Waking up was hard to do. It took Eddy a moment to realize where he was, after which the memories of the previous night came back like a flood. He looked over to her side of the bed. She wasn’t in it. Instinctively, his eyes drifted to the foot of the bed, in case she was standing there with her gun leveled with his head. She wasn’t there, either.
That was when he smelled the bacon. She was cooking him breakfast; an unusual thing for someone with as many servants as she no doubt employed. She was playing house, trying to make him feel like old times… trying to make him comfortable. Undoubtedly, her ultimate agenda required him to complete immerse himself in the illusion.
Still… he was never one to refuse fresh-cooked bacon. He found a green robe hanging next to the red one, still smelling of the plastic it had been in when purchased, but he slipped it on and headed through the door. She was there, wearing the nightgown she’d started out in the previous night, flipping the bacon onto a glass plate covered with a paper towel.
He moved over to the table without speaking and sat down, reaching over and grabbing the large bowl full of scrambled eggs. They were still hot. She was definitely good at creating the illusion. Fortunately, he was good at seeing through it. After shoveling eggs onto his plate, he grabbed some bacon then dowsed his eggs with hot sauce. There was already enough pepper on the bacon to burn the tongue.
She walked over and stooped down behind him. Her arms draped over his shoulders and across his chest a half-second before her lips brushed across his ear. His shudder wasn’t voluntary. “Good morning, Marido.”
“Morning, Lexa,” he said before stuffing bacon into his mouth without further hesitation. He had to give her one thing… she was one hell of a cook. “Long day of murdering my friends planned?”
“Just the usual,” she said, her voice deadpan. If he was going to make this difficult, she was going to treat it just like any other conversation. She casually walked over and deposited the bacon pan into the dishwasher. “Tonight, I’d like to discuss the future of our reconciliation… and your place in my organization.”
Eddy smirked, though it was lost on her seeing as her back was turned to him. “I’ll be back late. I’ve got a long night of assassin-bashing planned.”
She smiled as she turned around to face him. She walked to him and past him as casually as she’d loaded the dishwasher. “Dress warm, Amante. It’s supposed to be a cold one tonight.”
Alexandra had been right. The sun had barely set and the bitter wind was cutting through his uniform. He considered, as he always did this time of year, designing a cold weather version. Maybe Lexa would make one for him since he was now “working for her.” That thought made him smile to himself.
A slim figure in a long coat smoothly leapt to the roof from the fire escape. She was wearing a Kevlar-lined, black, leather bodysuit beneath the coat. No doubt, it was insulated for this kind of night. There was a Strategoi field agent patch on her left shoulder, but no rank insignia on the right. Her hair was down, combed straight. Despite the freezing air, she looked, for lack of a better word, hot.
He’d never really noticed it before. They’d teased, flirted, and bantered since they’d met, but it just never crossed his mind before. No doubt, it was thoughts of her that had blocked him from noticing, then memories of her after the fact. Kardiac had always liked Jenna… she had a fire in her, and she bit back when he’d turn up the sarcasm. Despite all of that, however, he wondered why he was noticing now.
Before he had a chance to reconcile his thoughts, she’d crossed over to him. She took a deep, hesitant breath. “Ready?”
“Almost,” he said. A thought and a charge later, the final piece of his uniform was in place. “Now… I’m ready.”
She shook her head, a thin smile appearing in spite of herself. Without a word, she followed him as he walked towards the far side of the roof, opposite the fire escape. “My bike’s down here,” he said as she stepped up beside him.
She raised an eyebrow. “But the fire escape is over there,” she said, pointing. Then she let out a partially-stifled “yip” as he grabbed her arms and wrapped them around his neck, dragging her off of the building as he swung himself over the edge. She closed her eyes but, realizing that they weren’t falling, opened them again almost immediately. He was clinging to the side of the building, static crackling at his fingertips.
“Warn me next time,” she said, genuinely annoyed.
She could feel him chuckle through the muscles in his back. “Now, where’s the fun in that?” He felt her take a hold of him for herself, her hands locked over his chest, so he let go and held the building with both hands. He couldn’t help but remember Lexa’s arms around him that morning, in much the same way. He took a deep breath, forcing the image from his mind.
In a minute, they had reached ground, mounted his bike, and were on their way. Her arms were wrapped around his waist. She had been the last woman to ride with him like this. It felt good to have someone else riding with him again.
And for the first time in a long time, he wasn’t thinking of her. That, of course, made him start. He wasn’t over her, but he knew it was over. He’d finally accepted it. Being with Lexa, as wrong as it was, had given him something to force that chapter of his life to a close. When he finally closed the cell door on Lexa, maybe he could finally move on. Shaking himself from his private thoughts, he tapped his comm on to two-way and discussed his plan with her. She made a few suggestions and he smiled to himself. She was better than he’d given her credit for.
He felt Jenna’s grip tighten as he took a hard corner, putting them on final approach to the rendezvous point.14th Street was known to the locals as Four Corners road, because if you followed it for its entire length, it would take you through the Lourds and touch on all four “corners” where the low-rent district bordered the Industrial Park District. The fourth of those corners was right on the Garrison City Limits, and it was about as far from the Docks as a person could get in the city.
In other words, it wasn’t one of Karidac’s usual haunts. The street just ended when it passed beneath the Double-L Beltway overpass. History would tell that the city lost funding for construction on the road, construction that would have connected it to the Double-L and points beyond the city. The locals, however, just saw the sudden stop as one more reminder that the Lourds would be their eternal, inescapable prison.
If someone was looking for the dregs of the city, they could usually be located under the 14th/Double-L Overpass. Tonight, however, it appeared that something had scared the rats into their holes. It wasn’t a hawk or even a cat… it was just a swarm of bigger rats. At least a dozen members of Los Diablos Verde, the Green Devils, had congregated beneath the bridge. And at the very moment Kardiac and Silhouette arrived on the scene, they were looking to the sky, squinting to watch the approach of a black helicopter flying without lights.
Kardiac didn’t slow down. He signaled to Silhouette, who slid around him and positioned herself in front of him on the bike, facing backwards. She wrapped her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck. He raised his feet onto his seat, focused his body’s bio-energy into his leg muscles, and leapt straight up, letting their momentum arc him forward. Charging his hands and feet, he caught hold of the underside of the overpass and clung there, even as his bike slid through the amassed Devils, taking out four of them as it crashed and tumbled through the crowd.
The maneuver left Silhouette facing down and locked against the bottom of the overpass with Kardiac as her harness. She pulled her guns from her hips and opened up on the gang from above. Her twin F.E.D. (Focused-Energy Disruptor) pistols had been specially modified by Strategoi to interface with Jenna’s unique talents. She focused her mind on feelings of fear, and those targets struck by her blasts were immediately thrown into the chaotic panic that accompanied blind terror.
By the time Kardiac and Silhouette dropped from above to engage the gang-bangers in hand-to-hand combat, half of them were already fighting the others as they tried desperately to escape, driven by Jenna’s empathic direction. Los Diablos Verde were dangerous in large numbers, but they were also untrained. It took little time to mop them up. Unfortunately, the time it did take was enough for the helicopter to land.
As the last of the gang members fell, a man dressed in a suit that shimmered with a metallic gleam stepped from the cargo helicopter, flanked on either side by two men in loose-fitting black togs. Kardiac smiled as he noticed them. They’d made the right call. The sharp-dressed man had come for Capin, which meant at least that prediction had been an accurate one. “Fall back,” he said to Silhouette, who immediately took three steps back and two to the right.
She might normally have argued, but Jenna knew he wasn’t trying to protect her or take her from the fight. He was merely putting her in position for her part of the fight. One of the men in black began moving towards her, one towards Kardiac. The high-voltage hero took in a deep breath and let his mind drift to several images. He saw her leaving that night. He saw Lexa holding him this very morning. He saw Vega frying from the amps he was pushing through the dying man’s body.
Silhouette sensed the guilt that came over him. It was more profound than any emotion she’d sensed from him before, even the one that had nearly floored her the night before. In a different time or place, she might try to talk to him, comfort him, but not tonight. No, tonight that surge of emotion was a signal… and it meant “go,” Their movements were well-choreographed. Kardiac leapt to the side and Jenna echoed the movement. They both changed directions and rushed forward, Silhouette’s foot slamming solidly into the black-clad man who’d been approaching Eddy even as the sharp-dressed man dodged Kardiac’s attack.
Kardiac didn’t look over his shoulder. He knew that it would have been fatal when facing a man who managed to hold his own against Blue and Capin simultaneously. He had to trust Sil to handle the two thugs on her own. So he let her fight while he let himself be toyed with. The metal-clad man took no offensive action, instead amusing himself with dodging Eddy’s attacks. “You are not my intended dance partner,” his opponent said with a smug look on his face.
“Probably a lot of people saying that right about now.” Kardiac continued to press the attack, growing more frustrated as the sharp-dressed man simply side-stepped, jumped over, or leaned to avoid his every attack. “You’re a slippery one, aren’t you?” he asked, trying to cover his growing irritation. He really wanted to hit this guy. But hitting him wasn’t the plan. All he had to do was hold him off for a while… wait for the moment.
The sharp-dressed man simply smiled, still effortlessly dodging all of Kardiac’s blows. “I have been told as much,” he said, smugly. “But then, I’ve also been told you are a worthy opponent. Truly I expected more.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” he replied, still throwing punches that he knew weren’t going to land. “I don’t have a wolf’s instincts or a lifetime of training,” he added, smiling.
“Clearly,” his opponent answered. “But I won’t hold it against you. I’m certain that the local thugs and petty thieves find you quite intimidating.”
Kardiac saw from the corner of his eye that Silhouette had finished with her opponents. Still, she remained well out of reach, standing back and not coming to his aid. She was simply watching. Good girl, he thought, his eyes fully returning to his foe. “I’ve got something the others don’t have, though,” he said, sticking to his original subject.
The sharp-dressed man smirked, side-stepping yet another attack. “Is this where you say ‘her,’ and I get attacked by a second opponent, or are we headed to something more cliché like, say, ‘powers,'”he said mockingly. “You see,” he added, leaping over a leg sweep, “I’ve got a few powers of my own.”
“Can’t prove that by me,” Kardiac replied. “But, no. Wrong on both counts,” he added, missing with another swing. “I was actually going to say ‘style.'”
“But I can tell from your outfit that you’ve never heard the word.”
The sharp-dressed man lost his smile. There was insult in his eyes and anger in his heart. Kardiac noticed the former. Silhouette sensed the latter. It was, in fact, what she was waiting for. The moment had come. She tapped her comm twice, something only Kardiac could hear. It let him know that his adversary was ready to attack. Only one thing left to do.
“But the powers are nice,” he said, launching the taser wire from his gauntlet towards his foe. He knew he was going to miss. He also knew he was going to leave himself open to attack. He hadn’t told Silhouette that part of the plan. Her reaction upon recognizing the split-second of vulnerability was genuine… and convincing.
The sharp-dressed man took a half-step back, reformed the metal in his sleeve into a long, thin spear, and shoved it into Kardiac’s chest. The vigilante barely had the time to position himself to ensure that the strike wouldn’t pierce and vital organs as it traveled into his chest and out his back. Unfortunately for Jenna, he was far enough away that she couldn’t be sure he’d survived. Eddy hoped his opponent wouldn’t be sure either. In fact, he was counting on it.
And he got lucky. The sharp-dressed man lifted him into the air on the spike covering his arm. As if the pain of the initial attack wasn’t bad enough, Kardiac was nearly overcome by the pain of sliding down the length of the spear slightly. “Yes,” answered his opponent. “the powers are nice.” He drew back his other fist, reforming his other sleeve into an evil-looking cestus.
“Im… pressive,” Eddy coughed, struggling against the pain to speak. The taste of copper burned in his throat. But he had one last thing to say before he let the assassin end his life. “Try mine.”
His opponent’s eyes widened slightly as he realized his mistake. Before he could reshape his sleeve, however, Kardiac let loose with everything he had. He hadn’t used his electrical powers on any of the Devils. He’d been saving it up. He hoped it would be enough. It was. The blue-white energy danced across the sharp-dressed man’s metal suit, tiny arcs leaping and licking at his skin.
The spike in Kardiac’s chest went limp as its master lost consciousness. The vigilante’s body dropped to the ground, and he didn’t have the strength left to land on his feet. Silhouette was on him in an instant, rolling him over to stopper the hole in his back with her leg while holding both hands over the entrance wound on his chest. “Stay with me,” she said, her breath hot on his face. Her mouth was so close to his that he could feel the air stir as she spoke.
“If you’re gonna kiss me, you might want to get on with it,” he said with a painful chuckle, blood trickling from his mouth. “Not sure how long ’til I’m too far gone to remember it.”
She smiled despite her worry, pulling her face back so that she could look him in the eyes. “You’re incorrigible,” she said, flatly. She heard Bug’s voice through her comm, telling her that Strategoi’s medical retrieval team was only sixty seconds from her location. She had taken the second to trigger the medical emergency signal, but she couldn’t take her hands away from the wounds long enough to answer her colleague’s message.
“You’ve got to hold on. They’re almost here.”
“Don’t worry,” he replied through the haze that was overtaking him. “I’m not going to give you any unnecessary paperwork.”
She smiled wanly, trying to hide her emotions from him. Being an Empath, it was always a concern to her that others might be able to read what she was really feeling. She really didn’t need to worry at that moment… he could barely see her through the fog over his eyes. “You know me,” she said. “I really hate doing paperwork.”
And that was the last thing Eddy heard before the swimming world disappeared, and everything fell into darkness.