Patrick did not like the plan, not one bit, especially the part where they threw him out of a helicopter. Didn’t seem fair. If all they needed was a projectile, he could probably throw Jared hard enough to break through a few floors. The thought made him chuckle inside. Jared was ok for a nerdy white guy, though Patrick had to admit he was looking a lot more athletic than he used to. They’d never really hung out back in school, but Jared had tutored him in math before a couple of important tests. If it weren’t for Jared’s help, he might have flunked off the football team. Plus they’d shared Steve as a friend. The thought brought a momentary pang. Rest thee well, fallen friend, forever in memory of those you left behind.
Right now Jared was suggesting they make use of Patrick’s powers to make a hole straight to the bottom of the museum, which was not endearing him to Patrick, tangentially shared history or not. To accomplish this task Patrick would have to jump out of the helicopter a couple hundred feet up and change into his golem form. It sounded rather dangerous and, more importantly, it sounded like it might hurt.
Patrick didn’t like pain much. He shook off most things with ease. Other players on the football field might as well have been gnats to him. Even when May shot him with the energy projector, it was no more painful than most people would feel if punched in the stomach. The tank shell had hurt though, feeling as if a bus ran into him.
Patrick had the suspicion that hurtling through the sky through several floors of a building into the ground would be a comparable experience. Still, he couldn’t really think of a better plan and he knew what would happen if he didn’t follow orders.
When Patrick regained consciousness following the tank shell, he’d found himself strapped to a metal bed with heavy steel cuffs. He’d tried unsuccessfully to burn through them. There’d been a window made of thick glass that Patrick could guess was bullet proof. On the other side had been Doctor Mirkov.
He’d since learned that Mirkov usually preferred to greet his new subjects from their bedsides. He was old, but actually had a great deal of martial arts experience, something Jared learned the hard way when he’d tried to punch him out. But he wasn’t sure Patrick’s restraints would hold and decided Patrick might potentially kill him before he could demonstrate the consequences of disobedience.
Patrick remembered the demonstration well, every nerve fiber being set on fire at once by the nuero chip they’d put in his brain. It hurt more than every instance of pain he could ever remember put together, even including the tank shell. Patrick knew they could do that to him now anytime they wanted to and he wasn’t inclined to give them a reason.
“We’re in position. Sorry man, I know this isn’t ideal,” Jared said apologetically. Jared had been conversing with the pilot to figure out if they were over the target yet. Patrick took a deep breath and tried not to think about how high up they were. He knew it was silly, but he’d always been afraid of heights, maybe even more so than he was afraid of pain. But he was as averse to letting others see his fear as he usually was to letting them hear how eloquently he could speak. He forced himself to grin. Into the abyss we leap, hurdling headlong into the dark unknown to escape the monsters lying in the sun, plain as day.
“No worries, this is going to be fucking fun. Here it goes!” He threw himself out of the helicopter before he could think about it more. He was glad his powers made it impossible for him to use a helmet. It made it harder for them to monitor his stream of curses as he fell through the air. Wind whipped against his face and brought tears to his eyes.
He began to transform. He felt his skin harden and his already muscular frame began to bulge against his combat suit. He knew they designed this particular suit especially so he couldn’t easily burn through it and a strange sense of gratitude surged through him. The only way hurtling through the air was likely to be worse was if he were hurtling through the air naked.
He closed his eyes tightly. Now that they’d turned to molten fire he was no longer tearing up, but he really didn’t feel the need to keep watching the museum’s ceiling coming up to meet him. He tried to focus on breathing and brought in his legs, turning himself into a human canon ball.
The initial impact was surprisingly easy. The roof was made of a web of metal and glass and he had the good fortune to land on a window instead of one of the support struts. The glass burst beneath him, shards showering down along with his body. It would have ripped a normal person to pieces, but he barely felt it.
The second impact was a lot harder. The floor was made of marble and punching a hole through it was painful. The next two floors weren’t quite as bad, but when he finally broke through into the basement and slammed into the concrete floor the wind was knocked out of him. Never would I have conceived that I might miss the sensation, relatively speaking, of being hit by explosive ordnance thrust forth by goddamn TANK.
He clung to consciousness, forcing himself to remember some choice Redarctican curse words with which he might express his displeasure to Doctor Mirkov. This was the part of the plan during which he was most vulnerable. It was unlikely their opponent could hurt him in his golem form, but if he lost consciousness and reverted back to his human physique then he might be killable. It would be at least a couple of minutes before Jared and May could join him.
He climbed to his feet and looked around. There didn’t seem to be any large cats in the room, but he supposed they were good at stalking. Debris littered the area around him. Priceless artifacts brought down for restoration were crushed beneath the bits of ceiling that had collapsed with him. It gave him a thrill of pleasure to think about damaging all these relics that were important to the Redarctican government. Mirkov probably wouldn’t care about the artifacts, but maybe he’d get in trouble if there was extensive collateral damage.
Patrick looked up into the hole he’d made. It was too dark for him to see the top, but he could see snowflakes falling down through it. He wondered how cold it was in here. He could never tell since he was always hot.
Two cables came down through the hole and a moment later Jared and May came sliding down. May landed lightly whereas Jared touched down a little more clumsily, newfound fitness failing to fully compensate for the years of athletic activity May and Patrick had engaged in.
Both of them were now wearing the black combat helmets he first saw May in. He knew they could communicate with each other through the speakers in their helmets. But they still hadn’t gotten even a speaker for him that could withstand the heat he produced. Since they weren’t supposed to split up, he hoped it wouldn’t be an issue.
“So, what now?” he asked.
“You kind of daydream, don’t you? We went over this. Now we throw a gas canister down the tunnel. Mirkov was just testing us. He already positioned people at the end in case our opponent went down it. But so far no one has come out. If they’re waiting in the tunnel we need to flush them out with the gas, but Mirkov thinks that they’re probably still skulking around the museum trying to figure out another way out.”
“So bro, bottom line, we find ‘em, and we beat ‘em up?” Patrick asked, unabashed at the fact he wasn’t paying any attention while they were figuring out the plan. There are far too many words to think about to waste the effort listening to simple concepts expressed as more complicated sentiment dressed up as strategy. Patrick resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the hypocrisy of his internal verbal diarrhea. Sometimes he really hated how ADD he was.
“Basically,” Jared said patiently. “Now where is the sewer access tunnel?” Jared turned towards May.
“You place a lot of faith in me, thinking I’ll remember the schematics,” May’s speaker responded. Patrick was envious of her. They were all the way out here while her actual body was snugly back at base. And if her surrogate was killed, she’d be done with the mission.
“Am I wrong to?” Jared asked. “I assume you can take a minute to look them up on your computer if you really need to.” May smiled, shaking her head, and then led the way. A minute later they came to a door with a no access sign on it. The door looked locked, barred, and dusty.
“Unlikely they came through this. Guess we can rule out the easy way. Still, better safe than sorry. Maybe we’ll get lucky,” Jared said. “Patrick, could you do the honors?”
“Us lucky? Fat chance,” Patrick replied. The gods of fortune smile on stray dogs more than us. Or perhaps it is the gods of karma laughing at our misfortunate, insulted that I’ve given into the soul crushing chains of slavery, thrown off by my people so long ago, rather than face trials of momentary agony.
He cracked his knuckles and plunged his hands through the wall on either side of the door. Metal ripped and bent under the force of his thrusts. He grabbed either side of the door and pulled, ripping the very frame out of the wall.
“Might have been a little excessive, but otherwise awesome,” Jared said, plucking a gas canister off his suit and pulling the pin. He threw it down the tunnel. “Please put the door back, best you can. I don’t think any of us like the scent of tear gas.” Patrick shook his head, remembering some unpleasant training sessions. He wouldn’t describe it so much as painful, but damn was it irritating.
“Now comes the hard part, we need to sweep each floor without getting ambushed,” Jared said. “This would be easier if we had heat sensors or something. If we’re really dealing with some sort of cat person it’s going to be impossible to sneak up on them and easy for them to sneak up on us.”
“Well, not if we keep talking, for reals,” Patrick said, starting towards the stairs. The other two began following him. It gave him a little satisfaction. May was technically their leader, though Jared was giving quite a bit of input on this mission. But he’d been the captain of whatever team he played on for as long as he could remember, so sometimes it irked him a little to follow the orders of his frailer team members.
Can’t have it both ways, regardless of what cake related metaphors might tell me. Only way to take charge with these two would be to reveal things I’d rather not. Besides, the nerd isn’t doing too badly. It was Jared who kept giving him a heads up and pointing at a new direction. He was content to follow Patrick physically, but it was clear he had a strategic search pattern in mind.
Jared was the kind of guy who liked to stay low key, out of the lime light. Patrick had been teammates with such people before. There were guys who were better at thinking about the strategy behind the plays than he was, but who needed Patrick’s charisma and athletic prowess for the team to have any hope of executing them. Given Patrick’s own penchant for acting, it was the sort of person he could relate to a lot more than he was likely to ever let on.
They came across the first body near the entrance to the basement floor, a curator working a late night shift by the look of him. He wore a white uniform that was stained with red from the claw wounds carved across his chest. It was the torn jugular that had finished him off though, blood spatter covering a nearby wall. Shit, nasty. Jared looked intently at the floor and shook his head. If he was hoping to find bloody tracks, he was disappointed.
As they arrived onto the first floor, or the ground floor as they called it in this country, Patrick saw some of the exhibits around them. Priceless paintings and million dollar vases. There were Faberge eggs worth more than mansions and tiny dolls made of precious gemstones. All of it was lit up softly by display lights. I begin to suspect serious mental instability in our query, to go through the expenditure of effort to steal valuables and he’s not even tried to grab any of the present bounty? Give me a bag and thirty minutes.
But the exhibits looked undisturbed. Patrick wondered how much trouble he’d get in if he casually crushed a few more national treasures. He resisted the temptation and decided to be satisfied with the ones he already destroyed on the way down. He wondered if the statue next to the hole in the floor was missing its arms before he’d come smashing through.
After another thirty minutes it became clear that Jared was becoming antsy. He paused a moment and seemed to be communicating with May through the helmet.
“This is taking too long. They could be following in our tracks for all we know. I have an idea. May’s going to lead us to the main office so we can make an announcement.”
May led the way through the museum to a room. Jared looked around a bit until he could find the PA system. He flicked it on.
“Ok, listen up,” his voice echoed from all over the museum. Patrick wondered what he was up to, curiosity breaking through his internal stream of thoughts. “We are going to walk around a bit longer, see some lovely artwork, and take a break from the special agent thing. Maybe marvel a bit at some impressionist works or admire the pointillism. We’re also going to plant some bombs. Quite a few bombs, which I really don’t suggest trying to tamper with. You see, we don’t give a flying fuck about this museum. Now we’re going to go meet back up at the entrance in exactly one hour. If there is anyone left alive in the museum, I suggest you meet us there. And I know what you are thinking, ‘there’s no way he’d do that’. Well, I hope you’re watching what comes next.”
Jared walked out of the office with a brisk pace. He pulled out an electric baton and walked over to a sculpture by Michelle Afremov. It was a piece over five hundred years old, at least according to the little plaque Patrick saw beside it. Jared tried to smash it and only left a scratch.
“Well…that was sturdier than expected. Patrick, would you do the honors again?” Jared is much more willing to take refuge in audacious action than I would ever have imagined. He smiled.
“If you insist,” he hauled back and slammed his fist into the sculpture, shattering it into hundreds of pieces. It felt so good he barely even cared about the ramifications.
Jared walked over to a handy dispenser of hand sanitizer and smashed off the covering. He grabbed the bag of sanitizer inside and walked over to a painting by Von Malevich. It was a beautiful painting depicting a garden in splashes of vivid color. In the middle of the treaty were two well-dressed men shaking hands.
“The Accord,” Jared said. “It was based upon the signing of the peace treaty between imperial forces and the Red Army following the revolution. If I remember my art history class, this painting was last sold at auction for 200 million dollars before being donated to this museum. It’s one of the most valuable paintings created in the last hundred and fifty years and the most significant created by a Redarctican artist. It really is beautiful.” He paused a moment, as if to drink up its beauty. Does its beauty come from the particular arrangement of colors and lines, or from the historic moment of peace arriving to a long suffering people? Both? A minute passed, then another. Patrick wondered if Jared’s waiting involved the sort of internal debate on beauty he was having. Finally Jared moved. “Well, time to burn it.”
Patrick gave a start. Jared began squirting the hand sanitizer all over the painting. 200 million dollars. Are we really worth that much to them? Even May seemed hesitant.
“Do we really have to do this?” she asked.
“Probably not,” Jared said. He pulled out a lighter. “But I assume if Doctor Mirkov didn’t approve of this strategy he would have radioed for us to stop. So given his implicit approval, all I can say is… fuck Redarctica.” He moved to set the hand sanitizer alight.
“Wait!” a voice rang out across the room. “Please stop, please!” It was a woman. A beautiful woman, in Patrick’s opinion. She might be a year or two older than him, but he was certain it wasn’t more than that. Perhaps a freshman or sophomore in college, like he would have been if life hadn’t thrown him this curb ball. Her skin was dark and creamy; she had curly brown hair and curved in all the other right places. She looked to be wearing a curator’s uniform .
“And why shouldn’t I?” Jared asked, hand holding still with the lighter ready to spark.
“Because it’s a priceless work of art,” she said. Jared’s helmet tipped to the side in contemplation. Then he brought out his baton.
“Beatin’ on innocent bitches a bit far, bro,” Patrick said, positioning himself between Jared and the young woman. Demeaning word choice to avoid alignment with Redarctican national, alliteration pattern to break his train of thought, while body language signals lack of cooperation with intent. Damn I’m good. “She just a curator.”
“Looks can be deceiving,” Jared said. “Look closely at her-“ Jared was interrupted by a searing pain across Patrick’s back and a yelp of pain from his attacker. “Clothes.”
“Damn, what are you made of?” the woman cried out. She was nursing a hand that was already swelling nastily from where his blood had burned her. From her fingertips extended some wicked claws. Looking at her clothes he saw that there was a nasty rip stained with blood on one side. Someone who’d sustained such an injury would have a lot different priorities than saving artwork. A surge of anger went through Patrick.
“You did not just try and kill me first. You think this some movie where I’m the expendable token black guy? Why you gotta’ do me like that girl?” Dammit, I did not see that coming. Hide behind stereotypes. Patrick had no intention of letting the others know the real reason he was angry was the beautiful woman’s ‘betrayal’ had touched on a personal hurt that hadn’t healed.
“Patrick, pretty sure she just went for you cuz’ your back was turned. I mean she’s also black, buddy,” Jared said calmly. “Really doubt it’s a racial thing.”
“So? Look at me. Do I look like the easiest target, even with my back turned? I hate to tell you this, but just because someone’s a member of a race doesn’t mean they aren’t racist against that race. You never met my great-uncle Jeremiah. That guy was a slavery apologizer even though his own grand pop was a former slave.” He glanced over at the woman, who was staring at them incredulously. Might have overplayed that language usage. Should have used much more slang. Dammit. Patrick cursed his carelessness in six languages, further annoyed knowing that Jared had assessed the situation more accurately than him.
“Didn’t send the most professional team, did they?” she asked.
“Says the woman who broke into a museum next to a major police station and didn’t bother hiding the bodies of the guards she killed,” May said calmly, slipping into a fighting stance with her baton at the ready. Much to Patrick’s surprise, the woman smiled.
“You’re assuming that wasn’t on purpose to lure you here. I could have just as easily robbed a bank, but I figured while I was waiting I might as well enjoy some artwork and complete another mission I was assigned. I didn’t expect you to be quite so destructive of the art though. Seriously, what is wrong with you?” On the last bit she burst forth with a speed Patrick didn’t know was possible, form sliding fluidly into that of a jaguar. Her clothes tore off her body as the muscles and bones shifted, turning her into a deadly killing machine.
Patrick threw a punch, but it was far too slow. She’d learned her lesson and avoided him, aiming at Jared.
“Shit,” Jared cried out as she pounced. He tried to defend with his baton, but he wasn’t trained to fight intelligent jungle cats. The baton made contact, but awkwardly. The charge clearly hurt her, but her momentum still brought her claws down across his throat, nearly severing his head from his body. Patrick had never seen Jared in such bad shape and wondered if she’d just killed him for real.
May took advantage of the opening the woman left without the slightest hesitation, jabbing the baton into her ribs and throwing her poly-carbonate net over the cat. The jaguar transformed back into her human form, now naked as lark. Damn, why the hottest ones always got to be crazy? Is the qualitative quality of their carnal qualities acting as an evolutionary shield for their mental deficiencies? She was trapped, but considering how strong the voltage was for the two baton hits she took she didn’t appear much the worse for wear.
“Hate to tell you this…but your nets holes are too big.” Suddenly she was shifting again, this time not into a cat but into a snake. She struck out through the net with lightning speed, quickly wrapping herself around May’s arms and keeping her from striking again with the baton. She bit into May’s throat. Fortunately May didn’t need her throat to communicate.
“Burn us both,” May said through her speaker. The woman might have captured May, but she’d also left herself vulnerable in doing so. If she thought to have a human shield, it was poorly played. Patrick grabbed the end of May’s arms and put his hand on the bundled coils wrapping around her arms.
As much as his more barbaric instincts pushed him towards killing this woman, he knew he couldn’t allow himself to do so. But he exerted enough heat to leave some nasty burns that should help disable the opponent. The woman certainly screamed and unwrapped from May’s arms, though the damage had been done. May’s surrogate was clearly dying.
“Patrick, plan Dawn,” May commanded. Patrick had this technique used on him often enough in training to know what was about to happen and covered his eyes and ears immediately. May activated several flash bangs attached to her surrogate, exploding in a flash of white and deafening noise. Sparks landed on The Accord and set it alight. Fragments pinged off his skin harmlessly.
Patrick looked up, and saw that the woman had momentarily changed back into a human form, thrashing around in pain. Patrick acted to knock her out, but to his surprise she dodged him. He stepped towards her again and threw another punch, which she once again avoided.
How? Is she getting lucky? There was no way she could see him and she shouldn’t be able to hear anything either. She smiled, sensing his confusion.
“Snakes are deaf. All you got were my eyes and I’ve learned to fight blind from the best. Also, you reek of sulfur.”
“Damn you,” Patrick shouted. He was sensitive about his smell. Even in human form people told him he had bad BO and he showered regularly, used extra-strength deodorant and poured on the cologne. But in his golem state nothing could hide the rotten egg scent he gave off.
He assessed her. Clearly she was injured, burn marks spread over her body. But it wasn’t enough to slow her down much. Then he noticed Jared out of the corner of his eye. He smiled. He grabbed a sculpture of a couple dancing off a pedestal and hurled it at her. She managed to sense it coming and dodged to her right as he figured she would.
“Please tell me that wasn’t a piece by Garthen,”
“Durov actually,” Jared said, plunging a knife into her leg. Her leg collapsed out from under her as Jared quickly rolled out of striking distance. When the light from a display case hit him, Patrick could see there were angry pink lines across the exposed skin where she had torn through the combat suit into his throat. “Now how about being nice and surrendering?”
“Heh, a healer. Is your little friend over there also?” she asked, nodding her head towards the general direction of May’s body. “I mean, I’ve heard of Redarctic suicide soldiers. But killing yourself just to blind someone? Not likely.”
“Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t,” Jared said, crouched in a fighting stance once more. Patrick knew that Jared was trying to force her to keep part of her attention on May’s body. Well played. The woman was hobbled, but he knew there were few things more dangerous than a cornered animal. He really didn’t like how she was still smiling.
“I’ll admit, I underestimated you. When I saw that Grey Snow sent a bunch of kids, I didn’t have high hopes of learning anything useful. But I’ve learned all sorts of things. I’d say you should join my organization, but it’s clear you’re being forced to work for the one you’re already part of. Unfortunately that means I’ll have to kill you.”
She began to transform, body shifting. Patrick moved to put himself between her and Jared. She was fast and her claws could cut through his skin, but the cuts on his back were relatively minor and he’d been wide open. He figured if she managed to cut Jared down again she might not leave enough left this time to heal.
But she wasn’t changing into a cat or snake this time. It wasn’t anything Patrick had ever seen before, at least not in real life. Her body was expanding and he wondered if her mass was increasing the way his did, violating varying laws of physics he hadn’t bothered to learn. He hoped not, or she might end up stronger than him.
This is ridiculous, ludicrous, outlandishly outrageous and all the other synonyms I don’t have time to think out. How the hell are we supposed to fight a dragon? He watched as her back crushed up through the ceiling, wings shattering crumbling marble and plaster down around her. Evidently any concern she might have had for the artwork was gone. Her mouth opened wide, sharp teeth arranged in a menacing grin. A deep coughing sound came from her throat that Patrick could only assume was laughter.
“Well…shit,” he said faintly, half a second before her tail whipped around and sent him flying through the wall.