The Hidden--Episode 8: Taking a Breath

This is your future and your present. This is the world of reaction after the storm. After any series of events occurs, there is always a reaction. There is usually a calm first, a chance for us to breathe and regroup. We make our plans anew, after the fallout has happened. We get ready to take the next step, to leap forward and cause more events to happen. Those events happen, and then—after the storm—we regroup again. It is an endless cycle. We will never escape it. Are we doomed to an eternal struggle, always watching fight after fight? Is life only a disgusting mesh of combats between fellow men?

Not always, some of my friends tell me. They say that one day, there will come a storm, and then a calm will come, one which does not fade into a new storm. I look at these days, and sometimes I wonder.

Are we going to experience a storm with no end, one which does not fade into a calm?


As the last of the four thugs fell to the ground, Bruce Blun blew at his cooling handgun. “Yeah, that’s why I was wondering about you, priest-man. You being in the city, alone. I know, I know you guys had protection of some sort back in the day. But you know, it doesn’t really work like that any more. They couldn’t care less about your white collar. It’s a different world.”

“Some things change,” the priest replied, “but some things stay completely the same. We still need love. We still give love. We still care about each other.”

“Right,” snorted the mercenary. “Only people I’ve seen care about ‘loving’ don’t really do what you’re talking about, I think. Maybe they care about each other, but it’s not really for the nice little Christian reasons that you talk about.”

“And perhaps you’re wrong. I still believe in something more. I believe that human beings can love each other, for no other reason than love. Certainly you’ve felt some sort of love, even with your life, whatever has happened to you.”

“Yeah, yeah. Go on and preach. It’s kinda hard to love people when they don’t really pay you to be anything more than a nice, self-working weapons system. You know, it’s like one of them gambling machines they used to have all over the place. Plug in some money, out comes bullets. The other guy gets shot full of holes. You get the money. You’re a big gun in their hand.”

“Well then, you still do it, even though you want to be treated like a human. Why?”

“Money’s good. I’ll be rich some day, then they’ll go and treat me like I’m something. They’ll give me some respectability. And I can get plenty of stuff with that money. Cars, clothes, a big house...all of it. I’ll be rich some day.”

“And what if none of that happens as you wish it to?”

“I don’t really care about that right now. I’m in it for the money, and it’s good money. You got any money to hire me? Because I’m a little short on cash right now. I could use some, I kinda need some right now. You hear me, yeah?”

“I hear you. And I must say that I don’t have enough money on hand at the moment. But, if you allow me to contact someone...”

“Right. I think I gotta go. For someone who actually has money. You’re a nice guy, but you don’t got any money on you. I don’t do charity work, priest-man. I’m in it for the goods.”

“God speed, sir,” Fr. Hill said, nodding and turning, slowly walking away, and slowly chanting. “Pater noster, qui es in caelis...

Stupid guy, Bruce thought, watching the priest’s black-clothed figure gradually recede. Doesn’t know what he’s getting into. Gonna get himself killed, that guy. He’s not ready to head out there. He’s gonna die. He doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into...blast it.

“Wait up, priest-man!” he called. “Hold up, I’m coming along!


“I hate you,” hissed Adriann. “You filthy scumbag...I’m gonna get you after this. I told you so. I’m going to find you, and I’m going to kill you real slow. Do whatever you want with me right now. I’ll get even with you for it when I get out of here. And I will. You’re never going to find your dad. Or maybe you will. In that place with all the fire and brimstone, the one they used to have preachers talking about. You’re gonna learn that Adriann Paulson is not somebody to screw with. Go ahead, do your worst. I’m gonna get you back.”

Jim paused, and looked around. “Stop your tough talk, and listen up, Miss Adriann. I’m getting you out of here, that’s what I’m doing. You, and everyone around here, thinks that I want to take advantage of you, that I’m going to ‘have some fun’ with you. I can’t deny that it’s tempting. But I’m not here for that. I’m here to find my father...and it doesn’t look like I’m getting anything from these people.”

Adriann narrowed her eyes. “You got that right. Diorco is a dirty rat. And a lot of other things. So yeah, you go and get yourself outta here. What about me?”

“I want to get you out of here, too. I don’t want to leave you here in the clutches of the gang. I can’t leave you, you’re...”

“A woman? Thanks a lot. Like I can’t handle yourself.”

“Well, you’re...you’re...it’s just, I’ve always...”

“Yeah. We can’t do stuff like guys can. Heard it all. Preach on, man.”

“No, it’s not that...I just...was trying to be—courteous.”

“Nice, lovely. I’ve got news for you. Courteous doesn’t work here in the city. You beat them, or you die. Be a gentleman all you want. It’s not going to save you.”

“Well I really don’t care what you’re saying right now—I’m getting out of here, and I want to get you out of here too!” Jim half-shouted, clenching a fist. He stopped, and looked down at her, taking a deep breath.

“Well, then,” Adriann said, her lips curling into a half-smile, half-sneer, “let’s see you get us out of this. Any plans? Come on, let’s see you have at it.”

Jim did not answer, however, because he was busy looking around the room. At the most, it was four feet by five feet. Apparently, Diorco considered that amount of space to be sufficient for “alone time”. There was a single window, barred, about six feet up the back wall. And then there was the door, which looked like it had been tossed into the middle of the opposite wall. Mr. Eastman jumped up, and hung from the window, slowly pulling himself up. He set himself partway on the ledge up there, and looked down, out of the window. The cracked window, dirty and slightly cobwebbed. Beneath, people moved through their daily lives, knowing only their tiny worlds. Absorbed in their own bubbles of existence.

“Well, how’s the view from up there?” Adriann’s voice asked, cutting into the silence.

“About a twenty-foot, maybe thirty-foot, fall. No way we’re making it out of there.”

“Come on down, then. No good wasting your eyes on that.”

Sighing, Jim slid down, landing on the floor with a bounce. He looked down at Adriann, and the ropes that bound her. “Well, at least I can get you untied. Just give me a second.”

“Okay, you do that,” said Adriann, under her breath. “Like it’ll do us much good now. Considering that we’re still stuck, and that there’s not really a bright future headed my way out there. But yeah, go ahead and untie me. You got anything to cut the rope with?”

“Yeah...he gave me a knife to cut you free, if I wanted to do that...for more ‘enjoyment’.”

“The slimy rat. Go ahead, cut me free. We might as well both be able to move around as much as we can.”

“Right,” Jim said, sliding the blade beneath the ropes, just around the knot that had been jammed into the bonds. “I’m almost done, now. Just one bit—there!”

He took the knife away, as the ropes fell to the ground. That was the last thing that registered in his mind, besides a blur of movement, as Adriann’s fist connected with Jim’s jaw, and everything that he saw quickly faded to black.


“...authorities are at a loss to explain who is behind the assassination attempt, but investigators from the Department of Homeland Security say they have uncovered a number of leads to the would-be killer. No suspects have been named yet as of this morning. Senator Young is being kept under high security in Turner Memorial Hospital, until he has fully recovered from injuries sustained in the assassination attempt. His office released a statement...”

Senator Young clicked the television off. “So, that’s what the government satellite, the ‘official news’ says. What’s the word on the street?”

“They say it’s Sam Browning, famous hired assassin, it matches everything. The knife, the stealth, although...not the failure. They don’t know what to blame it on,” one of the Senator’s aides, standing behind him, said.

“And where do they think I am?”

“Can’t tell. I think some of them buy the hospital story, others do think you’re somewhere else. Ready to come out again and oppose Prowetts. An October surprise, if you will.”

“Well, it’s getting a bit late for an October surprise. But keep going. Anything else?”

“As the news claims, you have supposedly been hospitalized in the hospital recently funded into existence by Arthur Branning. Turner Memorial.”

“CEO of Neolabs, the holder of the contract that I’m fighting.”

“Precisely. It does not look the best for you. Propaganda on the satellite?”

“Unfortunately, not that simple. I was being taken there...however, I’m afraid that it points to something else. Branning wanted me at his hospital...and I have a few guesses why.”

“Those would be?”

“Since they’re guesses, I don’t feel at liberty to say anything about them at the moment. But no, it’s not that simple. It’s not propaganda. I think it’s worse. This isn’t a cheap campaign trick.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“I’m not sure. They’ll debate the bill again eventually, but if I come back out, I might just be making myself a target. If they still think I’m in the hospital, I have the jump on them. And I can find out what they’re doing. I need to get into Neolabs, I need people to get into their system, to find out who they’re contacting, who they’re working with. Something about Neolabs doesn’t seem right. I’m going to find out what it is.”

“Senator, you are no longer who you used to be. Private investigation is over now.”

“My career was too short. I got into politics way too quickly. I’ve been itching to get back into that kind of work. I liked it, I figure I might as well get back into it. Too bad if somebody doesn’t like that.”

“I would still advise against this, Senator.”

“Well, tough. Get me some civilian clothes, sunglasses, and a hat. I’m heading out there. Oh, yeah, and get something to hide my hand, that knife gave me a nasty scratch.”


“Good evening, Senator Prowetts...to what do I owe this pleasant surprise?” said the man at the desk, glancing up. “I would not expect you to show up here. Nervous about your spending bill?”

“Somewhat, yes,” replied the older man. “Mr. Vice President, since the attempt on Senator Young’s life, this entire process has been unnecessarily delayed. We could be finished with it, and on to more important things, if we would only press for a vote. That is why I need you to help me. I need the vote forced, so we can be done with this, and then move on.”

“Senator Prowetts, you must be familiar with how the government operates. Forcing votes is not something we do unless we truly need it. Unless the need is urgent. We do not move quickly. You know that.”

“Urgent need...” mused Prowetts. “Do you think that having a nearly collapsed military, supergangs in every major city, a breakdown in law enforcement, and a general state of political instability might qualify for a change in government policy? Just perhaps? Or do you want to sit back and let this bill cool, clogging up the pipeline?”

“Why wouldn’t you just table the legislation? That would unclog the pipeline enough, and let other things get worked on.”

“We need to get things done, Mr. Vice President. We need to get this legislation passed. Our country needs this legislation. We need stability, Mr. Vice President.”

“You aren’t doing a good job of convincing me, Senator.”

“What about the fact that you need stability, Mr. Vice President? Elections are coming up, and I’ve seen the poll numbers. Your men don’t stand completely behind you, Mr. Vice President, or behind the President. The people can tell this. Now, if you needed support, I know people. I can help. But I need a little bit of a favor from that.”

“Support? What do you know of it, Senator Prowetts? Why do I need your support?”

“Well, now...you certainly wouldn’t want me to bring up a few pictures of one night in New York City...Central Park...ring a bell?”

The Vice President’s face paled. “You can’t...”

“Can...and will. Unless you can convince me otherwise, Mr. Vice President. The ball is in your court now.” Senator Thomas Prowetts stood, and turned away. “Don’t give me an answer now, Mr. Vice President. I’ll give you some time to sleep on it. And then I’ll watch and see whether or not the vote is pressed for.”


The Hidden--Episode 7: Guns and Games

This is your future and your present. This is a time when actions begin to come together, like threads that are twisted into a single string. At the start, it can be hard to see that the threads will unite, that there will ever be anything in common between them. Funny things can happen between then and between the way things end up. Two people who are complete strangers, who shouldn't know each other...could end up as loyal allies—or as mortal enemies. Somebody who you meet by accident could save your life. The stories of five people who meet by coincidence on one day...could join and shape history. Some might call it Fate. Some might call it Providence.

I just call it life.


Great. I've got somebody following me. Even when I'm invisible. This crap isn't supposed to happen.

At least, that was the way it seemed. Something was wrong. But everything was silent. When he was invisible, Sam wasn't able to hear noise anyway. He was inside a soundproof...thing. Nothing penetrated it. No sound. No feeling of anything outside. Even sight was dimmed. And then...it seemed at times that he couldn't see anything, but that he...saw...everything. A sight that was not sight. A blind sight in a silent world.

Sam took a step. It was strange...if he focused, he could see the tiny bits of dust that scattered beneath his feet. One by one, flying away as they were compressed. This was invisibility?

I don't care. There's somebody out there, and he probably wants to kill me.

Like a comet, the bullet ripped past him. Without the echo of a gunshot behind it. There was a rippling wave of heat behind it, as it pierced the air next to the hitman. As he dropped and rolled, coming up again. Behind a car. Two more bullets. One streaking by him. One striking the car, and wobbling fiercely. Ricocheting. A chip of paint that shot in some random direction, nicked away by the bullet. Tiny shrapnel of dust and metal that bloomed in an unseen cloud on the car's hood. The air of the unseen world could be seen vibrating in the aftershock of the projectiles. One more bullet. When Sam jumped to the side, and took cover again. Rough pavement, rough against his knees. Ever-so-tiny scrape.

Where is he?

Sam transferred his knife to his left hand. And pulled out a handgun from a chest holster. His only firearm. The man inched to one side. Behind the car. Looking, trying to see his enemy. There. In the middle of the sidewalk. Firing down the street at Sam. Bullet pinged off the second car. Tumbling and falling back to earth. Sam ducked behind the car. Pinned.

I can't get out to fire a shot. He knows I'm here, he can see when I pop out to fire. And his gun is faster than my gun. He know's I'm here...he knows...just like I know he's there...because we're both invisible.

Bullet, slicing through the surface of the car's hood. Throwing up tiny ribbons of paint.

But what if—I wasn't invisible?

Another, thudding into the car frame.

He's depending on being able to see me.

Windshield...blossoming into a cascade of shattered glass. An old-model car.

I have to—avoid his gaze. For a single moment. When I can shoot him.

Another shot passed by.

Concentrate. He's right...there.

Preparing the gun.


Sam slipped out of the bubble, and saw the cold, dull reality come back. As a bullet passed him by. And he pulled the trigger, aiming the gun. Toward where he had seen the gunman. Toward where he could dimly feel a presence. The hitman sidestepped, and then dove behind a car. He began to breathe heavily, as he felt the blood that pulsed through his body. There was no sound. No reply. No gunshots. Sam blinked.

Well, if I missed, I'm as good as dead anyway. Let's finish the job.

Sam slowly stood, and for the first time saw the few shattered windows on the street. Everything was silent; nobody was on the street. He approached the spot where the man had been, and saw his quarry, writhing on the ground. Gasping for breath. Not invisible. He had dropped his handgun on the ground, and was curled up on the pavement. A bullet-hole was in his chest; blood spread across his shirt. For a moment, he opened his eyes, and caught sight of his enemy. His mouth opened briefly, and shut, as he struggled for breath. He opened it again.


Sam smirked. “Sucks to be you.”

With one smooth movement, he readied the gun, and pointed it at the man's head. He pulled the trigger, and watched the bullet hit.


Jim wiped his mouth, and looked over at the mob boss. “That's a good meal.”

“I'm glad you enjoy it, Mr. Eastman. So, then, now that we've got that done with, let's hear what you have to ask me about. After all, if it's within my means, and it's reasonable, I'd gladly help you with it, all for saving my daughter.”

“Thanks, Mr...”

“Diorco. Paul Diorco.”

“Right, sorry. Well, Mr. Dirco, I need to find my father.”

“Ah, yes, caught selling guns, was he?”

“Yeah. Not much he could do about it. It's not like he had anything else to do.”

“Too bad. I hear that story a lot, to tell you the truth. The War on Guns certainly produced its share of organized crime...accompanied by a great deal of profit, too. I myself made a bit of a pretty penny then...”

Jim pursed his lips. “It's good to hear that.” He glanced away, and took a sip out of the wine glass in front of him. “So what about my father?”

“Ah, yes...Eastman...arms dealer...like I told you, I have heard a good deal of that story, repeated many times by many people. Arms dealer, he gets arrested, ends up somewhere in the city. Honestly speaking, I do not have the slightest idea where he might be.”

“You're the crime lord of the city! You have to know somebody who can help me...”

“Not the only crime lord, Mr. Eastman. Very sorry to disillusion you there...”

“I see.” Jim narrowed his eyes. “You can't do anything to help me. Thanks.”

As the man rose, Paul raised his hand. “Stop...”

“Or what? Just get me my gun, and I'm leaving now. Thanks for the food.”

“Mr. Eastman...”

“No.” Jim turned around, and stared directly at Diorco. “I'm done with you.”

“No.” Diorco had risen, and he reached inside of his vest. “Sit down. Do not make me use drastic measures. Stop, and sit down. I fear that you know a great deal, relatively speaking, of one of the most wanted men in the City. When we are ready to let you go, we will let you go. Alive or dead.”

Jim met the eyes of the mob boss, slowly returning, and eased into the seat next to Diorco. “Have it your way, then.”

“Thank you, that sounds rather nice.”

You...son of...

Diorco finished taking his handgun out of its holster, and lowered it beneath the table, pointing it at Jim. He smirked, and pushed it up against the man's ribcage, meeting his eyes with a sneer. The mob boss took a breath, and let it out slowly, accentuating each moment of the action; his lips curled upwards a fraction of an inch. Jim slowly examined his opponent. The man was well-dressed, ebony-toned buttons on the front of his vest. He was a trim man, as far as Jim could tell.

At least...his trigger-finger is trim. I might have guessed.

“So, now...give me a moment to think on this, then,” Diorco mused. “I ought to be able to have you drugged and carried to any point in the city that you desire. I have no information on your father, but I can get you to places.”

“And what good would that do me?”

“Who knows...you don't often receive a free trip anywhere in the City. Take it, now. As my gift.”

“Your gift? I-”

“Please, do not be rash. Consider my offer carefully. Swallow a little of that pride, will you? It makes matters a good deal harder to resolve. You do not want to force me to make the decision for you.”

Jim opened his mouth.

“They got her! They got her, boss!”

The trapped man looked in the direction of the shouting, and saw a small group of gangsters, pushing into the room. All were wearing worn street clothes, and all of them had holstered weapons. In the middle of them was a woman, bound hand and foot with rope. Jim blinked, and saw her face as the group neared. The woman who had called herself Adriann.

Why...do they have her all tied up?

Diorco stood up, still pointing the gun at Jim, and beamed broadly. “Excellent work, men. Miss Paulson herself, I presume? How delightful of you to accompany my men for the day. I shall have to see it that you are treated like...a lovely creature such as yourself ought to be treated in the presence of such lowly men like us. I cannot make any promises about the women with me, of course.”

“I hate you,” Adriann said through clenched teeth. “I'm gonna kill you.”

The leader of the gang laughed. “That is very amusing, my dear little girl...”

“Shut it, Diorco. I really am gonna kill you.”

“I am sorry, you do make me laugh a great deal. You are down there, in a group of my trained killers. I am up here, in my citadel of protection. You are bound by rope, and I am rather free to move about and protect myself. And you, you are about to be made the cause of a great deal of entertainment. I am afraid that your father has crossed me for the last time.”

“Diorco, you are NOT getting away with this!”

“Excuse me,” Jim said a bit quietly, “I think you owe me one. Could I be alone with her, first?”

Diorco looked over, and a smile crossed his lips. He stepped forward to Jim, and holstered his gun. “I think...that you are finally beginning to see things my way. That is a good thing to see.”

You,” hissed Adriann Paulson, seeing Jim for the first time.


Ashley crouched down, watching the car leave. Please, just don't be going too far away...don't be going too fast... She rose slightly, and shut her eyes, beginning to walk down the sidewalk. In the same direction that the car had driven. She opened her eyes, and continued, biting her lip. What is he doing? Where is he going? Why... The woman clenched her fist, and put her hand on something inside of her jacket. After a moment, she took her hand out, stepping forward. The dead wind whispered for a moment. The wind of autumn. The wind that was sometimes infused with the sounds of crickets. Sometimes.

The world has changed. My mother told me how there always used to be crickets. Before something chased some of them away. I wonder what it was. Maybe it was all the fighting. When my mother was younger, there weren't all of the people with guns. They didn't have to have a War on Guns. Maybe it was the guns that changed things.

The void spoke nothing to her, the void of near-midnight. Her footsteps echoed alone, in the dark, as she tried to listen to the silence. To listen for anyone...else. Her breath misted slightly as she exhaled; it looked like faint white smoke. The air felt slightly damp. Almost what some people called “clammy”. Ashley frowned. ”Clammy”. I've never had clams. I wonder if they really are like the air, the humidity... The sound of a droning engine approached, along with a pair of headlights. As Ashley kept an eye on them, and watched the lights pass. A car, driving around late at night, for no reason.

Like Troy. Why is he driving somewhere? Who is it he has to meet?

Her lips drew together for a moment, as she continued walking. Her footsteps remained alone, but her hand would still dart to her jacket from time to time as she went on. She was nearly waiting to hear another pair of footsteps, to see another car pass by, to hear somebody, even the sounds of some gunfight. Even a cricket. I want to hear a cricket.


Troy switched the car's radio off. It was a standard old FM radio, because all of the satellites were now controlled by one supergang or another. Most of the police officers used satellite radio even so, except for Troy. Even though the radio never worked half of the time, he refused to install any other receiver. It's useful enough for getting my mind someplace else. I don't want to think about this. He bit his lip, scanning the road as he drove onwards. It was silent, except for the gentle humming of the engine.

“You think you're going to get me,” he murmured. “We'll see how you like getting the tables turned on you. You're not getting my family, and you're not getting me either.”

He left one hand on the steering wheel, and put one hand on his right hip, on the automatic handgun holstered there. ”One shot is enough to kill a man.” That's what they told me. And it's true. All I need is one shot. He narrowed his eyes, and put both hands back on the wheel. I'm going to use that one shot. And whatever miserable hitman is there to take me, he won't last a minute. Pull the trigger, stop the nightmare.

A drop of sweat slid from his forehead onto his shirt. Troy flexed his hands, and took a deep breath. “Calm down, Troy. If you're scared, you're dead. Stop it, now. It's going to be nice and simple. Get there. Hide by becoming invisible. Watch him and figure out where he is. Unhide...and shoot him. He'll be dead.”

If he doesn't shoot first.

“No...how could he possibly shoot me? I'll be invisible. You can't shoot an invisible man. He may be a cold-blooded killer...but I have the advantage. He can't find me. He can't kill me.”

If he can't see me.

“No, I'll be invisible. You can't see an invisible man.”

Troy nudged the steering wheel over, and slowly braked. The car rolled to the curb, and stopped. The police officer put his hand on the handgun, and pulled it out of its holster. He turned off the car's engine, and shut his eyes for a moment. As he slipped inside of the “bubble”. That's what he called the invisibility, because that's what it was like. A bubble, sliding around him and hiding him. The man slowly opened the car door slightly, and slipped out. In an instant, he slammed the door and jumped backwards.

If nobody shoots at where I was...I know that I'm safe...

He felt a sharp pain in his neck, and everything became dark around him.


Ashley crouched in the shadows, watching the car settle next to the sidewalk. She glimpsed around, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. What are you doing, Troy? Where are you?

The car door opened, and then shut. Something hit the ground, about fifteen feet in front of Ashley. And then, a moment later, her husband slumped to the ground, appearing from nowhere.


She almost jumped forward, but then stopped. Somebody-shot him. Somebody...is out there!

The woman readied her gun, and crouched in the shadows-and blinked. A figure was approaching. It was dressed in military clothing, and it wore a guns: a few on its belt, one on its calf, and one on its upper arm. And instead of a face, it wore an ebony mask, expressionless. The thing bent over Troy, and hoisted him onto its shoulders. It rose, and turned for a moment.

“Put him down, you monster!” Ashley screamed, standing and firing.

Something in her vision blurred, and the thing which had her husband was no longer in front of her. Something sprayed in her face, and a sickly smell overpowered her as she collapsed, seeing only darkness.

When she regained consciousness, Troy was gone.


The Hidden--Episode 6: The Gray Streets

This is your future and your present. When I say these words, each time I say these words, they anger me. None of this should have ever happened in the first place. Things should not have required us to be created. We could have lived as normal human beings, with no stigma, no fear of capture, of torture, of death. And it could have been stopped. It could have been stopped! Why did we have to endure the wrongs that we were pushed into? Why did there have to be a people chosen...why did they have to be? There was no reason! None at all! I can't understand...none of this should have happened. I want to hate you all for doing this to us...but I know that you have no idea of the evils that are yet to befall.

But I still hold you responsible, because you could have stopped this.


It was a simple enough matter to manual-hack into the payphone. A necessary measure, of course. Now, all money existed in bank accounts, and everything was paid for with bank cards. And of course, an assassin can't afford to have any method of tracing, such as a bank card, tied to him.

Nothing. There's nobody on the other end. Dead silence.

Sam Browning cursed, slamming down the receiver. He reached into the entrails of the payphone, and quickly fixed his electronic manipulations, shutting the case. The man looked back, and saw nobody, no law enforcement officials headed for him. He had managed to escape notice, then. Turning, he stuck his hands in his pockets, and began to walk down the street. The air seemed fresh, then. Autumn...or at least it would have been, outside of the city. Some thoughtful people had thought to put a tree every fifty feet along the sidewalks, although some of these had managed to be targets for vandalism, or even a particularly violent demonstration. They said that out in the country, it was nicer. That there were trees.

Trees would be nice.

He paused in his walk, and listened. The echoes of faint feet glimmered in his mind. He didn't turn around, but paused, stepping forward, and then stopping in front of a building. If he doesn't know that I'm on to him, he won't expect it when I kill him. Sam walked into the building, letting the door close behind him. With an audible click. And he blinked, half-blinded by the fluorescent light. It was far brighter than the overcast day outside.

“Hello...sir...can I help you?”

“I'm sorry...I...”

He looked around. He was very likely the only man in the building off of the street. It was a women's beauty salon, something he could deduce from the posters of female hairstyles that were hung on the walls. Every person there was giving him strange looks. Slowly, the hitman backed up, and left the building. As he did, he could hear murmurs of laughs following him, as he left, and let the door shut behind him. Growling, he looked around.

Probably thought I was drunk or something. Stupid girls.

His eyes roved across the street, and he shook his head, continuing up. His ears stayed alert, listening for the footsteps again. As he walked onward, Sam moved a hand to his belt, and felt something there, beneath his coat. He withdrew his hand, and continued. The man's eyes narrowed, and he paused. There—in the glimmer of his hearing. Footsteps. Again. He growled, and sprinted ahead for the alley five feet ahead of him. As he scooted sideways into it.

As much as I hate to do this...

He closed his eyes, and felt the “'bubble” forming around him. Like a bubble, yet not. That was the only way he'd thought of to describe the thing. It was vibrating, pulsing, alive, surging with some sort of energy. Except that...none of the energy came from the bubble itself, he could tell. It was almost as if the energy was sliding past him. As if he moved through a river. Sam opened his eyes, and saw the world, slightly shimmering. He stepped forward, and glanced into a puddle. What he saw made him grin. Or, rather, what he didn't see. Himself.

Invisible. Just like in those fairy tales.

He stepped out of the alley, knowing that he couldn't be seen. Up the sidewalk, avoiding the pedestrians. And feeling more secure now. The footsteps could come. They wouldn't find him. Except—now, Sam felt a different thing. And he shivered, and frowned, and looked back. The security, there was a fissure in it, a hole, a leak. Something—something was disrupting it. Sam gritted his teeth, and reached to his belt. He withdrew the knife he kept there, and pressed himself against the wall, creeping onward.

And there was no answer from the other.


“Ad te clamamus, exsules filii Evae...”

It was singing. Singing, in the gray city, damp and quiet. A gentle sort of singing, a chanting, almost, soft and rhythmic, like a heartbeat. The words seemed alien, and yet—at the same time—as native as any of the rest of the city. New York, the city of every land. Or at least, it had been. Before the Wars.

“...ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes...”

The singing was coming from a man, not middle-aged, not young either. A man with a completely shaved head. Dressed in black, with a long black trench coat worn over everything. The coat was pulled shut, as the man huddled in the shelter of one of the old bus stops. Old, but the government hadn't bothered to tear it out yet. As it was, the booth was broken down, but it stopped the wind.

“...in hac lacrimarum vale.”

“Heh, what, your god doesn't speak English or something?” smirked the man with the stubble for a beard, who was wearing a long coat. The man who had stopped after hearing the singer.

“Eia ergo, advocata nostra...”

The stubble-bearded man squinted. “Hey, didn't you hear me?”

“...illos, tuos, misericordes oculos, ad nos converte.”

“Hello, are you deaf or something? I'm talking to you!”

“Et Iesum, benedictum fructus ventris tui...”

“Yeah, you just go on with that. Not like anybody understands you anyway. Or your god.” The man turned, and walked away from the singer.

“...nobis, post hoc exsilium, ostende.”

The heckler paused, and looked back. Raising an eyebrow, he turned—and listened.

...dulcis...Virgo Maria.”

The trench coat man straightened, and touched his forehead, chest, left shoulder, right shoulder—in that order. Signing himself with the cross...the thing that Christians did. Then, he lifted his hairless head, and looked up the sidewalk. The other man slowly approached, no longer sneering. He stopped when he was around ten feet away from the black-clothed person. The singer smiled slightly, and extended a hand.

“Good afternoon,” he said. “I'm Father Jack Hill.”

The other man shook his hand, and swallowed. “Bruce. That's what they call me.”

The priest nodded. “I wasn't ignoring you...I don't usually let anything interrupt my regular prayers. That's why I found this place, a bit out-of-the-way. The bus stop, gives me cover from the wind, doesn't attract much attention. I seem to attract a bit of that.”

“We don't really see a lot of your kind...you Christian people...around here.”

“As far as you know. The world isn't quite that skeptical, yet. Although it's a lot more cynical than it used to be.”

“Skeptical...cynical...big words, father. You're speaking another foreign language.”

“Yes, that's how it is, isn't it? Well...then...I'll rephrase. The world doesn't really think there is a God any more, after those wars, after everything going downhill...”

“That's more like it. And yeah, you're right. I don't get all depressed like that...heck, gives me a job in this world, all the confusion. I just don't really bother.”

“A number of people don't 'bother' about it...but a number still do. You might be surprised.”

“Maybe. It's not for me. I just get by.”

“Get by...doing what?”

“I'm a mercenary, priest man.” Bruce pulled aside the left side of his coat, exposing three automatic pistols that were strapped to the inside of it. That, and a knife on his belt. “Guard people mostly, guard stuff, fight for the guys who pay me, escort smugglers. A bunch of stuff. Not really stuff that works with your god and all.”

“I suppose not.”

There was silence for a moment, and the wind returned in a tiny breeze.

“So tell me something,” asked Bruce, “how come you're not ticked at me? I was giving you a lot of crap back there.”

“Does it really matter in the end? I've heard much worse. You don't want to know what people act like towards priests, in other cities. We aren't the most popular people in most places.”

The mercenary snorted. “You got that right. So what the heck are you doing around here, then? Dang, not really the best place for a priest person.”

“I'm looking for a man...a man who's from the Middle East, or at least looks like it.”


Troy held his head in his hands, staring at the computer screen in front of him. It blurred as his eyes wandered, not focusing on anything...he shut them, and shook his head. A deep breath, taking a deep breath. The man groaned, and slumped forward, still burying his head in his hands. He shuddered, and put his hands back on the desk. He hung his head back, and then opened his eyes. Slowly, his stare wandered back to the screen, to the e-mail there. The one whose subject read: MIDNIGHT.


In an instant, his hand darted to the monitor, and shut it off. The man turned around, and saw his wife standing behind him. He took a deep breath, and looked at her, pushing his chair back, and standing. Looking at her. She took a step closer to him, and put a hand on his shoulder. Gently. Her mouth was softly pressed into a half-frown, but not one of disapproval, or one of anger.

"Troy, is something going on? You haven't been..."

"I'm fine, Ash, just fine. It's just work. Work stress. It happens...it's been a little much lately. Don't worry about me, I'll get over it. I promise, I do."

Her eyes moved back and forth; he knew she was searching his face. "Please, promise me that nothing is going to happen."

Troy took a deep breath, and stepped forward, pulling her into an embrace, pulling her against his chest. "I promise."

I can't tell her that, looking her in the eye.

"Thank you," she whispered. "Now I gotta go and see the kids, okay?"

"Okay," he said, letting her slide away.

As she left, he waited, waited until she had left the room. Troy counted to twenty, and then slowly returned to his chair. He looked behind him, and then took a deep breath. Then, he reached over and turned the computer monitor back on.


To: Dr. J. Danton (jdanton@neolabs.com)
stop experimenting on tehm theyre HUMAN BEINGS

or ill kill you


The Hidden--Episode 5: Tea and Crumpets

This is your future and your present. Your present, because the seeds of what are to be have already been sown in your lives. Your future, because this is what will happen if humanity does nothing after seeing these words. These are the events which have happened, the events which have shaken my world to the core. All has come into upheaval, it seems. I no longer know who to trust, what to trust. I pray for your sake and for the sake of your world that they don't happen to you. I can only hope that you will stop these events from happening to us, but then again...perhaps anything you do can do nothing to help us.

But perhaps you can be saved.


"What is our progress on Legionary I?" Branning asked, reaching for his coffee, glancing across the table at the man who wore a white coat, with lab goggles pulled down from his face.

The man frowned. "Not as well as we'd hoped. We have a Chaser-we were lucky to land her-and a handful of Seekers. Shadows, we've got nothing, except for your friend, I forget his name. The one who goes and makes contact with clients."

"That's unimportant for now. And I can't afford to use him for tests. Those make him useless as a courier. So you're saying you need more Chasers, and more Shadows? That can be managed. What else do you need? The government will be impatient."

"That should be enough for now. We're making progress on the sequencing, but they're not taking very well to the grafting, for the most part. But give us a little time, we should have it. I think we know what the problem was, we just need a Shadow, at least. Can you get us one?"

"I'm working on it. It will be there."

The man nodded. "That's good, just as long as we have it. I hope you get it quick, then we can get rid of these threats."


"Yeah, every one of the techs has been getting them. Usually e-mailed, sometimes on good old paper. Delivered by secret, of course. They wouldn't show their face. People who can't appreciate the work we do. Don't they get that we'll be saving our country with this?"

Arthur Branning sighed, and sipped from his coffee. "Unfortunately, they don't understand. But they will. It will just take some time. We have to show them, first. And they will all see." He smiled. "The bill's about to pass, so we're good. So now it's going to be time for us to pay up. I trust, then, that we can have a demonstration Legionary ready. You say the sequencing is almost complete? Good. The grafting...well, let's hope it goes better next time. I'll get you the Shadow to work on, and then hopefully we'll get some progress made."

"Trust me, Mr. Branning, we will."

"Excellent. How's Thomas been doing?"

"Very well. He'll take your place well when you decide to retire."

"Good. If that's so, then, I think I'll let him run it for the rest of the day. We will succeed, Doctor."

"That we will."


Jim groaned, and blinked, watching everything slowly come into focus. A well-groomed face came into focus, a face which nodded as Jim opened his eyes, and tried to sit up. The dark-skinned man groaned, "Why didn't they shoot me?"

"Tell me your name, and then I'll give you some explanations."

"Jim." He felt a man helping him to a seated position, and he blinked. "Where am I, and who are you?"

The man smiled. He was well-dressed, and the room in which both of the men were was actually well-furnished. Both of them were seated in mahogany, padded chairs. There was a chandelier in the room, and a hefty bookshelf on one side of the room. Jim shifted on his couch, and could feel the bandage on his head. He looked back at his host, who was looking intently at him, examining him. The man stood, and began to pace around the room. He walked back to a desk, and picked something up. Then, turning back, he put the something back on the desk, and moved closer to Jim.

"I suppose I should begin by introducing myself. I am Paul Diorco. You may or may not know my name, depending on how much of a city person you are. I am rather infamous around this city for being one of the leading mob leaders...and a good deal of men fear me. Of course, you don't need to worry. My Jenny tells me that you saved her."

"Jenny...the girl?"

"Indeed. My right-hand man was escorting her back to here, when some of my other men came up, killed him, and then were about to...well...I'm sure you can...figure that out. And they were about to have their way, too. Until you came along and killed them all. Some of my more faithful men found you with a gun, and Jenny spoke up and saved your life there. I'm glad she did, because you saved her." The man was smiling. "Is there anything that I can do for you in return?"

Jim grimaced, feeling his head, and looked back. "First, some food...and then I need help. I'm trying to find my father. Peter. Peter Eastman. He...was an arms dealer, and the cops got him. My family's been living out in the country, and I don't know a thing about what's happened to my father. I want to find him. Or just to hear something about him...all I want is to know that he's there, I want him to be safe...but I want more to know that he's there. I've spent too much time...not knowing a thing."

The man nodded. "Well, I'll try and help you there, Jim. First, let's have dinner, shall we?"


Senator Thomas Prowetts sat down opposite the majority whip, Senator Richard Branton, and took a drink from his cup of water. "So, a long morning of debate."

"That's for sure, Thomas. Let's cut to the simple truth."

"Which is almost never simple."

"Point taken. Regardless, what do you want?"

"How is support among the party, Dick? I want to see how the bill is doing."

"It's on the razor's edge, so to speak, Prowetts. Are you sure that it will be so successful? One event...and it could all tip."

"I know. Don't worry, it won't be the end of everything if it fails...but work like you've never worked before, get support among the party. And then we'll have an excellent shot at passing this. I'll see if I can garner support for the bill among party members."

"Excellent. Here's to Legatus."


Ashley turned her head, listening to Jaime and Jessie squabble. Twins...they might as well be a trio. What a noise! She turned, and walked into the kitchen, where the two little girls were fighting over a colorful spoon.

"I had it first!"

"Did not, I saw it!"

"You didn't grab it!"


"All right, you two, stop it...now!" Ashley shook her head, and stepped forward. "Now...Jaime, didn't Jessie have it first? If she did, she gets to use it today...but tomorrow, you can use it. Understand?"

The girls nodded, and Jaime let go of the spoon. Their mother sighed, and turned back. Troy had come home, but he was talking on the phone now. She glanced over at him...and saw that his face was more haggard than usual. More weathered, it seemed. He glanced over, and saw her. Immediately, he walked out of her line of vision. Ashley frowned, and sat down. She paused...and then rose again. Slowly, silently, she approached her husband, and paused, just around the corner from the phone conversation. She remained quiet, and listened.

"Tonight, then. I'll be there. Midnight. I will be there. Then stop harassing me."

The conversation stopped, and Troy stormed around the corner. Ashley watched him walk past her, and felt the anger that was streaming from him. Anger...and fear, of a sort. She bit her lip, and slowly walked back towards her girls. Midnight...at midnight, she had something to do, it seemed.


Senator Young smiled, evading the press corps as he tried to grab a seat at a sidewalk café. He pursed his lips, glancing out at them as he ordered a quick drink, and momentarily ran his hands through his hair. Perhaps they would catch that on tape. So be it. Maybe he could afford to let them see that side of him. He wasn't superhuman, after all. He looked back at them. The press corps...however much power they held, it didn't matter any more. The young politician sighed, and thought about the events of the day. All the debate, all the fighting, all the ground gained by Prowetts...

"I wouldn't move if I were you. Any last words you'd like to say?"

Jon glanced over, and stared into the face of the man who was brandishing a dagger, standing in the shadows beneath the umbrella. His eyes searched the assassin's gaze...the other man was ice-handed, ice-souled. He looked, and saw the killer's eyes. Total apathy. As long as there was money on the other end of the knife, or the gun...This man is a born killer. Jon bent his gaze even more upon the man. Because there was a strangeness about him. A strangeness...and a sameness, at the same time. The Senator looked closer.

Kinship...a spark of kinship...could he be-yes, it makes perfect sense. One like me.

The man paused. "You...your eyes...I can see, feel..."

Jon nodded, and slipped his opponent a card from his pocket. "There's a card, it has contact information for me on it. Be sure to get ahold of me. I can help you."

"I am Sam Browning...you will hear from me...now...my employer...would be very distraught...if I left without trying...so I must attack you..."

"And fail. I understand."

Sam lunged forward, and Jon twisted to the side, grabbing at the man's wrist. Sam shrieked, and pulled away, running. As the buzz of reporters and police swarmed around him, as he sat clutching his bleeding hand, Jon looked out for a moment, and saw Sam vanishing into the crowd. He smiled. I will help you, Sam...and perhaps you can help me.


The Hidden--Episode 4: Awakenings

This is your future and your present. Treachery and deceit are common staples in this world, sometimes squeezing loyalty and truth from existence. Or so it seems. In my experience, I have found that they merely make loyalty and truth more difficult to find, not non-existent. It is all a matter of searching in the correct places, of searching for the right things. Dedication and love can be found in very strange places, just as betrayal and lies can be found in familiar locations. Enmity and brotherhood are sometimes side-by-side.

Be prepared for anything.


Jim Eastman heard the screams immediately. A girl's screams, shrill and quick. He paused, and listened. The sounds were coming from just ahead. The man took a deep breath, and then plunged ahead. The screams continued, and then were interrupted by a gunshot. As the echoes of the gunshot died, the scream came back, piercing and desperate. Jim lifted his submachine gun, and then began to run forward. He whipped around, into an alley-and tried to take in the scene.

He saw a teenage girl, pressing herself into the corner of an alley, and thugs with guns. Jim bit his tongue, and opened fire. Two shots, and the last two thugs turned around. Jim hit the third man, and then the fourth began to fire. The black man tried to dodge, but the first bullet hit him. He shot back, three times, and the last assaulter went down. Jim fell back against the wall, and slowly saw everything come back into focus.

The teenage girl had golden hair, and was covered in makeup. Now, though, the makeup was smudging, because she was crying. Next to her lay the body of a man in a trench coat, not one of the thugs. And then there were the four men with the guns. And then there was the blood, the blood and the pain. Jim clenched his teeth, looking down at his leg. There was a gaping bullet-hole in it. Whatever the ammunition had been in that gun, it had made a good-sized wound.


He looked back at the girl, who looked back up at him with fear and something else in her eyes. She rose, clutching a leather jacket closely around her; then, quickly, she looked over, and Jim followed her gaze. At the entrance of the alley stood four thugs, Danzer submachine guns aimed at Jim. He lifted his own weapon, and took a step backward towards cover in the alley.

"Don't shoot!" screamed the girl. "No more shooting!"

"Come on, Jenny," one of the men said.

The girl slowly began to move, and Jim leapt forward. "Don't touch her! I know what you want!"

As he raised his gun, he felt two blows on his head, and saw the four men clustering around him as he fell into darkness.


"Senator Prowetts, you have the floor."

"Thank you," replied the Senator, rising in his seat, turning to address the Senate. We're almost at a full session here...that's incredible. It must be all of the publicity. Well, not much more to go, this already got passed in the House... "My fellow Senators, I have sponsored the current bill that is being debated: the government contract with Neolabs to provide the bulk of our armed forces. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a move that will substantially decrease the amount of manpower required to operate the military, meaning that fewer of your loved ones will be in harm's way..."

As the speech dragged on, Prowetts stole glances around the chamber, watching certain other Congressmen. As they caught his glance, they nodded to him. He continued with his speech, stronger and more confident. As he sat down, there was no applause, but the sounds of affirmation slowly spread through the room. It had been a good speech...although perhaps it had been the bribes which had produced that effect.

And then came another voice, a voice that Prowetts knew well. That of Senator Jon Young. He gritted his teeth as the charismatic politician began his counter to Prowetts' claims and calls for support. He clenched his fists tightly, and breathed slowly...but he only barely managed to control his temper as Young ended his speech...to light applause. The older Senator shut his eyes, and slowly let a smile cross his lips, as he thought of the man he had talked to.


Arthur Branning took a deep breath, and walked to his window, feeling the sun warm him. He smiled, looking out at the view from his window, the view of the countryside outside of the city...now that had been fairly expensive. The CEO of Neolabs nodded, and smiled. He felt a swift breeze blow by, and then looked back inside. The house was empty for now; his son had left to work in the offices for the day. Branning grinned, and looked outside again.

"Well, I'm free for the day," he murmured. "It's nice to have a vacation like this once in a while...and to think that Thomas is learning how to take my place at the same time...delightful. Perhaps I'm going to go for a walk."

He stepped back from the window, and tried to clear his mind of everything, of his work, of the protesters, of the money...and to focus on what he had. Life could feel good, couldn't it?


"What was last night all about, Troy?" Ashley asked her husband, as he dressed in the uniform of the police force. "I don't understand...you were acting like something had happened. What's wrong?"

"Nothing, beautiful," the man answered. "Please...don't worry about a thing. It's alright. Trust me. I just...am trying to forget some things...bad memories..."

She nodded. "I see. Is it Bob, again?"

"Yeah..." He swallowed.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring it up again..."

"No, I'll be fine. Thanks."

"All right, come here," said the redhead, smiling and sitting up in bed.

He turned around, and bent down, kissing her. "Thanks. I'll see you in a while. Give Jaime a kiss on the cheek for me."

Ashley nodded. "Will do, sir!"

He had finished suiting up; Troy left the room, and shut the door. Ashley stared at the wood for a few moments, and frowned. Every day, he would always look back and blow her a kiss. Every day. But today...he'd simply left. She got out of bed, and slowly dressed. Shaking her head, she looked in the mirror, and shut her eyes.

Maybe it will be all right, just like he says. Maybe. Please, God, let it be all right.


The Hidden--Episode 3: Destroying Dawn

This is your future and your present. This is a story that was never meant for your ears, a story that never should have been told. Hear it now, and take heed. This is a message that has been left for you; listen to it. Truth is contained in the words that follow, truth and wisdom. Sown among the good of science is an equal amount of evil. Sown among the evils of Man are equal amounts of good. Science is not a god, and Man is not a devil. All the same...history often makes us wonder.

Mistrust what you can see. What is true may seem false, and what is not may seem to be true.

Sometimes, I no longer think that I know what is true.


I can see his face as clearly as in the dream, I can see it in front of me. Just like one of those Arabian Nights people...the Arabs. I suppose that's not nice of me, not fair of me...racist. I shouldn't be. It's bad to be racist, very bad.

But at any rate, I can see his face. I don't know his name. I don't know which of the Three he belongs to. I don't know if he's found anyone yet. I don't know so many things...but all I know is, he's running, he's hiding, and he needs me. I saw him in the dream, and he needs me now.

Why do I have these dreams? I'm not one of Them...I'm only a normal human. Why do I have the dreams, then? Is this a curse given to me...or a job that God is entrusting to me? Whichever it is, it's confusing. Somebody help me before my brain explodes.


"Troy, is that you?" a female voice called out as the door clicked shut in the dead silence.

"Yeah...it's me..." groaned Officer Johnson's voice.

A redhead, lithe and a bit short, came up to the man, who was shuffling down the entranceway to the house. "What have you been doing so late at night? I've been so worried about you..."


"Another late operation? Why don't you tell me these things?"

"No-I...no...I had to get air. Fresh air..."

"Troy, what were you doing? Was it something at work? Are there problems now? I thought you were the star officer..."

"It's not the force that's giving me...problems. It's...things."

"Things? What kind of things?"

"Well...things. Stress. I'm under a lot of stress, Ashley! Please...can you let me just relieve my stress, make life a little easier?"

"I didn't marry you to see this happen, Troy. I love you, I don't want to see you like this." She moved in closer, and slid her arms around him, looking up into his eyes. "Please, Troy, tell me. I don't care what it is, no matter what, you can tell me. Please."

Troy paused, and slid his right hand around her. He ran his left hand through her shoulder-length hair, and a tiny smile cracked his lips. "You're so beautiful like that...no wonder I married you."

"Nice try, lover boy," Ashley smiled back. "Nice try. Fine, I'll leave it at that for now...just...I don't like knowing that you're in trouble of some sort."

"Don't worry about me. It'll all be over in a week. Trust me on this one. It's almost over. I love you."

"I love you too, Troy."

He bent his head down, and the couple kissed for a brief moment. Troy smiled, and then stepped backward, letting her arms slide away. He moved to the side, and walked up the stairs, glancing back at her. The woman shook her head, and moved to the living room windows in front. She glanced out, and murmured softly to herself. There was something wrong with Troy. Undoubtedly. Ashley Johnson knelt by the window, and began to softly whisper prayers.


There was a faint hum as the motorized automatic prepared its volley from its strategic position: pressed against the head of Sam Browning. The owner of the gun sneered as he looked Browning straight in the face. The hitman's eyes were open and motionless, staring back at the man who held the gun. He pulled it back, aiming directly between Browning's eyes. He moved to a more comfortable position, and opened his mouth.

"Tough luck, Sam," he gloated. "I've got you for good this time. And that's a nice wad of cash that my buddy's giving to me. Sorry about that. I think your luck just ran out. I'll keep you around, because you're alive. You're useful, at least to the guys offering the bounty. So let's make this easy. I have you at gunpoint, if you move, you die. And I still get my bounty."

"All right, I give up," Sam said, standing. "You beat me this time. But just watch out, I will be coming after you."

"No need to worry about that," said the bounty hunter, standing, gun still trained on Sam. "Now, come with me. I'm not letting you out of my sight."

Sam nodded, and humbly followed. The man paused for a moment, and glanced up at the sky. "Such a beautiful scene...all of those colors...I want the world to end like that, don't you?"

When he turned back, Sam had vanished. The man started to cuss. Those words were the final ones that he spoke. A knife-thrust is a simple way to kill someone.

Dawn broke on the crimson scene.


The Hidden--Episode 2: Dinner and a Date With Death

This is your future and your present. It is a warning and a story of hope. Destruction and chaos are the lords of the inner cities, despite the best attempts of authorities to stop the syndicates of New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. To brave the cities, a person must either be stupid, suicidal, or in the pay of the gang lord with the most power. Or else, they have to have a sizable weapon on them at all times. It is a world of daily killings, where murder is commonplace in the streets. Civilization has reached new heights; justice in the cities is no longer hindered by the law, because the law has practically ceased to exist in the cities.

Johnny got his gun, and he has become the judge, jury and executioner.


"Get on the ground, now," the girl hissed. "Do you see this gun? It may be old, but it still shoots. I don't need a sniper pistol to blow your brains out. You're going to handle this slowly, and very carefully, if you want to live. If you're lucky."

"How did you find me?" growled the brown-skinned man. "And why are you trying to kill me?"

"You know why I came after you. Nobody screws with me on the streets. You're new around here, I bet. Because you should know about me, otherwise. Call me Adriann, and don't forget it. Otherwise, you'll get an extra bit of carbon alloy in your brain, courtesy of this beauty." She leveled her semi-automatic directly at his forehead. "You like the sight of that barrel? It's a lot prettier from the other end."

"What do you want?"

"This time, a warning for you. Don't screw with me again. Or the last thing you will see is my cute little finger pulling the trigger of this gun. Get out of here."

The man backed up, and slowly got to his feet. The girl sneered back at him, still aiming for his head with the pistol. The man nodded slowly, one hand on the handgun holstered across his chest. He picked up the submachine gun that Adriann had knocked out of his hand, and then turned away, walking down the street. He paused, and then looked back at her. She had lowered her gun, but still held it ready to aim and fire, ready to kill him. The man held his gun loosely.

"In case we meet again, you can call me Jim. Jim Eastman. I'm looking for my dad Peter. If you come across him, tell him that Jimmy's coming for him."

Adriann watched him leave, as she stood ice-faced. Dad. He's looking for his dad.


"I'm glad you could make it, Senator Prowetts," President Keldey told the man two seats down. "After all, it's nice to have the Chief Guest at dinner."

"I was attending to a brief emergency, Mr. President," replied the man, whose suit was slightly rumpled and waterstained. "I thought I could have it done long before dinner."

"Indeed. Well, I heard that you were sponsoring the bill up for debate tomorrow?" President Keldey sliced his steak, and put a small piece in his mouth.

"Yes, the Legatus Program. They promise to deliver the same number of soldiers to our army, for half the cost. Now that's a deal we can't refuse. Anywhere we can save money, we should. This bill will cut our military costs, and let us alleviate the budget elsewhere."

"I see. And exactly how does this 'Program' promise to deliver?"

Senator Prowetts took a small sip of water from his glass. "New training techniques, cost-effective equipment, and access to raw materials. I am very impressed by them."

"Well, I'm glad that you've found a contractor you like. We'll see how the debate plays out."

Prowetts nodded, and turned his attention to his plate. He glanced up, and saw Senator Young sitting a few chairs down, across the table. The youthful Congressman narrowed his eyes for a moment, but then turned his attention to conversation with another politician next to him. Jon Young...one of the most recent Senators elected, and yet for some reason, he was gaining prestige.

Stupid kid, he thought, continuing to eat.


"Mr. Branning, what do you have to say about the people who criticize your pending government contract as 'warmongering'?" shouted one of the reporters who was shoving a microphone at the Neolabs Chairman. "Can we get a statement about the Legatus Program?"

Arthur Branning, third-generation philanthropist, pushed past the media, and said, "I'll be releasing a statement to the press. Watch for my statement."

He shook his head, going past the crowds that had gathered in front of Turner Memorial Hospital. There were definite benefits of having an escort. It helped to get through crowds. His media team had definitely done a good job on this one, covering all the bases. Message boards, a cleverly done "amateur" video online, a blog post or two...guerrilla media certainly had its perks. Branning reached the top of the steps leading to the main entrance of the hospital, and stopped, turning back towards the crowd. One second to let them start whatever video recorders they had...and then he began.

"I am very grateful for this opportunity," he said, "to give back to the citizens of Washington DC, to give them the chance that should be given to any person. This hospital will be the best-equipped in the nation, the most up-to-date in the country, and one of the best hospitals in the world. Here, any person will be able to get treatment, and we will enter into a glorious future! I thank you all for the opportunity which you have given me to give back to our nation. Turner Memorial Hospital will be the brightest star in our medical history!"


"How much for the kill?" whispered the man.

His name was Sam Browning. Every man in New York City knew his name. Every man in New York City knew that he was a wanted man. Every man in New York City was terrified at the thought of trying to capture him. Yes, there was a bounty on his head. The problem was, he would kill you probably within twelve hours of when you accepted the job. It was usually with a knife that he did it, sometimes with a blast-pistol. That was his trademark, a short-range attack. Never a sniper rifle, never a machine-gun spray, always a single, short-range attack. One that would normally be easy to stop. Yet somehow, he always was able to infiltrate any defense, able to kill his target with ease...and able to escape, undetected.

"The usual price," replied the man in the trenchcoat. "I need this job carried out quickly. Can you manage that one? I want this one in the news, too. Make it spectacular."

"I think I have to ask double for that, then," Sam answered. "Quick and spectacular."

"I'll pay double. As long as you do it."

"You've got yourself a deal. He's dead meat."