FlashFic: Dark Skies, Cold Hearts

A mysterious sight in the night sky takes a treacherous turn.

“What is it, grandpa?”

The old man stepped out onto the porch and looked up at the night sky. “Looks like a shooting star!” The bright blue object did not fade, though the man’s smile did. “No, that ain’t right…”

The boy’s father stepped out of the house. “What is it, Pop? Meteor shower?”

“I don’t know.” The object had tripled in size and brightness. The sky started to rumble. He shielded his eyes.

“Jesus…” The younger man squinted. “That’s not a meteor, is it?”

“No…” The grandfather took a step back. “That’s an aircraft, or something.”

“I bet it’s a space ship!” The boy ran off into the front yard.

“Danny, no!” His father ran after him.

A screaming sound accompanied the rumbling. The object gleamed in the sky. It was triangular, with three brilliant blue circles beneath it. “I told you! It’s a space ship!”

The boy began waving at the UFO. Danny’s father grabbed him and started pulling him backward. “No, Danny! We don’t know if they’re friendly…”

A beam of pure white energy zapped from the spacecraft and struck the father in the chest, knocking him backward. “GAH!” A brown scorch-mark graced his sky-blue dress-shirt. “I can’t move…”

A second beam, much wider and violet-white, engulfed the boy before he could run to his father. “Dad!” The man watched helplessly as his son lifted off the ground. “Dad! I feel…”

The boy disintegrated before the man’s eyes. The individual bits of matter pulled apart and shot up the beam into the ship. “DANNY! NOOO!”

The grandfather burst back out of the front door with an old service rifle just as the purple beam dissipated. “DON’T YOU TAKE MY GRANDSON, YOU SONS OF BITCHES!” The old man took aim and opened fire.

The shots plinked uselessly off of the spacecraft. The father turned his head towards the grandfather and shouted. “Dad, no!”

There were tears in the old man’s eyes. “Hell YES!” He emptied the gun into the spacecraft. The last round caused sparks to shoot out of the front of the UFO.

A third light beam, this one blood red, shot from the spacecraft and into the old man’s chest. “DAD!” The old man’s body was silhouetted in glowing orange light. It disintegrated like the boy’s body had, but the particulates fell to the ground, burning ash blown in the wind from the UFO’s wake.

The spacecraft turned. It rocketed up into the air at an impossible rate. A wash of blue energy blew backwards into the old farmhouse, setting it ablaze. The still-paralyzed father slipped into the cold black hole of unconsciousness.

He awoke sometime later. Several dark figures stood around him. He cried out and flailed his way backwards. “He’s awake.” The voice was distant and quiet to him.

“Shit,” another voice said. “Grab him.” Two pairs of strong hands grabbed the father’s arms and held him fast. They propped him up on his feet and let go.

One of the figures stepped forward, slowly coming into focus. It was a man in US Army fatigues. The father began to cry. “Please! My son…”

The Army man held up a hand. “We know what happened. Did you call anyone? Call for help?”

The father shook his head. “No… I didn’t have time. They took my…”

“We know.” The man took out a pistol. “Too bad they killed you and whoever that ash pile is.” He aimed it at the father’s head and pulled the trigger.

The father let out a single piercing screech and fell dead to the ground. The man put the gun away. “Secure the area.” He turned and walked back into the shadows.

Interlude: In Broad Daylight

A man and woman execute a heist in broad daylight with the expected results, but the man claims he knows exactly what he’s doing…

The old man and young lady lazily strolled past the entrance to the International Museum of Life and Nature. The man waved to a guard as they passed by. The guard waved back, a funny little smile on his face.

The young lady brushed a lock of blonde hair out of her eyes. “You’re just loving this, aren’t you?” She gave the old man a derisive look.

“Just trying to be nice. Those young men work hard to protect this place, you know.” He winked, grinning.

The odd couple rounded the corner of the building. They picked up their pace as they headed for the back. “Do we really need to do this now? Why can’t we wait until nightfall?”

“Because nobody will be expecting someone to break in right after closing. Getting cold feet, Alice?”

She punched the old man in the shoulder. “What’s with the real names, William?”

William scoffed. “Nobody calls me William. Well my mom did, but…”

The woman shushed him as she peeked around the back of the museum. “It’s clear, William.”

“I sense animosity.” He tip-toed theatrically to a nondescript gray door at the back of the building.

“If we don’t get caught, it will be a miracle.”

“Then just call me the Miracle Man.” Will smiled as he whipped out a small plastic card. A small black electronic device extended off one end of it.

He slid the card into a slot beside the door. A light on the attached device began to flash red. A click came from the door a moment later. The light turned green.

Will pulled the card back out and pocketed it. He pulled the door open and gestured towards the opening. “Ladies first.”

“How thoughtful of you.” Alice took one last nervous look around before dashing through the doorway.

The old man quietly closed the door behind him. He gave her a wink and pressed his index and middle fingers against the side of his neck. The wrinkles on his face smoothed, the marks of old age fading off his skin. His thinning hair filled back in, turning from gray to a reddish-brown.

Alice copied his actions. The crook in her nose smoothed away. Her eyes turned from blue to brown. Her long blonde hair shrank up into a black bob weave. “There’s the face I’ve come to… tolerate.”

“You love me and you know it.” He turned and walked into the next room over.

Hello, forgetting about security cameras? Motion sensors?”

“Chill out. I got this.” Will reached into the leather satchel on his hip. Out came a small, rounded metal device. A short, slender antenna extended from the top of it.

He placed it on a dull gray metal security box affixed to the wall. A minute light flashed on the end of the antenna. The lights in the museum glowed brightly before suddenly falling dark. Dull yellow emergency lighting flooded the museum in its place.

Will leaned in, inspecting the device. He tapped at it with his finger. “We should have five minutes maybe.”


He shrugged. “Maybe… definitely. Probably.” He strode out into the museum.

Alice crept along behind him. “Shouldn’t we be a little more discreet, or something?”

Will snorted. “The security system is off. Nobody knows we’re in here. What’s the big deal?” He turned his head towards the entrance at the sound of someone knocking on the glass. His guard-friend pointed menacingly at him. “Oh.”

“Real smooth.”

“Yeah.” He swiftly walked over to one display case in particular. Under the glass stood a six inch tall, rounded metal case on a black velvet pedestal. A blue light pulsed at the top of the casing.

“You ever wonder why everything has blinking lights on it?” Will asked.

“No. What is that, anyway?”

“A metal case.” Will smirked.

Alice punched him in the shoulder. “Duh! What’s inside it?”

“You’ll see…” The sound of the rear door clicking open floated to them from the back of the building. “Eventually!” He backed away from the case, dragging Alice along with him.

He pulled out a laser gun and fired a shot at the glass. The thin red bullet of light whined through the air and was absorbed into the glass. He shot again. This time the glass shattered.

Will dashed forward and grabbed the metal case and shoved it into his leather satchel. He froze as the alarm system began to blare. “That was about five minutes, wasn’t it? Fivish… Maybe four.”

“Come on, genius!” It was Alice’s turn to grab Will. They raced for the back of the museum. A gaggle of guards were pouring in.

“At least I’m not the one running towards the guys with the guns!” He held out a small device as they veered away from the nearest guard. A red beam fanned first across, then up and down the man.

“They’re armed! Open fire!” Red laser fire erupted all around the two thieves, streaks of light spreading out as they struck the floor and displays around them.

The barrage faded away as the guards lost sight of Will and Alice. The lead guard scanned across the dimly-lit museum. His radio crackled noisily in the quiet.

A pair of guards suddenly ran up to him, pointing in the direction they had come. “That way!” The first one said. “They’re headed for the entrance!”

The lead guard nodded and waved the others towards him. He ran towards the front of the museum. The two other guards looked at each other, smiling. They ran towards the back of the building, instead.

They stood by the rear entrance. “Idiots.” The guard held his fingers to his neck. His body rippled and morphed into that of Will.

“Did you have to make me so fat?” The other guard’s massive gut faded away as Alice made her transition.

“It worked, didn’t it?” He banged the metal door open and ran into the open air. Alice followed close behind him. He smiled, pointing. “Right on time!”

He was pointing to a US Mail levi-carrier. The vehicle’s boosters glowed pale blue, levitating the vehicle a few inches off of the ground. The cockpit door was open.

“Wait. You knew this would be here? How?”

“That’s why I’m in charge, isn’t it?” He winked before sprinting for the levi-carrier.

Alice ran after him. “You can’t be serious!”

Will climbed into the levi-carrier and waved her towards him. “I’m always serious!” He pulled her inside and slammed the door down.

He waved to the yelling mail carrier running towards him and smiled. He flipped a series of switches above and below him and pulled back on the joystick in front of him. The levi-carrier lurched upwards into the air.

A piercing alarm sounded. The levi-carrier halted its ascent and hovered in mid air three stories off the ground. “Well that was unexpected.” He pressed at a number of buttons. All responded with rapid beeping and no moving. “A little help, please?”

Alice sighed. “On it.” She sidled over to a control panel on the passenger side of the vehicle. She pulled a corded plug out of a small box clipped to her belt and jacked it into the panel.

A holographic keyboard and screen phased into existence before her, casting an eerie blue light in the cockpit. She hovered her hands over the keyboard and began pecking away. The alarm cut out a moment later with a series of beeps. “Fly.”

The sound of sirens drifted to them from somewhere in the distance. “Gladly!” Will continued his ascent and nosed the levi-carrier forward.

More beeping. The screen in the middle of the instrument cluster illuminated. “PROXIMITY WARNING” flashed on the screen, followed by a video feed of the rear of the airship. The screen was filled by a police air-pursuit interceptor.

“Hold on tight!” Will braced himself. Alice squeaked as he banked the levi-carrier sharply to the left. The belly of the vehicle shot sparks as it scraped the side of an apartment building.

“You know these things aren’t designed for this kind of flying, right?”

“Sure they are! It’s just not recommended.” Will slammed the vehicle to a stop and ascended rapidly. One of the pursuing police interceptors rocketed by underneath them.

The levi-carrier’s boosters sputtered and cut out. The vehicle began to drop. “There’s a reason it’s not recommended!” Alice screamed and slapped at him.

The vehicle bounced off another police interceptor hovering beneath them. The impact jolted the boosters back to life. Will yanked back on the the joystick, roasting the interceptor in blue fire.

The levi-carrier ascended rapidly as the police interceptor slowly descended, smoking and trembling. Will rocketed the the levi-carrier forward. A third police interceptor rose into sight behind them. “You gotta be kidding me!”

The interceptor matched the mail vehicle turn for turn as Will weaved around a number of skyscrapers. Alice clucked. “We’re never going to out-maneuver him. We’re a mail-van trying to outrace a military-spec pursuit vehicle.”

A grin slid across Will’s face. “You know the Willis building?”

“Yeah. What about it?”

“Are they still remodeling the skyview floors?”

Alice’s brow furrowed. “Yeah, I think, but…” Will’s grin broadened. “What are you thinking, William?”

The Willis building came into view. “This will work.”

Alice’s mouth turned into an “O” as she realized what was going on. “Oh Will no I don’t think that…”

“This will work.

“Oh god Will no it won’t oh my god!” The levi-carrier crashed through the glass facade of the skyview level of the Willis building. The vehicle tore at the ceiling of the level as the computer systems scrambled to compensate for the ground suddenly being inches below the boosters.

The police interceptor didn’t handle the transition as well and nosedived into the floor before bursting into flames. The levi-carrier burst through the windows on the far side of the building a heartbeat later. It dipped dangerously before the boosters corrected, rocketing the vehicle towards freedom.

Will set the battered levi-carrier down in a wooded area a short while later. He shut down the vehicle and sighed in relief. The silence pressed in on his ear drums.

Alice shattered it. “If you ever pull something like that again…”

“Yeah, yeah. You’ll stick with me just like you always have.” Will kicked the cockpit door open. He stumbled out and stretched. He sat down on a tree stump with a satisfied sigh.

Alice climbed out after him. “Alright. No more stalling. What did we risk our lives for?”

“So impatient!” Will pulled the round metal case out of his satchel. He took a small cylindrical tool from his coat pocket and held the tip of it to the case. The case beeped and split down the middle.

Will pulled the two ends apart revealing… a red apple. “Ta-da!”

“An apple? I could’ve died for an apple?

Will shook his head, disappointment on his face. “Tsk-tsk, Alice.” He pulled the fruit out of its containment device. “There’s only a handful of these badboys left in existence.”

He held it up to his face, examining it. “Scientists have had some luck cloning them, but they can never get them to grow for some reason.” He held the apple to his mouth and took a large bite out of it.

Alice gasped. “What are you doing!”

“I was hungry.” He took another bite. He shrugged his shoulders, chewing. “I always wanted to try one. Check it off the list.”

“Yeah… but now it’s kind of worthless?”

Will smiled and winked. “I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to eat the seeds.”

Interlude: Resurrection

Desperation turns to hope inside a long-abandoned warehouse.

There it was. She hadn’t been seeing things, after all. The building jutted from the ground like a rotten tooth as she crested the final dune. The old factory stood in defiance of time and the sands whipping around it.

But what kind of factory was it? That was the million-credit question. Even that took a back seat to the excitement she felt at the chance to get out of the sun for a few hours.

Perhaps it was some optical effect caused by the unrelenting sun, or her tenuous grasp on reality after being under its oppressive thumb for so long, but this was one big factory. She sighed with a sort of ecstasy as the shadow of the building finally fell over her. It felt as if she had just walked into a refrigeration unit.

She stood before the modest double-doors that gave entrance to the building. She looked up and up. It had to be a good three stories tall, at any rate. Old car factory? Tank factory? Had to be something big.

Lock-pick kit powers, activate. It was a simple deadbolt mechanism. She stood up a couple of minutes later, dusting herself off. She pulled on one of the doors. It resisted. She yanked at it until it finally squealed its way open.

The interior of the factory was cavernous. Brown and black shadows undisturbed for decades pulled away from the dusty beams of light set loose through the doorway. They joined the sunlight stabbing through the gloom from windows set high above her. She crept through the entrance, trying to look in every direction at once.

The door mechanism clicked and whirred, pulling the protesting door shut again. The clank and boom thundered through the factory like a thunderclap. The young woman jumped. “Jesus!”

She pulled a light mech off its perch on her arm and nestled it onto her shoulder. She turned it on, shooting a beam of blue-white light across the dimly-lit expanse. She whistled as the beam touched the farthest reaches of the factory.

The brief inspection told her she only had one floor to comb over. All that was left of the upper floors lay in piles of broken concrete and steel. Man’s handiwork was no match for the ravages of time and nature.

Neither, she feared, was anything that may lie beneath the building’s gutted remains. She lowered her head. There was so little left of humanity in this world. There had to be something here. Right?

“Please, God.” She approached the first pile of devastation, fingers working. It looked so insurmountable. A monument to broken dreams, as intangible as the faded memories hidden within it. She began to pry away the years.

She stepped down from the opposite side of the pile an hour later. There were no tears. Not yet. Not that she could spare the moisture… Three energy packs, a half-spent proton core. A sat-nav radio, possibly repairable, though with parts that were painfully scarce.

The clouded beams of sunlight were inching higher on the pitted walls of the factory. She looked about her at the various collections of detritus. She may be spending the night here.

She piled her finds in the middle of the trash-strewn floor and shuffled to the next trash pile. This one sparkled more than the last. Logic boards? Electrical circuits? She fought to keep her spirit as she tore into the past.

She found nothing of use. That was it, she had to stop. There were the tears. They tasted far too salty. She dropped to the floor, sending a cloud of stagnant dust into the air around her.

She slipped off her backpack and tore it open. She fished out a small bottle of faintly glowing yellow liquid. Concentrated hydrating fluid, the label said. It was half-empty. She took a small sip.

It felt as if she had drank the whole thing twice over. She sighed happily and capped the bottle. She surveyed the hilly landscape of trash. Right, where to next?

Her eyes paused and widened as they swept past the largest pile. It was shoved into one corner, mostly in shadow. She turned off her shoulder light and squinted.

She absently slipped the bottle into her backpack and shouldered it. She never took her eyes away from that mountain of waste. She began to smile as she neared it. Could it be?

In the middle of the pile was a small, rectangular object faintly radiating blue light. She scrambled towards it, feet and hands slipping in the dirt and detritus. She wiped her bloodied hand off on her pants and reached towards the object.

It was affixed to a dull metal panel of some sort. She wiped the dust away from the front of the object and squinted her eyes. The blue light shone brightly.

She tried to calm herself. Whatever this was, it was possibly functional, and almost certainly worth a considerable number of credits. But what was it?

There were no markings on the glowing rectangle. She ran her fingers around it, hoping they would tell her something she didn’t know. A smile slipped across her face. She pressed forward on the object.

It slid haltingly across the gritting surface of the panel. The lights clicked off, but something behind the panel clicked as well. She took a wobbling step back as the whole panel suddenly hinged upwards on pneumatic arms.

The glowing blue, red, and yellow lights inside illuminated her wide eyes and spreading smile. Here, friends, was hope. She dropped her backpack off of her shoulder and dove into it for her tools.

She sat back on her legs a short while later with a satisfied look on her face. The red lights had fallen dark, replaced with green. She thoughtlessly piled her tools back into her backpack and shouldered it again.

The panel quietly hissed itself closed. She reached out and pulled the rectangular release back down. It illuminated again, casting a soft blue light across her face and neck.

The sound of machinery whirring to life shattered the silence around her. Chunks of twisted steel and broken concrete shuddered and slid off of the piles of junk around her. She stood shakily, crying out.

She dropped to the floor, quickly walking backwards, her eyes widening as the pile grew. No, it wasn’t growing. Something was moving, shifting beneath the concrete and steel.

A pair of brilliant blue eyes shone out from the shadows.

A robot. Massive, corroded, but intact, slowly stood erect before her. Its head, fully ten feet above her own, turned to look down at her. Its eyes focused on her and turned red.

“No… No! Oh, God…” The young woman turned and began to run. The noise she feared, had expected, the robot’s shifting feet booming on the factory floor followed closely behind her.

“That is not what I expected.” She rounded the first pile of refuse she had combed through and settled in behind it. “ACQUIRING TARGET,” a loud, deep, robotic voice boomed close behind her.

The pile behind her shifted violently. She screamed, falling forward and scrambling forward over the dirt and debris. She turned to see the robot rapidly dismantling the pile.

It picked up a steel beam and cast it to the side. It slammed off the main doors, buckling them and sealing off her only known exit. She shook her head as she made eye contact with the robot.

“TARGET ACQUIRED.” The robot pounded one massive foot down upon the remains of the pile and dug in. The young woman screamed and ran towards the far corner of the factory.

She pressed herself tightly into the corner of the factory and reached for her only weapon, a small plasma pistol. It wasn’t there. She must have lost it when she ran…

The colossal machine filled her vision with darkness mixed with blood-red light. It leaned down, lowering its head. It smelt of motor oil and ancient technology.

She began to cry. Red laser beams scanned over her face and body. The lights disappeared a moment later with a loud buzz, followed by several beeps. “ACQUISITION COMPLETE.”

The robot swiftly stood back up. Its head faced forward, the crimson eyes fading to a more hopeful blue. There came a loud click, followed by staticky feedback from a speaker hidden in the robot’s chest.

“Is it working? Oh!” The sound of a young man clearing his throat came from the robot’s speaker. “If uh, a hem. If you’re hearing this, I am unfortunately no more. And… Okay, this is stupid.”

The young woman’s brow dipped as she cocked her head. The voice continued. “I had a whole speech, um… Look. I’m dead if you’re hearing this. If you reactivated this robot, you obviously know enough to take care of it.

“It’s all yours. Just… Please take care of it?” The man’s voice began to crack. “He’s much more than just a robot. You’ll see… So good luck. Or something.” There was a loud click. The speaker fell silent.

The young woman looked back up at the robot’s face. She jumped as it suddenly twisted to return her gaze. “So… You’re my robot now?”

“THAT IS CORRECT.” She twitched. “ADJUSTING volume. I obey your commands.” The young woman began to smile.

BOOM. The doors to the warehouse buckled outwards. BOOM! The doors exploded out into the desert, frame and all. The young lady walked out of the shadows and stepped to one side of the newly-formed exit.

The massive robot dipped down as it stepped out into the open. It stood, gazing out across the wastes, exposed to the outside world for the first time in decades. It turned to look at the young woman.

She smiled back at the robot before turning and walking back out into the desert. The robot clunked along behind her obediently. She guessed there was something worthwhile in there, after all.

Interlude: Consumed

A man quickly figures out why he’s being pursued, leading him to realize he was already dead.

“There he is!” The man in the black suit pointed at the hapless businessman. Black Suit’s partner whistled shrilly. Three more agents emerged out of the crowds and moved towards the businessman.

“I don’t know what the hell I did!” The businessman put his hands in the air. One of the agents fired off two shots. The man screamed in fear and ran off into the alley behind him.

He pulled his tie loose as he ran. He was too old, or at least too fat, to be running like this. He slunk into an adjacent alley and hunkered down, breathing hard.

He wiped sweat from his brow and grimaced. He rolled up his right sleeve and scratched fervently at the raised red patch on his arm. “This fucking rash,” he said under his breath.

He whipped his head up at the sound of approaching footfalls. He struggled to his feet and threw himself down the side alley. Somebody yelled out behind him. “There he is!” Several shots zinged by on either side of him.

“I didn’t do anything! Leave me alone!” The agents answered with more bullets. “I’m gonna die.” He gritted his teeth and pushed the heel of his hand into his chest.

His throat was on fire, and so was his arm. He coughed violently. He spared a look behind him. The men in black were gone. He instinctively pushed himself up against one of the walls in the alley.

The businessman gasped as he stared at his arm. the red had spread across most of his forearm and was quickly creeping upwards. A blue-green substance was weeping from where he had scratched it earlier.

“FREEZE! Federal agents!” He turned about. They must have routed him. He stumbled backwards.

“Why are you trying to kill me!” One of the agents shot. The other cursed and followed suit. The businessman took off running the way he had came.

A car pulled into his view from the main alley. The driver laid on his horn at the gaggle of agents running from the opposite direction. The businessman leaped onto the hood and cleared the car with a second leap.

He turned around, eyes wide. “How in the hell…” More gunfire pushed the thought away. He turned and ran, coughing as he went.

The first agent turned to his partner. “We’re running out of time.”

The other man nodded. He pulled out a radio and squeezed the button on the side. “We’re gonna need that chopper after all.”

The businessman squinted at the rays coming from the lowering sun. It was getting harder to think clearly. He dashed out of the alley and into the middle of a busy street.

An SUV dug its nose into the ground, tires squealing indignantly. The businessman half-screamed, half-howled at the woman behind the wheel. She screamed at the sight of him.

He looked down. His shirt looked puffed out. Something lumpy underneath it pushed at the the sweat-soaked fabric. He tore the shirt open with red, cracked fingers. His chest was a mess of green sores and blue fungus.

The businessman slowly lifted his head. “Please. Help me.” The plea came out as more of a gurgle than anything intelligible.

The woman screamed again. She accelerated the SUV backwards, crashing into the car stopped behind her. He ran off into another alley, car horns blaring behind him.

He hid behind a dumpster. He looked at his deformed body and began to sob. He looked up at the sound of an approaching helicopter.

The aircraft loomed over the building he was leaning against. A blinding-white spotlight flooded the alley with daylight. It quickly found the crouching man.

He stood, his contorted face twisting further as he screamed out in rage. He turned and ran, much faster than he should have been able to. The twitching spotlight followed his progress. The nose of the helicopter dipped as the pilot pursued his target.

The businessmonster ran into a small, abandoned parking lot. He whipped his head around, looking for a place to hide away. A number of agents flooded in from two adjacent alleys.

“Holy shit! Shoot him! SHOOT HIM!” A hail of gunfire rained down on the hapless man. He gurgled, howling in pain as a number of rounds found their mark in his torso. He half-ran, half-shambled into a shed built against the wall on one side of the lot.

A dozen agents pressed in on the shed, guns drawn. Police sirens and roaring engines signaled the arrival of back-up. All eyes returned to the shed. A deep, shuddering growl came from within.

The walls of the shed shook as the man-turned-monster thrashed about inside. There came one final, inhuman scream. Silence settled over the scene as the newly-arrived police units came to a stop behind the agents.

BOOM. The door to the shed banged hard into the side of the building. It crunched to a stop, ripped halfway off of its hinges. Glowing green eyes stared menacingly out of the shadows that lay within. The creature inside growled lowly, menacingly.

The twisted monster leaped from his hiding place, screaming and gurgling. The agents and police officers responded by raining gunfire down on the hapless creature. Round after round dug into the ragged mixture of tortured skin, fungus, and infected tissue.

The monster took a few more sluggish steps before dropping to its knees. Its eyes found the first agent and stared at him with pain and sorrow. The green light slowly faded. The creature slumped to the ground.

Some of the agents started to approach it. The first agent cried out. “NO! Stay back! Get the hell back…”

It was too late. The body of the mutated man swelled and bloated. The carcass suddenly yielded to the pressure, sending out a dusty white cloud of spores.

The men fell back, shielding their eyes and coughing uncontrollably. They waved their hands in the air, eyes watering. They began to look from one to another with dread-filled faces as the reality of their situation set in.

“Bongo two-niner, containment failed. Contagion released.” The helicopter pilot slowly circled the scene below, shaking his head as he went.

“Roger, Bongo two-niner. Flee the area. Incoming military hardware.”

“Confirmed.” He looked away, raising the helicopter up and away from the area. “Poor bastards.”

The helicopter circled back around several blocks away and hovered. The sound of an approaching jet swept over the city. Moments later a surface-to-ground missile flared towards the contamination site.

An enormous explosion rocked the surrounding buildings. A chorus of car alarms raised their voices into the twilight as the detonation lit up the area. The military aircraft rocketed over the kill-zone a moment later.

The helicopter pilot steered his aircraft back over the area. A large crater had taken the place of the parking lot that had been there only moments before. The shaking spotlight zoomed about the destruction.

“Bongo two-niner, area is secured.”

“Roger, Bongo two-niner. Return to base for debrief.”

“Gladly.” The helicopter pilot lifted the aircraft high above the city and angled it towards the nearby military base.

A badly wounded agent watched it go with his one good eye. He spit out a wad of blood and started shuffling towards the alley from which the businessman had come. He scratched absently at the back of his neck as he went.

Interlude: Smash and Grab

One good robbery deserves another.

A stiff breeze blew across the roof of the museum. The moonless sky cast no shadows that night, yet four moved silently across the roof to a control panel. One of the shadows held a silver tool beside the control panel lock.

A shower of sparks shot out of the lock. The panel swung drunkenly open. “Don’t waste time, Farris.”

The other man looked over the panel. A series of switches and circuit boards glowed blue around an LCD screen. “UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS DETECTED” was flashing on it.

“Looks pretty simple.” He pulled a small spool of wires from his coat pocket. He hooked two ends to various points in the board and jacked the last one into a hole below the screen. He flipped and held a switch at the bottom of the panel.

Something within popped and fizzled. The screen changed to “WELCOME, {$USER1}”. He pulled the wires back out of the panel. “There it is.”

“Good job.” The man turned to the other two. “Be ready to move as soon as the system goes down.” The two men nodded silently.

A series of rapid beeps issued from the panel a couple of minutes later. The light above the door to the emergency stairwell blinked out. “We’re lights out, Dobbs.”

“Good job. Let’s go. Straight to the exhibit.” The men dawned what looked like green sunglasses. “Stay on night vision.”

Farris stuck a pair of tools into the door’s keyhole. The devices whirred and clicked in his hand as they did their work. The door handle turned a moment later. “In.”

The four men poured through the door and silently ran down the emergency stairs to the main exhibit hall of the museum. They passed under a sign reading “JEWELS OF THE WORLD”. Dobbs stopped before a case in the middle of the exhibit.

Inside was a rough-cut diamond the size of a baseball. Dobbs signaled for Farris to join him. He extended two fingers out to the others and jabbed a thumb towards the front of the museum. They nodded, running off.

There were two guards in the main lobby. One was sitting at the security desk, staring helplessly out towards the darkened street outside. The other paced uneasily, phone in hand, arms half-crossed.

“I told you, it flashed something about diagnostic test and then everything went dark… Well it did do that and we need back-up.”

One of the men whispered “No you don’t.” He pointed a small pistol at the guard and squeezed the trigger. A glowing projectile shot out, striking the guard in the chest.

Electricity arced out of the projectile and across his body. He shook violently before falling to the ground unconscious. The other guard stood, reeling around and fighting with the clasp on his holster.

“Nope. Nighty-night.” The other man pointed his own small pistol and shot the guard in the head. Blood poured from his nose as he dropped to the ground.

“Damn, Jack! You probably just killed the poor bastard!”

“Better him than me, Bill.” Jack put away the pistol. “Let’s go.”

The two men returned to the jewel exhibit. Farris knelt at the bottom of the diamond display. Dobbs looked on nervously. He looked at the others expectantly.

“We’re alone now,” Bill said. “One sleeping…” He looked at Jack. “The other probably dead.”

Dobbs spit. “Damn it, we don’t operate that way.”

“Couldn’t be helped,” Jack said. “How close is Poindexter? One guard was on the phone with tech support already.”

“Almost there,” Farris mumbled. He poked at the screen on the device he had attached to the base of the diamond display. It displayed a closed lock icon.

He squeezed buttons on either side of the device. A series of clicks came from within the base. The closed lock became an open one. He turned off the device and retrieved it. “It’s free.”

Farris stood to one side of the display. Dobbs grabbed the glass box covering the diamond and looked to Farris. The man nodded. Dobbs lifted it into the air.

Farris grabbed the diamond and fed it into a black satchel. Dobbs set the glass back down. The museum lights snapped back on. A shrill alarm sounded.

“What the hell? I thought you said it was disabled!”

“It was! Somebody must have reactivated it from the security panel.”

“Let’s just smash out the front. Run for it,” Jack suggested.

Dobbs shook his head. “Police will be here any minute. Let’s get to the roof.” He pulled out a handgun. The others followed suit.

They emerged one by one onto the roof, eyes peeled for company. Farris brought up the rear. A black-clad arm shot out from one side of the doorway, its fist slamming hard into his throat.

His gun fired wildly as he fell backwards choking. A hand flashed out, snatching the satchel from him as he fell backwards down the stairs. A black-clad woman slammed the door shut and turned to the others.

Dobbs and the others whirled around. The woman held up a small device and activated it. The night-vision glasses the men wore suddenly fizzled and popped loudly.

They stumbled about, brushing the glasses off and cursing. The woman ran forward and kicked Bill’s gun out of his hand. She punched him in the stomach. He lurched over.

The woman grabbed his head and wrenched up and to the left. There came a sickening crack. Bill dropped to the ground.

Dobbs got off a wild shot at the woman as his vision cleared. She smacked the weapon to the side and drove her palm into his nose. He screamed, raining blood as he stumbled backwards.

Jack fired at the woman, grazing her side. She cried out. She spun around and grabbed the muzzle of the gun, hissing as the metal burned her flesh.

She wrenched it out of his hand and turned it around, shooting him in the face. He gurgled as he sunk to his knees. “Hold it right there, miss.” It was Dobbs.

She slowly raised her hands into the air. “Give me the diamond. Maybe I’ll let you live.”

She didn’t move. “Look, lady. Last chance. The cops gotta be downstairs by now.” The woman stayed as she was. “Have it your way.”

The woman dropped and rolled. Dobbs cursed, firing at her as she went. She returned fire, striking Dobbs in the arm. She ran to the side of the building and flipped down onto the fire escape.

“Stupid bitch!” He chased after her, firing wildly through the fire escape. He pounded down the stairs, eyes peeled for the slippery woman.

He stood on the ground below, scanning the dark alley around him. The lid of a trash can clattered to the ground behind him. He spun around, firing at the noise.

The woman stood up behind Dobbs and punched him in the nape of the neck. His trigger finger jerked, wasting his last shot. The woman ran off down the alley and toward the street.

Dobbs ran after her, growling. He slowed at the sight of a gathering crowd outside the museum. Flashing lights and a series of whoops came from police cruisers approaching from the far side.

The woman used the distraction to spring around the corner and jab a silver dagger deep into the man’s eye socket. The siren wail of a third police cruiser muffled his dying cry as he slipped to the ground. The woman wrenched out the dagger and unceremoniously wiped it off on Dobbs before pocketing it.

She rounded the corner, her clothes and face rippling like a heatwave. She melded into the crowd, now clutching a purse against her tan trench coat. She nodded politely to a passing police officer as she went.

The woman made her way across the street. She spotted a man in a blue blazer and red-tinted glasses at the back of the growing crowd. She stood quietly beside him and gazed back towards the museum. She handed the purse off to the man.

“On time as usual.” The man tucked the purse under one arm. He held out a small pad to the woman with the other. She pressed her thumb to its surface. A female voice drifted up from the device. “Balance transfer complete!”

The man tucked the device into his coat pocket. “Until next time.” He turned to look at the woman, but she was already gone. He smiled. “As usual.” He turned and walked into the open night, whistling quietly.