“Why are you lying to me, John Tulk?” Andrea Wallace stared dispassionately at the Ketamine Conspiracy engineer as though he had all the significance of a dead insect. The situation was quite the opposite, but she wasn’t going to let on just how important he really was. She didn’t like him.
“I still don’t know what you’re talking about,” Tulk replied nervously. He was aware of her ability, but as far as he was concerned if he admitted to nothing then he couldn’t be held accountable for what she dug out of his head. That was important to him, especially if the Ketamine Conspiracy ever found him and had questions.
Andrea understood this game of his but continued to play one of her own. “You know way more about Tiburon than you’ve led him to believe. Why?”
“I don’t know anything about him that I haven’t already told you.” He had been sticking to this line since she first started grilling him, and intended to continue to do so, come hell or high water. He was still more afraid of the Ketamine Conspiracy than he was of her.
Staring at him intently, Andrea sifted through the jumbled and confusing mess of his thoughts. His mind moved so fast he was almost slippery, but she was slowly sorting things out. “Tell me more about K-Trooper Tiburon. How long has he been in service? What is his real name? Where is he from?”
Tulk tried to concentrate, but he knew it slipped to the surface before he could change focus.
The telepath stepped back and gasped at what she discerned from the engineer’s swirling thoughts. “He has no idea, does he?”
Hanging his head Tulk sighed. “No,” he muttered. “He doesn’t know anything.”
She crossed the brightly lit laboratory and took a seat in an office chair. “I wonder what he would do to you if he found out.” This wasn’t an idle thought; she had just threatened Tulk.
The engineer glanced fearfully up at her and saw that she was very serious. He said nothing in response.
“So I believe we have an understanding, then.” She saw immediately in Tulk’s thoughts that they did. Without another word she stood up and left the lab. She didn’t want Tiburon going off the rails just yet. She had her own plans for him first.
* * * *
A cold rain beat against the cracked glass of the ancient hotel room Josh was holed up in. He stared out at the rivers of water washing through the filth of the street below. It didn’t so much clean the muck away as carve channels through the garbage. Josh rolled into Queens just a few days before with the intent of making contact with the Ketamine Conspiracy; so far none of the safe-houses he knew of provided any evidence as to where to even begin. He’d gone through one decrepit apartment after another looking for any sign to follow-up on, but there was nothing. K-Troopers were typically very thorough to the point of paranoia, and he knew his own safe houses out West were just as devoid of evidence.
He reflected back over the last couple of weeks since Andrea offered her help to Josh and his fellow Conspiracy refugees. Things for them dramatically improved immediately as they moved into her private lab facility. The woman lived modestly in a plain condominium nearby as though she were unaware of her own significant wealth. The money that she could have been spending on lifestyle went to outfitting this laboratory towards an end that Josh could not discern. The whole setup had a comic book super villain vibe to it, but he didn’t say anything; he wasn’t one for looking gift horses in the mouth, particularly in such dire circumstances.
The engineer Tulk was healing up nicely, and although it was obvious he was extremely wary of their new benefactor, he didn’t say anything about it too openly. The other K-Trooper, Libretta, was another story altogether. Upon seeing her unconscious form back in the ratty apartment they were hiding in Andrea immediately declared that the woman was in a coma with very little brain activity. Libretta was now wired into numerous monitoring devices in a proper hospital bed in a back corner of the lab while Andrea worked on formulating a way to bring her back to the land of the living.
As though following an ancient and precise ritual Josh quietly tapped a cigarette out of a pack and rolled it around in his fingertips for a minute as he contemplated the situation. He knew he didn’t smoke, but he also knew that he once had. He hated the taste and the smell of the things, but he had had the inexplicable urge to smoke since getting into New York City. Maybe it was a latent memory that drove him to buy the pack, or a leftover urge from the previous life of which he knew so little. Could he have once lived here, in New York? He snapped the cigarette into his lips and popped open his lighter. Inhaling deeply as he lit the smoke, Josh leaned back and continued to stare through the window out at the city.
New York wasn’t normally his stomping grounds these days. Josh generally spent most of his time on the West Coast, but he seemed to know his way around New York and the streets all felt familiar. It seemed to him that while Los Angeles was a city always in the sun, New York seemed to exist in shadow. He seemed to recall through the broken haze of his memory that a previous visit involved a pack of monstrously undead dogs and some sort of possessed man. Josh didn’t remember any real detail or how things ultimately turned out, but he imagined it ended in an ugly and spectacularly violent way; obviously not for him.
He caught the hint of motion through a window across the street, as though someone were withdrawing into the darkness. Automatically snubbing the cigarette out, Josh ducked beneath the window sill and quickly low crawled across the floor towards the door. Silently cursing for his own sloppiness lighting the cigarette, he considered his limited options. He could go through the door, but knew the light out in the hall would totally give away his position, and he didn’t trust the ancient hotel wall to protect him from gun fire. He didn’t want to activate Phase mode and pass through the floor, either. Andrea had a suspicion that Yoshida’s people were somehow able to detect K-Troopers when they started passing through Phase Space. She was also nervous about Tactical mode and suggested he not trigger that if he could help it. Josh ruled that out right away.
The steady sound of rain filled the background of the suddenly overpowering silence. Josh switched over to Alert mode and waited the brief moment for his brain to recalibrate itself to the sudden influx of data. It wasn’t long before he started to notice vague patterns in the white noise of the deluge outside. He heard the vibrations of someone walking across the hall and in the next floor up, pacing back and forth across their room. He knew that if he focused he could probably pick out their heartbeat, and maybe the sound of their breath passing in and out of their lungs.
Josh brought his mind back on task and focused on his most immediate concerns. He could almost sense that there was a sniper somewhere across the street, and he knew that he wouldn’t be able to counter snipe this guy effectively. He had no idea where the shooter was hiding, while his opponent knew exactly which window he was in. After a couple of seconds of thought Josh made his move and crawled across the floor and into the small closet. He pulled one of his pistols from the gym bag on the floor, unloaded it, and reversed for use as a crude hammer. He began working on the cheap sheet-rock separating his closet from the neighboring room’s closet with a frantic but focused determination.
It didn’t take him too long to tear a good sized hole through both sides of the wall and crawl through. White powder fell away from his shirt as he crept through the empty room towards the door, strapping his shoulder holsters on as he moved. He knew the sniper would see the hallway light but it would take him a moment to change his aim enough to get a decent shot. Josh was through the door and halfway down the hall before he heard the gunshots and the bullets punching through glass and decaying walls.
Triggering Tactical Mode as he ran around a corner and down another hall, Josh took increasingly larger strides until he came up to the window at the end of the corridor at an inhuman speed. He leapt into the air and curled into a ball as his body crashed through the twin panes of glass. He felt the sharp pain of torn flesh across his back, and his pump instantly deployed clotting agents and pain-killers into the tissues around the damage. As he fell through the air he flipped around and planted his feet firmly against the alley wall of a neighboring building. His legs absorbing much of the force of impact, he kicked himself upwards from the rough bricks. He vaulted just over the ledge of the hotel roof and landed into a crouched run on the rain slicked roof. Dropping to his belly, Josh peeked up over the short wall and scanned the building across the street for a split second. It wasn’t long, but it was enough for his heightened awareness to store the image and successfully scan it from memory for any sign of his would-be assassin. It took another split second for him to pick out the slightly darker circle of the end of the rifle’s barrel, just within the shadow of the window directly across from his own hotel room.
Pulling both of his pistols out, Josh crawled back a short distance, stood up, and took a deep breath. He closed his eyes and broke into a sprint, visualizing the layout of the roof and the building across the street as he ran. He calculated and re-calculated velocities and trajectories as he modulated his pace to match the optimum path he needed to take. When he reached the edge of the roof Josh threw himself into the air and brought his pistols up to bear as he fell directly towards the sniper’s window. Firing slug after slug into the darkness, Josh blasted the glass into tiny shards that merely scratched him up as he passed through the frame. He landed next to an abandoned sniper rifle and did a momentum-shedding roll across the filthy floor.
The door across the room was still swinging open as he caught a glimpse of the fleeing gunman disappearing down the hall. Tracking the man’s position by his retreating footsteps Josh sighted in on a particular spot on the wall and unleashed a quick barrage of lead at about kneecap height. He heard the almost satisfying sounds of the man dropping to the floor and letting out an anguished howl of pain. Wasting no time, Mark stepped out into the hall and grabbed the sobbing man by the foot, dragged him into the room, and slammed the door shut.
His assailant wore all black and was clutching desperately at his bullet-torn calf as he sobbed in agony. It was then that Josh saw that there was some sort of apparatus installed on his head with what was obviously some kind of camera embedded in his right eye socket, rather than the traditional eyeball. Its lens had a dark blue tint. Josh reached down and tore the camera bloodily from the man’s socket, eliciting even more screams from him.
“Shut up,” Josh growled as he switched off from Tactical Mode. When the man continued to wail Josh placed the barrel of the .45 to his forehead and said again, “Shut up.” This time the shooter complied, albeit only barely. “Who are you? Who do you work for?”
Pulling himself together somewhat, the enemy agent shook his head. “Your gunshots… The cops will be here anytime.”
Without hesitation Josh drew back his pistol and sent a round through the man’s ankle from a range of less than an inch. Flesh and bone exploded across the floor, leaving the foot attached by leftover shreds of skin and sinew. “We’ve got a few minutes,” Josh calmly stated over the man’s howls. He gave the agent a moment then shoved his hand over his mouth to stifle the screams. “Now, explain to me who you are and who sent you. The next round goes into your other eye if I don’t like your answers.”
Shuddering against the pain, the wounded sniper regained enough composure to speak hoarsely. “The Veil… The Veil sent me.”
That was new to Josh. “The Veil? Who is that?” He rested the pistol barrel-down on the man’s chest to emphasize his position.
“We’ve been… Watching you…”
“Do you know who I am?”
The Veil agent shook his head. “Not really. You’re a K-Trooper. Dangerous. Very dangerous.”
Josh nodded grimly. “Yes, I am. Give me an address.” The agent turned his head away, obviously considering his options. As Josh caught the faint sound of police sirens in the distance he hastily shot the man in the shoulder, sending a spray of blood into the air. “Give me an address,” he snarled again. “Safe house, headquarters, I do not care.”
Fighting through the pain of his various savage wounds, the Veil agent gave in and gave up an address. “It’s a safe house. Nobody there but me.”
Josh stood up and gauged how far away the police were based on the steadily growing sirens. By his heightened judgment they were still a few blocks off. He decided to let the Veil agent live and turned to leave the room.
Suddenly Josh heard a familiar static sound from the fallen enemy and spun around to see the agent paralyzed in place, no longer squirming. His mouth was wide open, and the tinny sound of Yoshida’s voice came through as though on a cheap speaker. It sounded exactly like when he spoke to Josh through the open mouth of the now dead gorilla cyborg. “Hello, Tibur…”
Josh unloaded his magazine into the Veil agent’s head, completely obliterating flesh, bone, and machine into a shattered mess. He was in no mood for Yoshida’s taunts. The K-Trooper all but flew down the hall and through a window, making his escape to the rooftops.
The flashing red and blue lights from the street below faded into the night as Josh leaped from rooftop to rooftop for a few blocks. He then climbed down to street level and started on his way to the address the dead man had given him. While still out of sight in an alley he reloaded both pistols on the off chance that the Veil agent had lied about being alone in the safe house.
The Veil. It was a phrase Josh had never heard before, and he wondered how it played into Yoshida’s group. Maybe it was a faction, or some kind of unit within his organization. The nature of their relationship could have been along any number of lines, and Josh decided not to waste too much time thinking about it. He simply adopted the policy of killing all of them with equal enthusiasm.
His enthusiasm was growing greatly.