey canister, maybe one and a half times the size of a normal grenade, from under an old car door. Pin’s still in place and everything.
With nothing left at the remains of his forge, Rob continued to the main warehouse. Right before the warehouse sat the car. The car he and Amanda had turned into a futuristic hovercraft. Fuck yeah, still here? Oh yeah, I never put in a couple parts. He examined the car exterior. A scorch mark in the shape of a hand marred the driver’s door. Rob smiled. Amanda’s security still works fine. Guess I gotta finish the job.
He peered in through a hole in the crude welding job they’d put up on the ruined wall. He counted about four sleeping figures from his limited view. What are they still here for? Trap? Why? They think they’ve got us on the run. The blinking light of a familiar laptop caught his eye.
Oh, Amanda’s stuff is still all here. Techie gear could be incredibly valuable, but unless the techie wanted someone to have it, doing anything with it had an enormous chance of backfiring. They want to sell her shit, but don’t want to move it in case that fucks with it. His knuckles around the wirepatch whitened.
Fuck them, let’s do this. This door lock doesn’t work, Olivia accidentally broke it. He pulled the pin.
–Now, if you didn’t make an error in the design or creation, that pin sparked a small fuse. That fuse should hit the core. That core, composed of powdered aluminum you treated to increase combustibility, should explode, breaking the canister open. Now with the canister open, the spools of wire wrapped around the horizontal axis should extend fully.–
–If you correctly directed the energy of the core’s explosion, the wirepatch will act as a sort of bouncing betty. The axis will spin rapidly, swinging the wire and traveling in an unpredictable pattern. Now, the real question is whether all that wire held the tiny serrations you worked in a couple days ago. Ideally the wire, at the speed it should be moving, will tear apart any exposed flesh or clothing. You’d need to do some tests to see how different armors hold up to it.–
The pin came free of the cap. Rob tossed it in the warehouse. A small pop, then the screaming started. Something, or more likely someone, collided with the wall on the other side of Rob, hiding near the door.
A man came stumbling out, bleeding profusely from his face, arms, and legs. He shot a couple fireballs into the air at imaginary enemies. Rob tackled him and drove his knife into the man’s lower ribcage. He hacked upwards, towards more important organs like the heart and lungs. The two of them hit the ground, the fire man unmoving and Rob very much alive.
Rob pulled the knife out of the fire man and stood, just in time to see a massive man tear a couple thin wires out of his face as he marched out of the doorway. His clothing looked torn to shreds, but Rob couldn’t see a drop of blood. Shotty.
Shotty took in the sight of Rob standing over the corpse with his knife. He laughed. The gears and pistons under his skin shifted as he began his lunge. I’d rather not get hit.
–He’s putting a lot of weight his left foot. Tension forming in the arm cords. Forearm tensing as well, making the hand form a fist. Punch, very fast, will aimed for the center of your chest, an inch below your throat. It’ll won’t be perfectly straight, the path will be more of a swing to your right.–
Rob turned to the side and let the punch glide past him. He glanced at the arm, the thick collection of more gears and pistons and cords. How do I make that stop?
–That cord towards the center looks important. Connected to several gears in the middle of the arm. Cut that and the arm won’t be nearly as strong.–
Rob stabbed the knife into Shotty’s tricep. The man’s arm put up far more resistance than the mugger’s arm had. Rather than simply slicing through everything, the knife got stuck deep in the large muscle. Shotty recoiled, ripping the knife out of Rob’s grasp.
–Arm and chest muscles tensing. Wrong kind of tension in his forearm for a punch. Looks like he’s going to swing his elbow at your head, you don’t think a punch at this range would make sense.–
Rob ducked and reached for the slashing knife on his back.
–Another punch. Injured arm this time. Aim for your center of mass again. —
Rob noted the trajectory of the punch and twisted, dodging it by inches. Too close, can’t slash. He backpedaled another step.
–Punch, you recognize it as a haymaker. Right side of your head.–
–Punch, uppercut, left side of your jaw.–
Rob leaned back.
–Punch, haymaker, right side of your throat.–
Rob backed up another step, slashing his knife at the top of Shotty’s forearm. The man roared in pain, his hand limp at his side. Rob smiled.
–Leg muscles tensing. Looks like a charge. Arm muscles tensing as well. Looks like a bear hug. You’ll have about three feet under that arm. He’s expecting you to go to his bad arm.–
Rob tucked and rolled, coming up behind Shotty.
–That muscle on his shoulder lets him pull his arm back. From what you’ve seen, your knife can cut through fairly well. Tensile strength of this man is much higher than that of others, however. You’ll need more tests for a number.–
Rob slashed as Shotty turned, leaving another deep cut on the man’s shoulder.
–Leg muscles again. Kick, towards your hips.–
Rob jumped to the side.
–Upper body tensing. He’s going to swing his arm at you. The muscles aren’t completely cut, they can still put force behind the swing.–
Shotty managed to swing his arm with a growl. Rob rolled out of the way again.
–Back of that gear, middle of the leg. Lots of tension there. Cut.–
Rob lunged and delivered a slash to the back of Shotty’s knee. The giant tumbled. There it is.
Rob circled a few steps around the fallen man as he struggled to get up.
–Neck cords tensed at the sound of your footsteps. Tracking you.–
Rob kicked loose dirt into the man’s eyes. Shotty recoiled, long enough for Rob to crouch down, grab the last knife in his boot, and stab it down into the base of Shotty’s skull.
Rob spoke, something he’d been meaning to say for a long time, “Now I’m angry.”