Time staggers for a moment, but rather than waking up curled into a ball beside a pool of my own vomit, I return to consciousness standing inside the gates of Avani Grey’s compound. The car clicks and sparks beside me, its front end a mess of shattered plastic, bent metal, and splattered blood. The wrecked bodies of two guards lay suspiciously close to the driveway, obviously killed by the impact of a fast moving vehicle.
So much for using the cover story Javier arranged up for me.
Turning towards the manor house, I see another guard running towards me across the lawn, cradling a compact submachine gun.
My eyes open from what I had assumed to be a blink and I am standing over the third guard, inspecting the damage done by my unlocked handgun.
Whatever Schuster’s cooks put in my cocktail, it’s clearly hitting me hard.
Reality becomes a shattered glass, my mind the bloody fingers of a drunkard numbly struggling to piece the fragments back together. I lose all sense of time until the pistol grip slams into my palm, alerting me to the death of four YuriCo executives seated around a table.
A fifth dying figure stands across from me, her eyes wide as she clutches at the hole in the midst of her orange dress, mouth gaping with a scream as the nanites in my bullet consume her from within.
Who is she?
Why does this woman have two bodies?
Two more of the damned Vakha clones burst in through the doors, weapons drawn. Before they can target me, I fire my last bullet into one of them, then flick my wrist and throw my empty gun at the other. That serves as distraction enough for me to close the distance between us and sink a ceramic blade into his throat. Hot blood sprays across my hand and I feel the old daemon rising up in terror, but I rip my blade free and wash away my fear in the waterfall of blood coursing down Vakha’s chest.
A blink. A break in time that ought to end with me screaming on the floor, unable to move as fear consumes my soul. But under the influence of Schuster’s drugs I instead open my eyes to find myself standing at a bar in a gold-paneled ballroom, my blade buried in the gut of a balding old man dressed in an expensive t-shirt and acid washed jeans which do nothing to make him appear young or cool.
His eye lock on to mine and I watch dispassionately as the light fades from them. What is one life compared to the tens of thousands I saw lost in the plague?
A movement from the corner of my eye: A woman in an orange dress leaping over the body of another aged man laying near the bar as she scrambles to escape.
How many have I killed today? A glance around the room reveals a trail of dead leading back to the door. Men and women dressed in business casual, their bodies surrounded by pools of dark blood. At least one more Vakha clone, slumped against the wall beside the doors, his chest a mess of flesh which disappears even as I watch, consumed by nanotech monsters every bit as voracious as the modified bacteria which devoured the old world.
Another stutter in my consciousness.
She jerks forward, a knife burrowing into the center of her spine.
Spasms, legs pinwheeling beneath her.
She slams down to the tiles, a tangle of orange blossoming to red.
I step out into the chill air, eyes locking onto a pair who stand a dozen feet away at the center of the terrace, cigarette smoke curling up from their lips as they stare at me in slack jawed horror. One is an elderly man from the YuriCo board. The woman is all to familiar and draped in an orange dress. They both hold handys, which they must have been using to try and summon help. Futile, of course, with Javier’s jamming drones circling the compound.
Neither is armed, while I suddenly realize that I have a gun in my left hand.
The woman at my feet groans in agony, still fighting the death to which she is fated.
I put a bullet in her head.
As if they needed confirmation that I was, indeed, the person who had murdered their companions, the man steps between the woman and me, shouting, “Avani, go!”
Avani Grey, the chief executive of YuriCo. That must be why I’ve been recognizing the woman in orange ever since she first appeared at the data vault. Of course she’d arrange to be one of the first to be cloned.
No matter. I’ve come here to kill them all.
I raise my gun, ready to pull the trigger, and see the slide has locked back. I drop the gun and search my pockets and belt for another, but come up with only a knife. A small voice, more conscience than daemon, raises the query of just how many weapons I have used up since arriving. The number is so large as to be irrelevant.
I whip my arm, sending my last blade whirling across the terrace to bounce off the back of the man’s head. The blow doesn’t drop him, but the shock of it throws him off balance long enough for me to catch him up and knock him down with a sudden, brutal fist to his right ear. I retrieve my knife from the tiles and drop the man with a swift kick to his already shaking knees. He falls at my feet and I slip my blade into his neck, watching dispassionately as it soaks into the fibers of his expensive suit and runs down to the tiles of the terrace floor.
Metal clatters against stone as the woman knocks over a patio chair. She glances over her back at me, black hair flying out around her shoulders, and lets out a strangled cry. She whips back around, hesitates for only an instant, then leaps over the railing.
I step over the still thrashing body to follow the woman. Leaning out over the balustrade, I see her crumpled on the grass below. For an instant I hope that she is already dead, perhaps having broken her neck in the fall, but then she twitches, rolls to her feet, and takes off across the shorn grass, her filmy orange dress flapping behind her.
I leap down, land with a roll, and take off across the yard after her.
She is fast, like the others of her kind, and I am weary from fighting. Weary from killing. Weary from trying so hard to stay alive. The drugs seem to be fading as my body acknowledges how exhausted I truly am and comprehension of the brutality of my actions begins to dawn on my shattered mind.
But she has nowhere else to run.
I catch her up at the boathouse as she stops to untie the stern mooring line of a speedboat docked to the peer.
“Get away from me!” she screams, scrambling into the boat and ramming the throttle forward.
The boat surges to life, filling the air with the acrid stench of sparks and ozone as the motor whips from off to full in an instant. The boat lurches forward, then careens to one side, fishtails around, and slams into the dock. She neglected to untie the bowline.
I leap into the boat and ram my fist into her gut, but the thrashing of the boat throws my aim off. She twists out of the way, then grabs at my hair and slams my head into the side of the steering column. The world fades to red for an instant, but the full black of a time-lapse never comes.
The boat whips sideways again, throwing her over the side.
I pull myself up on the throttle, killing the engine as I do, then I turn and leap into the water after her.