Urban heard shouting through the veil of sleep, but in that instant he was awake. Fevered words grew more insistent and came closer. He bundled himself, stared into the shadows with a growing sense of unease.
The door opened with a rush of fresh air. The light blinded him momentarily as two sets of hands lurched him to his feet, forcing him forward. He stumbled, but the faceless guards carried him until he found his feet. “What’s going on?”
“No questions,” a man said. He pulled some plastic ties from his pocket and pulled them around Urban’s wrists until they bit into his flesh. Urban blinked through the oscillating purple blocking his vision. He heard a jumble of shouts, none of it making much sense. Oki’s Veins had changed, some kind of chemical attack, maybe. As his sight cleared, his heart lurched back into his stomach.
Carrick’s guard had him in tow.
He managed glimpses of his surroundings where he could, found unfamiliar faces. The dorms had been abandoned. Only Carrick’s most loyal followers populated the rooms. The disheveled hallways revealed that the takeover had not gone quietly. Urban hoped that most had avoided Na Creidmhigh after his warnings.
His escort halted.
Urban looked up and found the tainted veins. The light poured over them, dousing the halls in its vermilion hue. Like walking into a childhood home years after it’d been renovated, he felt uneasy, unsure of his surroundings. This couldn’t be real. This had to be another sort of trick, another of Carrick’s attempts to demoralize him. He forced down the panic, trying to calcify his feelings.
He wouldn’t let this go unchecked. He sized up the situation as the guards spoke around him.
“Shit,” one of the guards said.
“Is there another way?”
“No. You heard Carrick, we’ve got to keep moving. Get this fucker somewhere safe.”
“Where is he?”
“Doesn’t matter. Heard he’s taking some men to investigate. We’re better off with this traitor.” They hoisted him up and pulled him through the hallways of flowing crimson. Their features curled hard and ugly in the red light.
Urban kept his mouth shut, calculating the best moment to strike.
“Where the fuck are we going?” the subservient guard asked.
“Shut up,” the leader replied.
They turned another corner, lost, uncertain. Urban heard the confusion creeping through their voices. They pushed forward toward the offices that overlooked the lobby. Their movements had slowed, come sloppy, but still they kept a tight grip on Urban.
“Have you tried —?”
“You just asked me that. No answer. Only static.”
“Oki be damned.”
“Stop saying that.” The leader wiped sweat from his forehead with his sleeve, tightening his grip as he did so.
Pausing in the middle of a hallway, they looked this way and that. The religious one said, “Should we turn back?”
“You want to try to explain that to Carrick?”
The rat-a-tat of machinegun fire echoed down the hall, muffled, almost lost amongst their conversation. For a moment, Urban thought he was imagining it, then the men stopped. The rational one drew his gun, passed Urban’s weight over to his religious friend.
This was it, his chance . . . Urban kept his head low, his head as still as he could muster, trying to search his periphery for the guard’s gun.
The other guard approached the glass in an attempt to get a better vantage.
Urban sagged. The religious guard turned his attention back to Urban, leaning into him as he hoisted him up. Urban turned into the guard, bound hands wrapping around the gun. He drew in a breath and threw his weight forward, simultaneously pulling the gun from the shoulder holster and knocking his captor into the wall. Urban trained the gun on the religious guard.
“Chuck!” the guard shouted, eyes locked on Urban. The rational guard turned. Gunfire punctured the glass, striking the guard’s chest. He pitched to the ground.
Urban watched in horror as the guard’s head lolled to the side. Then he remembered himself too late. The religious guard closed the distance, seizing the gun and pinning Urban to the ground. Pain erupted all through Urban’s head. He shouted against the restraint, trying to gain back his freedom.
The guard leaned in as he took hold of Urban’s arm. “Carrick was right about you.”
An explosion erupted, tearing through the area.
Darkness descended as all the lights shut off.
Free from the guard’s weight, Urban scrambled from the ground. He braced against the wall, coughed through the cloud of dust and smoke. Alarms blared somewhere in the distance, muted against the ringing in his ears. He shook his head, recognized the cold from the veins as the tainted water swept over him, thick and viscous. He retreated from the wall, bumped into the decimated body of Carrick’s lackey. As he turned his face from the body, he wasn’t sure if the blood had come from his captors or from the vein itself.
He used his bound hands to give him some leverage and scrambled to his feet. He checked his body, found it covered in soot and debris, caked together amidst the bloody concoction the veins had produced. Whatever had happened, this was not a chemical attack.
Wait. Where had the explosions came from?
A vicious crack hit the air, followed by the discharging of other firearms. He saw flashing lights punctuating the cloud of debris. Without looking back, Urban veered down a hallway. Shouts followed him, but he couldn’t make out the words over the ringing in his ears. He struck a wall, used it to keep himself up and turned back. The vein to his side looked faint, almost empty as it drained in the other room.
Heart thudding in his chest, he pushed away and continued down the hall, his gait growing painful with each step. He hobbled around another corner.
“There he is!” a muffled voice shouted.
Urban stared at three men, splattered with grey debris, automatic weapons at the ready. Masks covered the lower half of their faces, but that’s all Urban distinguished as he turned on his heel. A sharp pain blossomed in his ankle and he crashed to the ground, turned away from the men.
“Oki be praised, in your arms we find life and solace in death. Please accept me into your waters—” Urban stopped.
Another group of men appeared out of a doorway. Pistols drawn, they started to shout. Urban recognized the suits, but not the men. Their leader raised his arm, fired.
Urban covered his head, resumed his last prayer.
The crossfire ended.
Shuddering, he looked up to see Carrick’s men riddled with wounds, splayed out on the ground. Blood stained the men’s white shirts, pooled around their bodies. A hand gripped his shoulder, he let out a brief shout.
A voice said, “It’s okay, sir. You’re safe with us.” The other two remained alert, guns slung into the crooks of their arm. The leader pulled his mask down, exposing his face.
Urban didn’t know his name. “Call me Urban.”
The man nodded. “We don’t have much time.” He leaned down, pulling out a blade, then cut the ties that bound Urban’s wrists. He offered a hand.
Urban accepted it, stood. He motioned to the rifle. “Do you have one of those for me?”
His rescuer shook his head, running a hand through sandy blonde hair. “None to spare. We do have one of these.” He pulled a crumpled cloth from his back pocket, held it out for Urban.
Shaking his head, Urban said, “No. I want Carrick to know I escaped. We’ve got to spread the word.”
“First, we’ve got to get out of here.”
“Yes, sir,” Urban replied.
With a quick signal, the accompanying men turned and headed down the hall. Urban moved to follow them, then paused and doubled-back to grab a pistol from one of the guards.
As he wrestled it from the body, the man began to twitch, a low guttural sound escaping his throat. Urban recoiled, gun held firmly in his palm. He racked the slide, then squeezed the trigger.
No man who had followed Carrick would survive tonight.
Cale stood on the edge of the harbor, overlooking the docks, trying to divine movement. Despite his protests, the Officers had forced him home. From so far away, he felt entirely useless.
His earpiece crackled to life. “Shit’s going down at the Syndica—”
An explosion erupted deep in the city. Cale spun, eyes narrowing, but saw no smoke, no fire, nothing to indicate what he’d heard. He tapped his wrist, but received only static.
Then the shockwave tore through the neighborhood.
Falling onto his side, he put out his arm to catch himself, rolled his wrist. He yelped as the pain shot down his arm, but he cradled it against his body, scrambled to the safety of a wall as the shockwave pulled back on itself and tore again through the city. The wind howled, a dirge in the middle of the black night.
An explosion lit up the sky. The plume of fire disappeared in an instant, replaced with rolling smoke. Cale stared, jaw agape.
The headset hissed in his ear as he forced himself up, fighting against the swell as it swirled around, sucking the air from his lungs.
Another blast rocked the city, then another. Cale began to run, holding his wrist against his chest. Throwing the door to his home wide, he stepped into the messy room.
Cale gathered his things. He wouldn’t be able to return home for awhile. He needed all the extra supplies he could get if he was going to head back into the city. The only thing he knew with any certainty was if the Syndicate had been attacked, then things had gone horribly wrong. He searched through old jeans, jackets, for any bits of money here and there. After grabbing a satchel, he slipped on a jacket over his armor, threw a handful of extra clips into the bag.
Cursing, he tried the communicator again.
White noise flayed his nerves, told him he stood alone.
Fearing the worst, he pulled the jacket over his head, then escaped into the howling wind.