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HEDRON - A Sci-Fi Horror Short Story


I


For Kelly Williams, there really was no place quite like Providence. The city was not only the largest on the planet Manifest but also the most heavily trafficked trading port in the entire Perseus Arm of the Milky Way. More than 31 million called this place home, and while some residents were gentle souls whose only ambitions lay in the arts or sciences, they were always outnumbered by their rougher counterparts. Those men and women possessed a ceaseless hunger, forever motivated by what they didn’t have independent of what they already did. Kelly Williams was one of them.


She’d been here for nearly a decade, working as a merc and slowly amassing a tiny but respectable fortune. With a long string of jobs completed and at least as many bodies left in her wake, she'd made a name for herself on Providence’s south side. “Killer Kelly” was what they called her, and while she loved her title, she enjoyed the privileges it afforded her even more.


Whenever she strolled down the perpetually soaked Ragged Row—the south side’s main drag, as it were—everyone got out of her way. Like magic, crowds parted, lines evaporated, and even the toughest men, with all their tats, mods, and drink, could barely step aside fast enough. After everything she’d done—real or imagined—there now wasn’t enough liquid courage in the galaxy to convince anyone living on the south side to go ahead and try Killer Kelly. Especially not while she had that ruthless little hembo drone buzzing around.


When Kelly made her way down Ragged Row this afternoon, her silver hembo standing out in stark relief on her bare brown shoulder and the throngs of people parting before her like the Red Sea for Moses, she felt there was nothing special about today. As she had done many times before, she was on her way to meet the Fisherman at the Prancing Pony—a moldy half-burned-down sports bar that should’ve been condemned years ago. The Fisherman had another job for her: a smash and grab, so his message said.


Nothing special there, either. After all, wouldn’t be the first time she’d taken a job like that, and certainly not the first time she’d done it for the Fisherman. With that in mind, she strolled casually down the Row and even smiled to herself—though some might’ve mistaken it for a sneer. She was confident that this job would become yet another success under her belt and add to the ever-growing mythos of Killer Kelly. So how could she have known that this job would be the last she ever did? 



II


“Want something?” asked the Fisherman between a few coughs and snorts. “I’m buying, Kell.”


Bending over, he cleared his throat harshly, then spat onto the dirty tile floor. Kelly shook her head, reclined back into her seat, and crossed her scarred, deep-brown arms as her hembo lazily did figure eights in the air overhead.


“Not hungry,” she replied flatly. “What’s the job?”


More hacking from the Fisherman—rumor was he used to be a miner years ago, and despite having long since given it up, he still hadn’t succeeded in getting all the dust out of his lungs. Would make sense, given the way he looked, Kelly thought. Hard, pale face with deep, rugged lines. Yet those hands of his were iron-wrought, massive, and strong, his nails like thin sheets of chipped steel. Kelly had always hated those hands… given what they reminded her of.


A waitress approached their booth, a friendly smile at the ready, her faded uniform made as straight as it could be as she prepared to take their order. Kelly let her hembo greet the waitress, and the drone buzzed angrily in her face until she hurried away. The Fisherman let out a ragged sigh.


“At least let me get some damn water, Kell.”


Kelly smiled coldly, repeating her question. “What’s the job?”


“Told ya, smash and grab,” he grumbled, then spat onto the tile again before continuing, “Job’s not mine, though. This trio on the west side organized it, but they’re down one due to some trouble with City Security a couple weeks back.”


“What kinda trouble?”


“One of their crew robbed a dispensary by West Side General,” he replied, “Got popped by a couple officers right as he walked out the front door.”


Kelly shook her head. The area around that hospital was heavily patrolled by C-Sec cops, so no one in their right mind would ever try anything there. No one except for a dumbass West Side boy, she thought. She sighed.


“Then why not let another braindead Westie fill-in? Why me?”


The Fisherman chuckled—a horribly phlegmy sound. “Without their buddy, the other two are unsure they can get this job done on their own.”


“You know how much I hate working with Westies. Ain’t no respect, let alone sense that side of the causeway.”


“I hear ya,” he replied. “But these boys are different. Know who you are—requested you by name, not like when those dumb Pruitt assholes came up in here asking for the ‘bitch with the hembo.’ Boy, were they ever barking up the wrong tree.”


Kelly and the Fisherman laughed at that, both fondly remembering that bloody day.


“Yeah, those idiots found out just what this ‘bitch’ and her hembo are all about,” she said, twirling a brown finger in a circle, her hembo mirroring the motion in the air above her. “Don’t think they asked for much else after that.”


She flicked her wrist, and the hembo slammed down on the table and bore straight through it, its razor-sharp claws tearing through the laminated wood like paper. With one hand, the Fisherman swept away some of the debris the drone had left behind, then leaned forward.


“But seriously, Kell, there’s good money in this,” he began, lowering his voice and taking care to stifle his coughs as best he could. “You heard ’bout that armored convoy heading from the north side down to the docks tonight, right?”


Kelly scowled, not liking where this was going. “You mean that convoy with all that Rosewood Security? ’Course I heard about it. Half the damn city got put on notice to stay outta their way—as we all should. Jesus, Fish, I ain’t crazy enough to take on no private military types, especially ones with pockets that are Rosewood-deep.”


The Fisherman grinned, his teeth varying shades of gray. “I know, I know. But you didn’t let me get to the best part, killer. See, those Westie boys I told you about, all dumber than hell and meaner than sin, somehow lucked out and finessed some serious official. Somehow, these little punks got their hands on some prime intel—took me and my contacts better part of a week to confirm it.”


The hembo reappeared, the drone now crawling up Kelly’s arm.


“That why you bringing me this so last minute?” she asked, eyeing him.


“Uh-huh,” he replied with a nod. “But once I confirmed the intel, I knew I had to read you in.”


Kelly furrowed her brow. “Tell me about these two West Side boys.”


He smirked—a gesture that only made her feel more concerned. “The two you’ll be working with are Pretty Ray and Ozzy DeMarco. Pretty Ray will be backing you up muscle-wise while Ozzy handles transpo. From what I hear, Ozzy makes for a half-decent wheelman, if a little, uh, eccentric. Might've done too many hard chems or something. Pretty Ray, on the other hand, is more or less the brains of the outfit, despite being well below baseline. He's also got a rep for being both a hothead and perpetually sauced.”


Kelly shook her head. “Still not getting this, Fish. You’re sayin’ I’m to partner up with two guys—both in dire need of prison or therapy—and somehow rip off a Rosewood armored convoy?”


The Fisherman smiled again. “That’s the thing, Kell… the convoy’s empty.”

She raised an eyebrow. “A decoy?”


He nodded.


“Where’s the real mark then?”


He drew a rough line across the table from west to east. “On the midnight H-train heading for a private launch port just outside the city. The asset’s being hand-carried—one civ-mule with the asset in a metal briefcase, accompanied by four Rosewood Sec armed with compact razor rifles and thermal grenades. The five of them will be in plain clothes and board the train at the station over on Sunset Ave.”


The Fisherman leaned in as he continued. “Now, given that this job involves Rosewood Security, you and the crew are gonna have to go lo-fi. No smart cars, phones, or any other trackable devices. Ozzy’s already got a suitable vehicle to use, and he’s gonna drop you and Pretty Ray off at Clairice-Smith Station at 0030 hours. Then you and Ray will board the train and take down the mark and his escort before y'all hit Mueller Street.”


He paused, leaning back as he cleared his throat. “Once you got the asset in hand, you’ll rejoin Ozzy, who should already be waiting at Mueller Station with the car, then jet back to my safehouse near the stadium in northeast.”


She flinched. “Ain’t that Rosewood’s backyard?”


“Last place those Rose boys will look. Now y’all might have to lay low there for a couple days, but once we get the asset off-world to my fence, you, me, and those dumbass Westies are gonna be a whole lot richer.”


Kelly eyed him. There was a reason everyone called him the Fisherman—he often told tales of jobs that were too good to be true. Yet Kelly had known him for a long time, and he knew better than to play her. After another long moment, she finally decided to stop nibbling on his lure and go all in.


“What’s my end?” she asked coldly.


The Fisherman coughed violently, then gasped for a few seconds before wheezing his reply. “30 bil.”


30 billion imps. More than enough money to buy a big place on the south side. Still, she couldn’t help but laugh. “You got me out here stealing a damn nuke or something, Fish?”


He shook his head. “Heh, that’d be worth a whole lot more than 30 bil. Nah, this is some alien artifact that they been researching over at the Archer Institute… they call it the dodecahedron.”


She squinted at him. “The what?”


“The dodecahedron, girl—it means a 12-sided shape,” he grunted. “But those Westie boys just been calling it ‘the Hedron’ on account of being fed all that lead when they were babies. Anyway, before I continue the briefing, you in or not, Kell?”


“The Hedron…” Kelly said aloud as she chewed on the name and thought it all over. She’d been a merc for a long time now, nearly as long as she’d had her hembo. During that time, she’d learned to trust the little voice inside her, the one that told her when something was wrong and it was time to run. It was the same voice that had convinced her to kill a man many years ago. He'd end up being the first of many, but his death would always remain far more significant than any other. He would've broken her, trapped her in a hell few could imagine if she hadn't listened to that voice.


Then again, all that was now practically ancient history for Kelly… which was why when that little voice told her to run from the Fisherman, his job, and that Hedron, she didn’t listen. She’d been in scrapes before, had jobs turn south in the blink of an eye, and always fought her way out. This time would be no different, she thought, already planning how she’d spend all those imps she was about to make.


“Let’s do it,” she said confidently.


“My girl!” the Fisherman laughed, which brought on yet another coughing fit. When it subsided, he gestured toward one of the waitresses as he glared at Kelly. “Alright, you gonna let me get that damn water now or what?”


Kelly smirked, the hembo buzzing off her arm and back into the air above them. “Dunno, Fish. Guess you’ll just have to call her over and find out.”




III


For the tenth time, Kelly Williams tried to make herself more comfortable. She grunted softly as she swiveled in her tiny seat in the back of the Minnow Manual, the leather underneath her protesting obnoxiously. Kelly did all this while also taking care not to hit her head on the almost comically low roof. The entire vehicle leaned dangerously sideways as it made a sharp turn, and she had to grip her seat with both hands to stop herself from tumbling into one of the windows.


“You Westies couldn’t get a bigger car?” she grumbled.


The driver, Ozzy DeMarco, laughed, the noises more like hisses than anything else. His wiry frame bounced up and down in unison with the sound, his head lightly tapping the roof with a thud-thud-thud. Briefly, he made eye contact with her using the rearview mirror.


“In this thing, we’re in-cog-nito,” he said, breaking the word into syllables so precisely that Kelly wondered if he thought it actually was three words instead of one. He continued, “Besides, this time of night we gotta stay off the lizards’ radar.”


Kelly raised an eyebrow. “The lizards?”


Ozzy opened his mouth to answer her, but Pretty Ray, riding shotgun, cut him off.


“Don’t ask,” Pretty Ray said curtly, then he turned in his seat to face her more directly and added, “But in a Minnow Manual like this one, nobody’s gonna suspect us. Plus, this one’s been modified. Got a meaner engine, dropped suspension, and can outrun damn near anything those City Sec cops can throw at us.”


“Yeah, other than a gunship,” grumbled Kelly, but she saw his point, nonetheless.


Still, she couldn’t wait to get out of this three-wheeled piece of shit. Not only was it tiny, with only two seats up front and one in the back, but the car also reeked of some ungodly mixture of onions and fish. Only thing worse than that smell was Pretty Ray’s breath, but thankfully he was facing forward again. They took another corner, a bit gentler this time, and through the grimy windshield, Kelly could now spot Clarice-Smith Metro Station in the distance.


Opening her pack, Kelly pulled out her hembo. The little drone chittered, buzzing up front and landing on the dash. She'd done this for two reasons. The first was that through her hembo drone she could better see the station. The second was reminding these two Westies of its presence and that it was Killer Kelly, not some random merc who sat behind them. While the Westies seemed all right and hadn’t yet done anything to suggest otherwise, boys were boys, and Kelly always felt markedly more comfortable when the men she worked with were afraid of her.


As her little drone crawled around in a small circle on the dash, Ozzy and Pretty Ray both leaned away in directions opposite the hembo, clearly unnerved by it. Understandable, given what that little drone really was.


Originally designed for search and rescue, hemisphere-bonded drones—hembos—were nearly indestructible and came equipped with razor-sharp claws and a high-grade plasma cutter. Yet what really frightened people was the fact that hembos were more like having a lethal extra appendage. After the left hemisphere of Kelly’s brain had been modified, it now enabled her to see what the drone saw, hear what it heard, and when she gave it an order, it was as intuitive as commanding her own body to move.


Once upon a time, Kelly Williams had been selected to be the Rescue Specialist for a palladium mining complex. It was that position that granted her the opportunity to receive a hembo. Didn’t take long for her to start using it offensively, and while she wasn’t the first person to ever do so, by the time she’d arrived in Providence City on Manifest, she’d turned it into an art form. Smiling to herself, Kelly pulled her pistol from her pack.


It was a chem-propelled slug weapon. Simple, cheap, and reliable, with armor-piercing rounds to boot. She hopefully wouldn’t need the pistol but was more than prepared to use it if she had to. Thumbing off the safety, she tucked the gun into her waistband. Having noticed her doing this, Pretty Ray followed suit, tucking his stun baton into his jacket and readying his own pistol.


She leaned forward and spoke to the pair as the Minnow approached the station. “Okay, we go in, relieve the civ and his Rose-boys of the Hedron, and only hurt any assholes who get in our way. Understood?”


Pretty Ray nodded, but their wheelman was looking out the driver's side window, his mouth slightly ajar and his eyes worryingly distant.


“Gonna rain soon…” Ozzy said numbly, “…Y’know, lizardfolk like it when it rains. They come out and sing old show tunes while they bathe in the streets. That’s how they get you—lure you in with songs and suds.”


God help me, thought Kelly as she shook her head. Ozzy stopped the Minnow just across from the metro station’s entrance, and Pretty Ray, who’d been too busy polishing off that bottle of whiskey to say anything about those lizard folks, just grunted loudly and shoved his door open. This time of night in this part of Providence, the streets were practically empty, but Pretty Ray still glanced back and forth to ensure the coast was clear. Clear of what Kelly didn't know. It may have been his attempt at professionalism. He nodded to himself, satisfied, then reached back into the car and flipped his seat forward so Kelly could get out.

She thanked him quietly as she exited the Minnow, her hembo buzzing out after her and landing on her shoulder. Then Kelly turned and was about to close the car door behind her when Pretty Ray stopped her, gesturing toward the vehicle. Crossing her arms, she stepped aside, wondering what the hell the issue was.


Crouching down now, Pretty Ray leaned his head back into the Minnow and barked at Ozzy.

“Know where you need to be, Oz?”


Ozzy, his eyes half-glazed over, did his best to nod.


“Mueller… Street,” he answered, the words painfully slow.


“Where now?” Pretty Ray asked again, and Ozzy repeated his answer a second time.


“Tell me again, Ozzy boy,” Pretty Ray demanded, and again Ozzy delivered the same answer.


“Then get on with it!” Pretty Ray replied, then stood up and slammed the door shut.


And with that, the Minnow pulled away from the curb and headed down the street.

Seeing the confused look on Kelly’s face, Pretty Ray smiled sheepishly. “He don’t remember things so good, but if you get him to repeat something three times, it usually sticks.”


Usually?” she repeated, but Pretty Ray just shrugged.


Sighing, Kelly wondered momentarily if hanging with these two West Side geniuses was even worth 30 billion imps. Pretty Ray stepped toward her, and she really took him in. Now that he was under the orange glow of the sodium vapor lamps lining the street, she could see why they called him Pretty Ray. The right side of his face looked like it had been put through a blender, then sewn back together—and not particularly well either. He leaned forward, coming close to invading Kelly's airspace.


“Y’know, I been following your work for a long time, Miss Williams,” he began, swaying a little as he leaned in more. “And I just wanted to say I’m excited to see you in action.”


Pretty Ray was far too close now, and if it had been anyone else, Kelly would’ve decked them. But she could see the earnestness in his eyes, which never once wandered to any other part of her in the slightest. He actually respected her, Kelly realized, but was too drunk to notice how dangerously close he was getting. Even those few she called friends were never allowed to cross into her territory. And whenever she did desire something physical, she’d only allow it if it were something she was paying for and therefore controlled.


So, despite appreciating Pretty Ray’s professional admiration, she stepped backward nonetheless, her shoulders tensing.


“Just call me Kelly, alright?” she said quietly, and he smiled and nodded, entirely unaware of her changed demeanor. Turning back toward the station, she added, “Now, let's go—the train’ll be here in a few minutes.”


Together, they crossed the street, though Kelly maintained her distance from him, which helped as he was stumbling quite a bit. As they entered the station, her hembo hid inside her jacket, and she paused to take in the area while Pretty Ray took a swig from his flask.

The station was practically empty save for a young couple tucked into a darkened corner and a bum snoring loudly on a bench near the stairs that led up to the platform. The helpdesk, graffiti-covered and filthy, lay empty. Satisfied, she gestured toward the stairs leading up to the platform, and Pretty Ray belched, then nodded.


Taking the stairs two at a time, they reached the deserted platform just as the station’s automated system announced the next train’s imminent arrival. The maglev would be there in less than a minute, and they'd be that much closer to getting their hands on the asset.

“Almost here,” Pretty Ray said excitedly as he jumped up and down a little. “These Rose-boys ain’t gonna know what hit ’em!”


Kelly frowned. “Easy, Westie. You just focus on following my lead, alright?”

He laughed. “Sure thing, Miss Will—”


But Pretty Ray never finished his sentence, suddenly vomiting onto the platform. He then pointed at it, said, “Whoops,” and laughed even harder as he pulled out his flask for another swig. Kelly covered her face with her hands and sighed to herself. Considering the only support she had on this job were lizard-boy-the-burned-out-wheelman and wrecked-Ray-the-stumbling-muscle, this little robbery would likely become the stuff of legend… if she could actually pull it off.




IV


Didn’t take too long to find the target on the train, given that it was nearly empty. Through the gangway leading into the next car, Kelly could see the nervous-looking civ-mule sitting all the way at the other end, a silver briefcase gripped tightly against his chest… but there weren’t four Rosewood Security agents with him. There were ten.


“Shit, that’s a lot more than four guys,” she swore as she studied them.


The intel was right about them being in plain clothes, but just barely. She could see the body armor under their polos and the prominent bulge of weapons inside their bomber jackets. This wasn’t great, but she was Killer Kelly. She’d find a way. Besides, all she needed to do was get her hands on that Hedron, and then she'd be set for years. Pretty Ray, who’d thrown up again a couple cars back, grunted at the sight of the agents before finishing his flask.


“They ain’t seen us yet, so maybe we rush ’em,” he offered with a crooked smile. “Bet I can take like four of ’em.”


“No,” Kelly replied, “The moment we cross that gangway, they’re gonna know something’s up. If we wanna have a chance, we gotta close the distance first.”


Not to mention the fact that the swirling Pretty Ray might not make it across the gangway, she thought. But then Kelly got an awful idea.


“Hey, Ray, can you puke again?”


“Huh?” he hiccupped, clearly confused.


“Just puke on your shirt!” Kelly ordered, keeping her voice low.


He frowned, and his words came out thoroughly slurred this time. “But dis mah fave-rit tahp.”


She kept pressing him. “Ray, you puke on yourself, then I’ll help you walk into the next car. We’ll pretend you’re drunk and that we need help. Then once we’ve closed the distance—”


“Ass-kickin’ time!” he exclaimed, finally getting it, but then he frowned again. “Only one itty-bitty problem, Miss Williams… I don’t think I can throw up right now.”


Kelly already had a solution for that. “Just aim for your shirt, okay?”


He raised an eyebrow. “What—”


Pretty Ray was cut off by the hembo rocketing out of Kelly’s jacket without warning and slamming into his stomach, knocking him off his feet and into one of the seats. Thankfully, she recalled her drone just in time, as the blow had the desired effect and caused Pretty Ray to barf once more. Taking care not to get any on herself, she hauled him up.


“You did good, Pretty Ray, but we keep moving,” she said as she put an arm around him to help him toward the gangway. “We’re gonna reach Mueller Street in less than 15.”


Together, and with the absolute opposite of grace, the pair crossed the gangway into the last car. The Rosewood Security agents perked up almost immediately, but Kelly and Pretty Ray pressed forward.


“Hey, you think you might be able to help us?” Kelly asked, using a much higher and more childlike voice. “My boyfriend's real sick, and we're just trying to get home.”


“An’ I love dis got-damn top!” Pretty Ray loudly declared, and Kelly swore she could actually see tears in his eyes as he regarded its current condition.


A tall agent stepped forward, more heavily muscled than the rest and with a razor-sharp crewcut and immaculate mustache. “You two can't be here. Turn around immediately.”

Three more agents flanked him now, and based on their body language, the mustache was the leader. He’d need to go first to hurt morale, Kelly thought, but if she was going to do that, she and Pretty Ray still needed to get closer.


“You guys really can’t help us?” she asked pitifully as she and Pretty Ray hobbled toward them.


The mustache spoke louder now, a hand slowly reaching into his coat. “Turn around! Now!”

“Oh… uh oh,” Pretty Ray said, which made Kelly even more nervous than the big agent reaching for his weapon. Pretty Ray suddenly lunged forward diagonally, doubling over. At the same time, several of the Rosewood agents shouted, but just before they could draw their guns, Pretty Ray erupted, spewing bile all over the pants of the closest agent.


“Ah! Jesus!” swore the unfortunate agent, and Kelly scurried forward to help Pretty Ray to his feet. Many of the agents had relaxed now, thinking her companion really was just a drunk. Yet what was even better was the fact that Pretty Ray's little stunt had helped them close the distance.


“All right, boys,” the mustache grunted. “Let’s help these lovebirds to the other end of the…”


The big agent trailed off, his eyes fixed on something on the floor. Kelly followed his gaze and saw Pretty Ray’s stun baton lying on the worn tile. It had fallen out of his coat when he’d thrown himself toward the agents. She actually laughed out loud. It was always going to be a fight, so what did it matter?


Turning back to the mustache, she hissed, “That’s the least of your problems right now, Rose-boy.”


The hembo shot out of her jacket at top speed, striking the mustache’s forehead with a sharp crack and knocking him out cold. Pretty Ray whooped as he body-checked the agent nearest to him into a train window with enough force to crack it, then scooped up his baton. The rest of the Rosewood Security agents reacted, some lunging for her and Pretty Ray while others attempted to draw their weapons, and Killer Kelly quickly got to work. The hembo buzzed like an angry hornet as it slammed into another head while she took care of the two men closest to her.


Snarling, she threw a vicious elbow into the taller one's throat, and he stumbled backward, gasping for air. Shorty meanwhile received what had to be one of the most brutal kicks this side of Providence directly to his groin, and as he fell to his knees, she introduced his face to one of her steel-toe boots. Tall boy staggered toward her, still gasping for air, but her hembo ensured he never made it. The drone zipped behind him, slicing through his hamstrings with its plasma cutter. He let out a strangled scream as he fell, and her hembo dove down, flying between his buckling legs, then whipping back up so fast that it shattered most of his front teeth when it collided with his chin.


Sometime during all this, Pretty Ray had turned into a wild man, furiously swinging his stun baton as though the agents were the reason his favorite top was soiled. Drawing her pistol, Kelly turned her attention toward the three agents clustered in front of the civ—who was now curled up into a ball and actually squealing in terror. But those three Rosewood Security agents had their compact razor rifles out, so she had to act fast. Her hembo flew ahead of her and landed on the face of the man in the middle, claws-first. He screamed, dropping his weapon as he desperately tried to remove the drone.


The agent on the left flinched when the middle one got struck, and Kelly used that to her advantage and fired a shot. Her pistol bucked, a fat slug erupting from it and hitting the agent in his firing hand, ripping through both the limb and the razor rifle’s grip in the process, but the last of the three now had her sighted. She threw herself sideways, narrowly avoiding a stream of razor rounds from his weapon. Fast as lightning, Kelly shot out both the man’s knees, then scrambled forward and pistol-whipped him unconscious for good measure.


With that done, she reached toward the balled-up civ, who had now soaked his seat with urine. A hand suddenly grabbed her ankle, yanking it out from under and bringing her down to the ground hard. Kelly rolled onto her back right as the agent she’d shot in the hand tried to clamber on top of her and pin her down… and after the life she'd lived, that was something Killer Kelly would never tolerate.


“Not happening!” She roared, utterly incensed.


Quickly raising both knees, she pushed him further forward, then wrapped her right foot around his left leg, effectively anchoring him on one side. She hissed, simultaneously pulling in with her entire right leg as she thrust upward with the left side of her body. The agent, who outweighed her significantly, was completely surprised as her movement succeeded in rolling the pair and reversing their positions. Now on top, she headbutted him, but that wasn't enough. Kelly hit him repeatedly, swearing and snarling, not stopping until his teeth were shattered and her knuckles bruised and bloody. She rose, then spat on him.


“Lucky I didn’t kill you,” she growled at the agent before snatching up her pistol and stomping over to the civ.


Kelly realized now, however, that the train car was relatively quiet, aside from the crying civ and the agent still trying desperately to remove her hembo from his face. She turned around, half-expecting to see Pretty Ray passed out in a pool of his own sick and the remaining agents with their guns pointed in her direction. Yet, Pretty Ray had been a man of his word, taking down four agents just as he said he would. What's more, he’d also stacked their unconscious bodies in a pile and sat on top of them as he drank from an entirely different flask now. Kelly was almost impressed.


Hauling the terrified civ up by his collar, she dragged him toward Pretty Ray while her hembo flattened itself against the struggling agent’s face, completely cutting off his air supply. The struggling agent passed out by the time she and the civ reached Pretty Ray, and she recalled her drone and had it crawl into her jacket once more.


“Mighty fine sight, watching you work, Miss Williams,” Pretty Ray said. “All them tales they tell about you on the west side don’t do you justice.”


She smiled a little at that, then shook the civ roughly. “Alright, give the case to my handsome friend here.”


The piss-soaked civ refused. “N-no. I c-can’t.”


“C’mon, we just did all that sweatin’ handling your security,” groaned Pretty Ray. “Don’t make us have to rough you up too.”


“You don’t understand!” the civ cried, clutching the case tighter, “It’s dangerous!”


Kelly and Pretty Ray both laughed at that. Grabbing the civ by his hair, she leaned in and looked him dead in the eyes.


“And what the hell do you think we are, little man?” she growled, then slapped him hard.


He shook wildly now, fresh tears streaming down his face. “I can’t, I can’t! You don’t know what it’ll do!”


The train’s intercom chimed. Less than five minutes from the next station. Kelly sighed.


“We don’t have time for this,” she barked as she tried to rip the case out of the civ’s hands, and Pretty Ray readied his stun baton.


The civ didn’t yield. “You don’t understand! You’ll be putting this entire city at risk! If you activate it, it’s going to—”


But then he suddenly convulsed as Pretty Ray gave him a good smack with the baton. The civ collapsed in a heap, leaving the case in Kelly’s hands. She scowled at the Westie.


“Oh, uh, were you trying to hear what he had to say?” Pretty Ray said, blushing with embarrassment. “My bad, I thought we needed to hurry.”


She softened a little. “Well, we do… but what the hell was he talking about when he said this thing will put the city at risk?”


“Dunno, never heard nothing about the Hedron being dangerous, just that it was valuable.”


“Maybe that’s what makes it valuable,” she murmured, feeling a little uneasy now that she had the silver briefcase in her hands. As she studied it, she saw that it had a small window on one side, revealing the contents within… and there it was. The Hedron.


About the size of a fist, the object looked like a 12-sided die with all its faces blank and unmarked. It also wasn’t white like a regular die, but tan colored and appeared to have been carved out of stone. If this thing was dangerous, Kelly had no idea how, and she certainly wasn’t going to take the thing out of the case, let alone “activate” it. She’d been hired to steal it and eventually get it to the Fisherman’s fence. End of story. So, with all that in mind, she figured there really was nothing to worry about.


She handed the case to Pretty Ray, who briefly hesitated before accepting it, even looking a little nervous now that it was in his hands.


“Hey, it’s fine,” she said softly. “We’re not gonna mess with it; we're just delivering it, okay?”


He nodded, relaxing a little. The train shuddered as it came to a stop, the intercom chiming again as a synthetic voice announced their arrival at Mueller Street Station. With a faint squeak, the car’s doors slid open, and Kelly patted Pretty Ray’s shoulder.


“C’mon, let’s roll,” she said, and he grunted in agreement.


She followed closely behind him, and they were both nearly off the train when a burst of razor rounds shot by her. She didn’t even think about what came next, just whipped around, pulled her pistol, and fired. Her armor-piercing slug hit the agent with the mustache in the chest, and he dropped his rifle and collapsed. She’d killed him. Unavoidable. That was what she always told herself when she took a life. Unavoidable. She turned back to Pretty Ray.

His right ear was a bloody mess, hit by one of the razors.


“Shit, you good?” she asked.


He gave her a crooked grin. “Well, I’m still pretty, ain’t I?”


She laughed as they exited the train. “Ray, you’re the prettiest damn Westie I know.”




V

It was raining hard when they exited the station, but Kelly was happy to see the Minnow and its lizard-fearing driver waiting for them across the street. Moving quickly, they jogged over and piled back inside that clown car.


“Any C-Sec come through here?” Kelly asked Ozzy as she opened her back and placed her gun and hembo inside.


Ozzy, his eyes locked on some unseen thing in the distance, mumbled his reply. “Just the usual shapes.”


Pretty Ray gave him a light smack. “Any of those shapes cops, Oz?”


“Uh uh,” Ozzy replied, shaking his head a little too hard. “There was a couple lizardfolk, but I stayed in the car with the windows up so they couldn't get me.”


Pretty Ray just sighed. “Alright, Ozzy-boy. Take us to the safe house.”


Ozzy nodded, put the car in gear, and pulled away from the curb. Kelly glanced out the windows repeatedly, looking for any sign of law enforcement. She was sure that any second now, a City Security riot truck would come barreling down the street toward them or that their car would suddenly be engulfed in the harsh white light of a Rosewood Security gunship as it bore down on them. Yet nothing happened.


She could hardly believe it, but they'd already made it four blocks, and there'd been nothing. They'd done it. She’d done it, and in a week, she would be one of the wealthiest mercs in all of Providence. Leaning forward, she tapped Pretty Ray on the shoulder.


“Pass me the case,” she said, and for once, she didn't try to hide her smile. “I'm gonna put it in my pack.”


“You got it, Miss Williams,” he replied, noticing her smile and offering one back.


Turning in his seat, he held up the silver case, and she reached for it. Her hand nearly had it when something massive slammed into the Minnow’s left side. The vehicle left the pavement completely, rolling in the air, then rolling some more when it finally returned to the ground. As the Minnow tumbled away from whatever struck it, every window blew out, the front and rear windshields shattering and filling the entire cabin with a blizzard of glass.




VI

When Kelly came to, she was upside down. The Minnow had finally come to a stop on its roof. In the distance, a horn blared loud and constant, and though she could barely think straight, she knew that noise would draw attention… and attention meant cops.


She tried to move, but her seatbelt was far too tight across her waist and chest, and her left arm ached severely. It had to be broken. Both of her ankles felt horrible, too, the accident having shifted Pretty Ray’s seat back farther than it was ever meant to go. And then she remembered the two men she was with.


Seeing that they were both motionless, she cried out to them.


“R-ray!” she croaked, “Oz… Ozzy!”


Pretty Ray suddenly stirred. “Oh, Hell! What… God, what happened?”


He gripped his head and groaned, and she could more than sympathize, given how her own felt.


“Accident,” she said weakly, straining to even breathe against her seat belt’s punishing grip, “But we gotta get outta here… right now, Ray."


He nodded, blood steadily dripping from his head. “Okay, I-I think I can get my door.”


He tried the handle several times, but it wouldn’t work, so he started slamming his shoulder into it, and slowly, the door began to open. Ozzy, meanwhile, still wasn’t moving, but that was just going to have to wait. First, Kelly needed to breathe. She recalled her hembo, having it claw its way out of her pack when it couldn't find an opening. Now free, Kelly had it fly up to her seat belt and slice it loose. She fell, landing headfirst, but at least now she could finally breathe.


There was a loud screech as the door finally gave and swung wide, and Pretty Ray undid his seatbelt. He fell down a bit more gracefully than Kelly had, but not by much. Crawling out on his hands and knees, he then called back to her.


“I’ma get you outta there, Miss Williams, then we’ll get Ozzy.”


Keeping her eyes closed and trying to ignore the pain, she responded with a simple, “Uh huh.”


While she’d been in a few car accidents before, this one was by far the worst. Her head was pounding, and the truck’s blaring horn wasn't helping. Pretty Ray’s hands reached in and grabbed her shoulders, and she winced as he began to drag her out of the vehicle and into the rainy night. All the while, the Westie continuously apologized, and when she was about halfway out, the pain in her left arm worsened, and she swore colorfully as her eyes welled up with tears. Thankfully it was raining so hard that no one would’ve noticed if she was weeping.


Having freed her from the vehicle, Pretty Ray rested on the pavement beside her, clearly trying to catch his breath and get his bearings. His face was slick with blood and rainwater, a nasty gash running across his forehead. Suddenly, he hunched over and held his stomach.


“Shit, my damn stomach is killing me,” he moaned, to which Kelly immediately responded, “For God’s sake, don’t throw up again.”


He laughed, then slowly got to his feet, using the overturned Minnow to steady himself. “Do my best, Miss Williams.”


Though it felt like it took an eternity, Kelly eventually sat up but then had to shut her eyes as she was instantly overcome with both dizziness and pain. She had no doubts this accident had left her severely concussed, but she had to focus now. They needed to get out of here and reach the safe house. With her eyes still closed, she spoke.


“Still got your gun, Ray?”


“Yup, right here,” he replied, and she nodded, then said, “Good, go help, Ozzy. You see anybody else on the street, let me know.”


“Should I check on the truck driver?” Pretty Ray asked, and Kelly scoffed bitterly.


“If his own damn horn hasn’t woken him up, I don’t think anything will. Besides, we need to worry about ourselves, alright?


Opening one eye in time to see him nod, she watched as he slowly limped around to the vehicle’s opposite side. Now she just needed to get herself together, she thought. Glancing around, she saw her hembo sitting motionless on the pavement beside her, but her pistol was missing. The Minnow suddenly rocked as Pretty Ray forced open the driver’s side door, and Kelly heard the now-conscious Ozzy ask if they “hit a lizard.”


“Sure did,” Pretty Ray grunted as he began hauling out his friend. “And that damn thing was the size of a truck.”


Opening both eyes now, Kelly saw they were in one of the east-side industrial districts, but she only vaguely recognized the area. Still, she figured there was some good luck in that. Here, they were surrounded by factories and warehouses made from brick or sheet metal, and at this time of night, most were empty. She could tell as much, given how dark and deserted this area was. Even so, in a city of 31 million, they’d only remain alone for so long, and Kelly would’ve felt a hell of a lot better if she could find her gun before anyone else showed up.


Wondering if her weapon remained somewhere in the Minnow, Kelly carefully got onto her right hand and knees, then crawled over and peered inside. Glass, blood, and a few broken pieces of plastic, but no gun. Then she saw something that sent a chill down her spine.


The Hedron’s case, smashed open during the crash, was empty… and sitting before her now was that 12-sided shape carved from stone. She watched it for a long moment to be sure it wasn’t activated—not that she really knew what it would be like if it were. For a few seconds, she even seriously contemplated leaving it behind altogether. Cut their losses and go to the safe house, she thought. Then she remembered the money, that she was Killer Kelly, and that there were worse things to fear than a 12-sided die.


Grunting, she shifted her weight, then reached in and retrieved the Hedron. It was cold, just like stone, which was probably all it was, she posited. That civ had just told her a stupid ghost story, probably hoping to scare her out of stealing it. Clutching it to her chest, she slowly rose and was about to call out to the others when the Hedron vibrated.


She gasped and held it away from her so she could better see it underneath the sodium streetlights. Within seconds it grew hot, its surface beginning to mist. At the same time, its tan color melted away, the entire object becoming almost entirely transparent. If it wasn’t for the fact that the Hedron continued to mist and very subtly refracted the light, she wouldn't have even known it was still in her hand. Even so, she couldn't move, her entire body frozen in place as her mind furiously contemplated a single question… had she just activated it?


Pretty Ray whistled. “Yo, we got company by the truck!”


She whipped her head in that direction and spotted a handful of figures. They had to get out of here now—C-Sec and emergency services would arrive any second. Telling herself that the Fisherman’s people would know what to do with it, she shoved the Hedron into her jacket pocket. As she limped around the vehicle to join Pretty Ray and Ozzy, her hembo buzzed over and landed on her shoulder, though just like her, it was unsteady. It was being controlled by her concussed brain, after all.


“I got the Hedron, so let’s get outta here!” she barked, then pointed with her good arm in the direction opposite the wrecked truck.


“Okay, you take my gun while I help Oz walk,” he said, holding out his weapon.


She took it, then asked, “What’s wrong with him?”


“Leg’s busted, I think,” he replied, and he was about to say more when shouts erupted near the ruined truck.


Taking that as their cue to get out of dodge, the three of them limped toward the next intersection, with Kelly in the lead. When she reached the street corner, she hobbled over to a nearby building and rested against it, breathing hard. She didn't feel good, but more than that, she somehow didn't feel right. It was like there was static in her brain. Still, as soon as Pretty Ray and Ozzy reached the corner, she forced herself onward. They traveled a couple of blocks before stopping again, all winded.


“Where the hell are we?” Kelly panted.


Pretty Ray shifted his weight to keep the still disoriented and mumbling Ozzy on his feet. “Usually, Oz could tell you—despite his flaws, the boy knows this city like you wouldn't believe.”


“Clearly ain’t gonna help us now,” she grumbled, and Pretty Ray sighed, nodding in agreement. Taking a few more deep breaths, she then spoke aloud, trying to work the problem. “Look, we gotta keep moving. Soon as C-Sec finds our empty wreck, they'll start canvasing the area. Even if we manage to skate by those cops, we’re too bloody and banged up to make it to the safe house by the stadium without drawing attention. What we need is a way to get there but remain out of sight…”


Pretty Ray took a moment to absorb her words, then offered, “How about the causeway? Don’t it run all the way up to where the stadium’s at?”


He was right, she realized. They could follow the causeway separating the western and eastern halves of Providence almost the entire way there and keep off the streets in the process. While she knew the causeway had to be somewhere west of their position, she had no idea where west even was. After that accident, her sense of direction was all turned around, and the rainy night afforded no stars to guide her. Seeing her struggling, Pretty Ray cleared his throat to get her attention.


“Watch this,” he said, winking as he hoisted Ozzy fully upright, “I’m gonna spin ya round, Ozzy-boy, and you buzz when we hit west.”


Slowly, Pretty Ray began turning in a circle with Ozzy in his arms. Kelly was beside herself and was about to yell at the two idiot Westies when Ozzy suddenly cried out.


“Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!”


The pair were facing a large, five-story warehouse. Pretty Ray turned him to the left of it, and the wheelman fell silent. Now, back to the warehouse. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Pretty Ray turned him to the right of the warehouse this time, and Ozzy was quiet as a cat. One last time toward the warehouse. Buzz, buzz, buzz.


“Who needs a GPS when we got an Ozzy-S!” Pretty Ray shouted, and he beamed at Kelly.


He really believed this whole charade was a success, and Kelly… well, she was tired, unwell, and pretty beaten up. So, to hell with it, she thought. Even if they ended up heading in the wrong direction, maybe they could find a building to hide in for a while. Somewhere she could lie down and sleep for a year.


“Good job,” she said flatly, motioning for Pretty Ray and Ozzy, the human-GPS, to lead on.

They took the street leading around the big warehouse, but it was slow going, with all of them still limping. Then Kelly heard something… the sound of lapping water in the distance. The causeway. She couldn’t believe it. Ozzy had been right. She turned toward Pretty Ray, not hiding her surprise at all.


He laughed. “Ozzy's a special boy, Miss Williams.”


“I’ll bet,” she replied with a chuckle.


She was about to say more when she suddenly heard something else. Gunfire. But it wasn’t close—maybe four blocks away.


“What the hell?” she said aloud.


“Them Rose-boys must be pissed,” remarked Pretty Ray, but something about this felt wrong to Kelly. Because at that moment, that little voice inside her that always warned her when things were about to go wrong wasn't so little anymore. Screams erupted somewhere closer, maybe two blocks away, followed by unintelligible shouts. More gunfire, but now it sounded like it was coming from the south and east. Then came another scream, this one wholly unlike the rest.


Not only was it much closer, but it sounded like an animal. A big, terrifying, angry animal.


“Uh…” Pretty Ray began, “The hell was that?”


That voice in Kelly’s head was shouting at her to run, but from what? She drew Pretty Ray’s pistol and barked, “Get to the water!”


The trio then hobbled forth as fast as they could, but with every step, more of the city seemed to come horribly alive. Screams both human and alien. Gunfire and shouts. Screeching tires and crashing vehicles. Streetlights hummed loudly, some winking out while others flashed sporadically, and it seemed to Kelly as though all the buildings were now looming dangerously above them. She tried to get a grip on herself, trying to focus on just reaching the causeway. Everything would be fine if they could do that.


A roar erupted from a darkened ally on their left, the sound so loud that it made all three of them jump. Somewhere in the dark, something lumbered toward them, and there was an odd clicking noise with every step.


“Keep moving!” she ordered as she raised her weapon and trained it on the alley. She called out her hembo as well, but the drone was flying wildly all over the place. The concussion was still affecting her connection.


She recalled it, but as she did, Kelly saw that Pretty Ray and Ozzy were still beside her, their eyes fixed on the alley.


“Don’t you see it?” Pretty Ray said, his voice trembling.


She roared back at him. “I don’t see anything goddamit! Just keep—”


Then she did see it as it stepped into the light and towered over them, the claws on its feet clicking against the asphalt with every step. It was a bear standing upright, half-skinned and entrails exposed, and it had far too many bloody teeth. With a deep growl, it regarded them with a glowing yellow eye, then exploded forward. Kelly threw herself sideways, but the bear collided with Pretty Ray and Ozzy, biting down on Ozzy’s neck.


Pretty Ray screamed, pulling his baton and swinging it into the bear’s head, but it just snarled and shook Ozzy, refusing to let go of his neck. Kelly sighted the bear’s hind legs, knowing full well that Pretty Ray’s pistol held armor-piercing rounds just like hers. She fired a trio of slugs, obliterating the bear's left leg at the knee. Dropping Ozzy, it let out a deafening howl of anguish before turning toward the one who’d just injured it. Kelly’s blood ran cold as it began scrambling across the pavement toward her. She sighted the bear’s half-skinned skull and pulled the trigger. There was a sharp click as the weapon jammed.


“Shit!” she cried, and the bear reared back, preparing to lunge at her.


Pretty Ray suddenly appeared and tackled it sideways.


“Miss Williams, your hembo!” he screamed as he tried to dodge its claws while he beat it with his stun baton.


Focusing as hard as she could, she called her drone. Finally, her hembo snapped to attention and plunged straight into the bear's open belly, slicing through the intestines, liver, and stomach on its way toward the beast's pounding heart. The drone landed on it, dug in its claws, then reversed thrust at max power, bursting back out of the bear's abdomen and taking half its heart with it. Letting out a pitiful groan, the beast finally went limp, and Kelly recalled her hembo.


“Asshole!” Pretty Ray barked as he angrily kicked the bear, his favorite vomit-covered top now in absolute tatters from it’s claws.


Kelly couldn’t understand it either. How could there be a bear here, and half-skinned at that? There was the Providence City Zoo, but that was in the northeastern part of the city, far from here, and of all the times she’d been there, they'd never had any bears. So, she couldn't help but seriously wonder where the hell it had come from. Her thoughts were interrupted by an awful, wet cough. It was Ozzy.


By the time she got to him, Pretty Ray was already kneeling beside him, gently cradling his head. Ozzy coughed again, spitting up blood, his throat a mangled mess. It was a miracle he wasn’t dead already. He reached up with a shaky, blood-covered hand, touched Pretty Ray's face, and gurgled a single word. Lizard. Then he was gone.


Pretty Ray kissed Ozzy’s forehead and rocked the fallen wheelman as he wept. The city, meanwhile, had not calmed down in the slightest. Every minute or so, there were fresh screams and howls. Kelly was sure they could not stay here. She grabbed Pretty Ray’s shoulder.


“We gotta go, man. Gotta get to the causeway.”


Pretty Ray nodded, rising and pulling out his flask before pouring some on Ozzy. He then took a generous sip—not that Kelly could begrudge him that under the circumstances. After that, he offered it to her. She took it, swallowed an equally generous amount, and returned it. The two of them then limped onward to the causeway, neither saying a word.


As they walked, she cleared the pistol’s jam, but that was only a small comfort. Pretty Ray's weapon was high caliber but low capacity, so after firing three shots, she only had five left. Given the horrors continuing to unfold in the surrounding area, she had a feeling she might end up needing more ammo than that. They reached the great concrete causeway, the city lights reflecting in the shallow river that gently sloshed within it.


“I… I can’t even believe what just happened,” Pretty Ray said numbly.


Kelly hesitated momentarily, then decided to put a hand on his shoulder to comfort him. “I know. What was a bear even doing out here?”


Pretty Ray suddenly pulled away from her, a confused look on his face. “Bear? That wasn’t no bear! Didn’t you see it?”


She crossed her arms, feeling a little confused now. “Of course, I saw it. Wait… what the hell do you think it was?”


“I dunno,” he began angrily shaking his head, “But seeing as how he came out that alley rotting and wrapped up in strips of linen, I’d think it pretty damn likely that he was a mummy or something!”


Kelly couldn't make sense of that. "You… you saw a mummy?"


“Well, what the hell would you call a walking corpse covered from head to goddamn toe in toilet paper, huh?”


It was clear that Pretty Ray truly believed what he was saying. Yet Kelly couldn't understand how that was possible. They had both been attacked by the same creature, only she saw it as a bear, whereas he saw a mummy.


“Miss Williams…” Pretty Ray began, “…it really looked like a bear to you?”


She nodded. “It was half-skinned, but it had the claws, the face, everything.”


“What’s happening to us?” he asked aloud, his hands on his head and eyes wide.


He didn’t look well, but neither did Kelly. She’d been badly concussed before, but it had never been this disorienting. She looked down at the pocket on her jacket that held the Hedron… but that couldn’t be the cause. No, she and Pretty Ray had both been concussed in the accident, and all that mattered now was they got to safety. She reached forward and grabbed his arm.


“Look, we found the causeway, Ray. Let’s go to the safe house, and we can figure this all out once we’re there. Fish's people will be there too, and they can help us.”


He swallowed hard, pulling himself together some. “Okay, Miss Williams… lead on.”


She nodded, turning to follow the causeway North, and—something massive, wide, and black was barreling toward her. It was moving so fast that her brain could barely register it, and it would be on her in less than a second. Then a hand was on Kelly's shoulder, pushing her sideways and out of the way. There was a terrible screech as the thing collided with Pretty Ray, the two tumbling over, both thrashing violently.


Black feathers flew everywhere, and Kelly caught a glimpse of massive yellow talons attached to gray scaly feet. As Pretty Ray screamed, she saw the shape rear backward, suddenly becoming clearer. A massive bird. An eagle, but almost all black… its entire body soaked with blood. Kelly sighted it with the pistol and fired. The eagle raged, tearing it Pretty Ray with renewed vigor, so she kept firing until the weapon went dry.


The eagle was now nothing more than a shuddering, mangled heap. Furious, Kelly got to her feet and kicked the dying animal off Pretty Ray, and the bird let out a weak screech as it tumbled down into the causeway.


“Eat shit!” snarled Kelly as it splashed into the water below. She turned back toward Pretty Ray, and her heart sank.


“A-always m-mighty fine… watchin’ you, work… Miss Williams.”


She kneeled beside him and held his hand, doing her best to give him a friendly smile.

“You too, Pretty Ray.”


He seized a little as blood flowed from the massive gash on his abdomen. Turning his head a little, he looked at her with the only eye he had left.


“Y-you mean it?”


She nodded, squeezing his hand a little tighter. “Hell yeah. You’re the best Westie I’ve ever worked with, hands down.”


“Heh, and we just g-getting started,” he said, smiling and revealing his bloody mouth. “D-don't you worry… this just a scratch… and I'm still pretty, ain't I?"


Kelly was crying now. She didn’t want to, but she couldn't help it. “The prettiest Westie I know… Ray?”


He was still now, his eye locked on hers.


“Goddammit!” she growled bitterly.


Letting go of his hand, she rose and resumed heading north along the causeway. Limping on alone, she didn’t dare look back. She couldn’t if it meant she’d have to see the corpse of the West Side boy who’d ended up becoming her friend. And as more howls and screams continued to ring out in the city, she finally stopped and pulled the Hedron out of her jacket.

Everything this horrible night had been for this. Every awful thing, and she hated it—hated the Hedron. But Killer Kelly wasn't the type to let things she hated slide. No, for years now, she'd always been the one who destroyed anything foolish enough to do her wrong.

“30 bil, my black ass,” Kelly Williams snarled, and without another thought, she threw the Hedron right into the causeway.


Spitting angrily, she then added at the top of her lungs, “Good riddance!”


And there was a reply.


From both north and south along the causeway came screeches and roars.


“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” she gasped as her eyes began to make out multiple eagles and bears in either direction.


She had no ammo left, and even with her hembo, she likely couldn’t take all the beasts and live. So, she ran as fast as her throbbing ankles would allow. She went east into the city, not even caring if C-Sec cops picked her up. At least that way, she'd live. But the beasts were everywhere. She pushed north, then east again, then south, until finally, she reached an intersection full of the creatures. Scrambling backward, she ran blindly as the mob of bears and eagles tore after her.


Then she spotted an alley to her right, long and empty, but there were flashing lights at the other end. It was C-Sec. It was safety. Pushing herself with all she had, she crashed into the alley, scrambled forward, and ran toward the lights, those snarling beasts close behind. Yet she was getting closer, nearly there, the flashing red and blue growing more intense by the second. She would make it, she thought; she would make it. Then suddenly, it was all gone.


The flashing lights, the beasts giving chase, and the alley had instantly vanished, a long hallway in an old wooden house now taking its place. Outside was bitter cold from a blizzard that had no end. Inside was no better, with a deep chill that made her bones ache. Faded wallpaper covered the hallway's walls, the pattern depicting some epic struggle between a great scarred bear and an angry black eagle. A broken end table lay against the wall to her right, propped up by a small log. There were letters carved there—a name… LIZZY.


Kelly’s breath caught in her throat, her stomach churning with nausea.


“This can’t be…” she gasped.


Kelly knew this place, knew it intimately, in fact. This was where she’d grown up, this awful house that lay within spitting distance of one of the many palladium mines strewn across the icy planet known as Bittersweet. The moment she realized that—where she actually was—true terror took hold of her.


Yet she wasn't afraid of the planet's never-ending cold, nor its deadly mines, or the poisonous ice-vipers that braved both. It was of the other person who lived here… Him.


“No, no, no, I killed him,” she said, trying to wake up from the nightmare she swore this had to be. “I killed him!"


Somewhere on the second floor, the floorboards creaked, her relative's two large feet swinging out of bed.


“No!” Kelly roared as she ran toward the house's only exit: the front door straight ahead of her.


A keypad rested to the right of the big brown door, the only impediment to her escape, but she still remembered the code. Yet when she reached it, Kelly suddenly found she was no longer an adult but a child barely tall enough to hit the keys. Thunderous footfalls sounded upstairs, each horrifyingly loud and shaking dust loose from the ceiling. He was coming. All she had to do was focus and punch in the code, then she could run. She could run out of that house and into the mine, where it was warm, and she could hide from both the ice-vipers and from him.


She had half the code in now, but the booming footsteps had nearly reached the top of the stairs that led down to the hallway—that led to her. The house groaned in anguish, barely able to stomach the foul monster that lived within it. She punched in the last digit, but the keypad flashed red. She didn't put in the wrong code; she couldn't have. Years with him had made sure she'd never forgotten it either. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she entered the code again, yet the keypad only flashed red.


That couldn't be, she thought, her panic overwhelming her. He'd never changed it once in all those horrible years. No, he’d always liked giving her a fighting chance to escape, so he wouldn't have changed it. Ten-ton footfalls down the stairs now, the wooden steps crying out in agony. Soon he'd be in the hallway. Soon, he'd have her.


Desperately, she punched in the code again, and the keypad began beeping angrily now, taunting her with that flashing red. She pounded on the door and screamed as the keypad refused to do anything other than beep and flash. She called her hembo, willing it to bore right through the hinges, but it wouldn’t come.


She was just a little girl, after all, years away from qualifying for her hembo and another from learning how to use it to kill. Her terrified mind raced. This couldn't be happening; she’d killed him, used her hembo to tear him apart the same way he’d done to her soul. So, he couldn’t be here, stomping down the steps to get her, because he was long dead. She had even killed herself afterward, buried the little girl named Lizzy so she could become Kelly Williams—tough, strong Killer Kelly, the merc with the hembo who wasn’t afraid of anyone… Who couldn't be hurt by anyone.


“Lizzy…” hissed a horrifyingly familiar voice.


Kelly curled into a ball, the very sound of him unearthing terrifying childhood memories she’d thought she’d locked away for good. She shut her eyes as tight as she could as rough fingers wrought from iron curled around her arms and hoisted her up, his fiery breath searing her face as he brought her toward him.


“This isn’t real! You’re dead!” she cried, trying desperately to wake herself up.


He laughed. “Oh, Lizzy… Come back to bed. Come back, and we'll play again.”


And Kelly screamed.




VII


The beeping was so loud now that she thought her ears would start bleeding, but it didn't matter. She had to fight. So, with her eyes shut once more, Kelly screamed and thrashed, despite being trapped. She let out all the rage his years of abuse had put in her. A voice, unfamiliar and hoarse, called out.


“Miss Williams!”


She faltered, surprised by how different it was. “Ray?”


The voice came again. “Miss Williams, if you can hear me, open your eyes!”


She did so, slowly at first. She was strapped down to a bed lined with mint-green sheets. The room itself was nothing like any from her childhood home, its walls made of drywall and cream-colored. A machine beeped furiously to her left, and she quickly realized the sound was in time with her pounding heart. She was in a hospital.


“You with us, Miss Williams?” asked the hoarse voice, and she searched the room for its owner.


Not Ray. There were two men, one tall and skinny, the other average height but round. The tall one came to the foot of her bed, and she took him in. He looked like shit, she thought. He clearly hadn't shaved in days, and his hair was messy. His outfit wasn't any better either—large sweat stains were visible through his half-unbuttoned white dress shirt, and his wrinkled pants were covered with splotches. The rounder one, also in business attire, looked just as bad, if not worse. Neither looked like they'd slept well in days… maybe longer.


The tall one spoke, confirming he was the hoarse one. “Miss Williams, can you tell me where you are?"


“Uh…” she began, “A hospital?”


“Guess she’s back,” grumbled the round one, who sighed and leaned against the wall.


“What’s… what’s going on?” Kelly demanded.


“Miss Williams, we don't have much time here, so I’ll keep this brief. My partner and I are from the Special Defense & Intelligence Bureau, and we need you to answer some questions,” the tall one growled. “Do you remember the object you stole from the train? The one you and your associates referred to as ‘the Hedron’?”


“You’re both with the SDIB?” she asked, barely believing it. As far as she knew, the Special Defense & Intelligence Bureau was supposed to be full of the government’s spookiest spooks… not some regular civil servant types like these two.


Clearly annoyed, the tall one flashed his very official-looking badge before snapping, “Now, if you’re satisfied, can you go ahead and answer my question: do you remember the Hedron?”


She nodded.


“Good,” he continued, “Then I need you to tell me exactly where you left it.”


It took her a moment to recall, her mind still fuzzy. “I… I threw it into the causeway.”


The tall man sighed angrily while the round one shook his head in disappointment.


“Goddammit, we’ve been through this, Miss Williams,” barked the tall one. “We already searched the whole causeway four times and found nothing! The artifact's still active in this city somewhere, so I'll ask you for the thousandth time: what did you do with it?”


“I just told you!” Kelly fired back, which only seemed to anger the tall agent further.


“Listen to me, people are dying out there, and if we can't find and disable the artifact soon, things will get much worse!"


“What the hell is going on?” Kelly demanded, “I don’t understand, is it... is it the animals?”


The round man spoke now. “Those ‘animals’ are people… just like you. The artifact is an alien weapon designed specifically to cause violent psychosis in humans. So, what you think you saw wasn’t real.”


Kelly shook her, still confused. “But Ozzy and Ray were killed by… you’re saying those animals that attacked us were other people?”


“What we’re saying, Miss Williams,” growled the tall one. “Is that not only were they humans, but we're not even sure they were the ones who killed your friends. Given that all three of you were affected, you may have tried to kill each other."


“No…” she breathed.


“Miss Williams, you already killed nearly a dozen C-Sec officers with your hembo when they attempted to subdue you,” the round one said. “And the only reason you're alive right now is we’re hoping you can help us before it’s too late… for the city and for you.”


She looked back and forth between them, more than a little concerned by the last part.

“What do you mean for me?” she demanded.


The tall one sighed. “Once the artifact is activated, it produces and disperses a chemical compound that induces severe psychosis. Obviously, you and your friends were the first affected, but the artifact's production rate and effective range have only increased over time. About an hour after you and your friends activated it, its dispersal radius was about five blocks…”


He paused, leaning forward to put his hands on her bed’s railing. “…But by now, even with all the containment measures we’ve implemented these last several weeks, nearly half of east Providence is now affected—some 13 million residents.”


Kelly was speechless. If he was telling the truth, she had unknowingly unleashed a veritable plague of insanity upon her city. Yet there was something even worse in what he had said. The city and the SDIB had been working together for weeks already. Not only that, but despite not recognizing either of these men in the slightest, the tall one had made it sound like this was not the first time they’d had this conversation. Now, the disheveled and exhausted appearance of both SDIB agents made horrible sense.


“You’ve questioned me before?” Kelly asked quietly.


The tall agent nodded, his face hard. “Dozens of times, but due to your psychosis, you never remember. We've tried medicating you to keep you lucid, and we initially succeeded in bringing you out of your psychosis for hours at a time. But the treatment has only continued to lose effectiveness since then, the duration of your ‘returns’ growing shorter and shorter.”


The round agent cut in now. “Miss Williams, it’s likely that soon the treatment will no longer be able to bring you back. You only remained lucid for 14 minutes last time, so… we really need you to think hard about where you last saw the artifact. If we can find it, it may be possible to synthesize an effective treatment for you and everyone else.”


“That’s why it was being moved in the first place,” the tall one said bitterly, “It was to be taken to a secure site where it could be safely activated and studied by our people so we could learn how to counteract it.”


Kelly didn’t know what to say, her mind racing as she tried to remember what she'd done with the Hedron. Still, she couldn’t recall doing anything else with it—she'd thrown it in the causeway; that's what had to have happened. Kelly shut her eyes hard, searching her memories once more for some shred of information that could help her. Yet there wasn't anything else; she’d thrown the Hedron in the causeway, then the beasts came, and so she ran. Kelly ran and ran until she'd ended up back in her childhood home on that faraway frozen rock called Bittersweet. And now she realized that if she couldn't remember what had happened, she was going back… to him.


Kelly’s eyes shot open, and she strained against the restraints. She had to get out of here; she had to run. How long had they already been talking? Ten minutes? Twelve? She couldn’t just sit here and wait for it—she had to escape. Kelly tried calling her hembo, but it was long gone, likely impounded or destroyed after she’d killed those C-Sec cops. She let out a tortured scream.


“Miss Williams, you need to calm down,” said the round agent before turning to his partner and quickly adding, “Get the doctor.”


“No!” Kelly shouted, thrashing so hard she shook the entire bed, “You don’t understand! You have to let me outta here! Please!”


The tall agent had opened the door to her room and called for someone. They weren't listening to her, weren't hearing her. They didn't understand that Kelly wasn't just losing her mind—she was losing who she'd become, reverting to the helpless child she’d once been. Kelly Williams would soon disappear so that little Lizzy Brown could rise from her grave and bring his awful ghost back with her. A female doctor with a friendly face walked in, her straight blonde hair down to her shoulders.


“We’re gonna help you relax, okay?” the blonde said.


Yet it wasn’t okay, and Kelly screamed and yelled, swearing belligerently at everyone in the room as the doctor readied a syringe. They didn’t understand what was going to happen to her… there was no way to make them understand. Tired and defeated, the two men from the SDIB trudged out of the room. Just before they closed the door behind them, she heard the round one say, “…start the evacuation. Miss Kelly Williams is gone.”


But she wasn't, not yet, at least. She just had to fight to remember who she'd worked so hard to become.


“I’m Kelly Williams!” she said, repeating the phrase as the blonde doctor inserted the syringe into her IV port. Tears streamed down Kelly’s face as she watched the doctor depress the plunger. Slowly, the room seemed to dim.


“I’m Kelly Williams,” she moaned, her whole body trembling now. “I’m not Lizzy. I’m not Lizzy.”


The doctor stepped closer, gently putting her hand on the side of Kelly’s head to calm her.


“Shh, it’s okay,” the blonde cooed.


Kelly shivered as the room grew colder, her eyes now unable to make out anything other than the blonde doctor. Within seconds, her limbs felt like they had been filled with lead and now weighed a metric ton.


“I’m not Lizzy,” Kelly whispered, almost paralyzed as the sedative took hold. “I’m not Lizzy. I’m not Lizzy. I’m not—”


The blonde doctor laughed.


“Don’t be silly…” the doctor began, pausing as she leaned closer.


As she did, her blonde hair fell out in thick writhing clumps, her friendly face bubbling away until it revealed one underneath that was terrifyingly familiar.


He continued. “…you’ll always be my Lizzy.”






I hope you enjoyed this story... since it might not be over. I think this might not be the last we see of Killer Kelly. Now, have you read The Fool's Gold yet? How about subscribing? Maybe buy my book?

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