The Kitty: From Wives To Wormholes!
As the minutes turned to an hour, I was just about sick of walking through this dump, radiation included; being down here for this long, I could practically feel it all stick to my skin like dry mud. The bill for radiation culling my clothes is gonna be a thorn to my wage.
The winding streets of dirt and cobblestone seemed to have been unplanned, with irregular pathing left and right. Place could use a city planner! I kid of course, no one here could possibly be educated enough to be one. I was surprised that I could hold competent conversations with some of the locals when asking directions, sometimes devolving into codespeak or rambling messes.
The dirty, worn-down clothing of the diverse alien denizens often blurred together here, but one could say the same for the clean suits and dresses of the surface. Ragged shirts and blouses, flimsy headdresses, messy syntho-denim overalls, oily shorts or pants, and that’s if they even have pants at all. Half of these people didn’t have any pants and most didn’t have shoes either. Best hat you can find were of the busted variety, from top hats to flat caps, seeming to be a dime-a-dozen and in poor quality to boot.
I certainly didn’t fit in fashion-wise; explains why I keep getting all these different sets of eyes on me like I was a hotdog being presented to a starving dog. Already had three attempted pickpockets, all of them failures, the brats.
The merchants of this central market were helpful at the very least. They pointed me in the direction of an area called “The Dead Zone,” Quantifuser turf, though with how they described landmarks, it became evident that I still needed a map. There were no scholars around here, so it’d be expected that the folks in charge of counting the paper currency would have a clue about what or who I’m trying to find, all while managing the massive crowds of would-be customers at their open vendor stands, guarded by crudely-dressed men wielding decommissioned phaser rifles, outdated and probably prone to defection. Now that I think about it, the market was in “decent” shape relatively speaking — no signs of war damage, just the regular slum kind.
“Them darn attacker folks ain’t come here,” a merchant told me. “Guess this sector was no target to them or some such. Can’t tell you the same with the West an’ South though.”
Upon more digging, I learned the South was home to The Underground’s marina, and within it, the warehouse district. Warehouses? The points of attack were getting clearer. These creeps must’ve made the warehouse district the base of operations until it was time to migrate upon the initiation of their plan, working their way to the Western sewer sector to execute evasion tactics with Mr. Movak in tow.
I walked away from the merchant, whose stand was of selling fake stone jewelry, making my way through the hordes of the rude and filthy, vendors and shanty restaurants of rust and cheap decor. Next stop on the journey was The Dead Zone to the West.
Along the path was a small makeshift zone of wooden crates, one of them open to reveal, of all things, newspapers. A boy, a small, three-eyed Korpicon boy with purple, scaly reptilian skin (at least I think it was purple, hard to tell with all the green lighting) stood in the middle of the zone, gripping a newspaper, extending it upwards and waving it around. The lad had no shoes, or even a shirt, wearing only his hat and brown overalls as he waved his paper wares and called to the people around him like a miniature preacher.
“Extra extra!” shouted the boy to the hordes around him, “MoraDyne collusion scandal an’ latest fashion trends on the surface world! Read all about it!”
Catching my attention, I casually approached the paperboy, interrupting his shtick as he turned and looked at me with curiousness.
“‘Ello, miss. You gots yourself a nice coat there, lookin’ good.”
“Thanks,” I casually replied.
“Would ya like a newspaper, miss?”
“Actually, I was hoping you could supply me with a map.”
“Ah. Well, I don’t gots meself a map, but I could draw one to ya. Know the area good, travel lots.”
“Bet you do. It’d be nice of you, lad.”
“Where you goin’?”
“I’m heading to The Dead Zone.”
“Oh miss, ya don’t wanna go there. Much danger, attackers did much damage, much damage.”
“Have to. I got business to take care of around that place.”
“Wha’ kind of businesses?”
“The kind you shouldn’t ask about. Now will you give me a map or not?”
“Alright alright, one map comin’ up for the lady.”
The boy ripped out a blank page of the newspaper he was holding as mindlessly as one rips a candy wrapper, pulling out a semi-broken pen out of one of his overall’s pockets. Turning his attention to the page, he drew on it, the markings describing the different pathways and buildings, with simplistic doodles of various important landmarks and labels indicating where I was, where I should go, and where I was heading to. Not bad for a paperboy around here, surprising amount of effort; couldn’t help but admire him a little.
Finally, the boy looked at me yet again, completing his impromptu newspaper map with a sort of prideful expression on his face.
“I gots the map done for ya, miss.”
I extended my arm to him, expecting the map to be handed over. However, the boy relented and pulled the map away from me. I raised my brow and tilted my head, surprised at this act of sudden hesitation.
“It be five mussaks, miss.”
Mussaks; the paper money of The Underground, though it was more accurate to call it fabric-paper hydrid money. He extended his hand and positioned it flatly, flicking his fingers like he was expecting payment. So much for admiration.
“Aren’t the newspapers free?”
“They is, but they crowdfunded an’ pre-made things an’ effortless to give. Map’s a special service from meself an’ special service ain’t free, an’ I put effort in this here map I did. Not much here for a lad like me to earn, I say so.”
It was fortunate that I planned ahead for moments like this, having a few leftover bills from the last time I was here in my inner breast pocket of my coat. I scoffed and dug my hand into it, pulling out a rectangular bill that featured a detailed illustration of some landmark I didn’t recognize and the Number 5 at its corners.
The boy plucked the bill from my fingers and inspected it, looking at it closely and holding it up to the light with dedicated eyes. After a time of doing this inspection process, the boy, at last, extended the map toward me.
“Bill’s good it is. Here’s the map, miss. Good luck.”
I grabbed the map from him. “Gee, thanks.”
Walking past the paperboy’s zone, I looked at his map. I was currently located at the edge of the marketplace near the square. Heading to The Dead Zone would require me to walk through the entertainment district and around the grand park near the apartment complexes, passing by a statue to the North-West called “The Saint Mussak Memorial” modeled after the actual revolutionary who became a martyr during “The Great War of the Worlds” that sought The Underground’s independence. They lost, yet ol’ Mussak became immortalized as a statue and his name is used for the money. Not bad. Wish I could become money; could care less about being a statue.
The deeper West I walked, the less people I saw on the streets and the more damage there was. If I wasn’t in The Dead Zone, I’m probably near it as, down this road, ash flowed with the breeze. The buildings were given the works if they were still standing at all. The rubble of homes, broken windows, holes in roofs, demolished pillars that led to some infrastructure leaning to a side, craters and fractures left their marks, walls and the ground we stained with burn marks, some metallic structures like sign posts or street lamps left partially melted and still hot to the touch like lit candles. This wasn’t a terrorist attack, it was more like a warzone.
Stragglers cowered in these buildings; I can see heads peeking from the powerless darkness, staring at me as I passed by with my footsteps echoing in the stillness. A woman sat against what appeared to have been a shanty house made of concrete and sheet metal now tattered with a baby in her arms. The baby was silent, eyes-closed, but thankfully still alive as it breathed. The mother, however, could only lock me to her depressed gaze like she might as well have been dead anyway; only made me wonder what else could’ve happened. Where’s the father anyway? Made me sick, a sort of remorse for something I didn’t do, but I had to press on to find my target no matter what.
Judging by the shape and size of every hole on these streets and buildings, gauss cannons were used. I can recognize their damage effects from here to Alpha Centauri. They’re not devastating if it’s single-use, but a row of them can lay down the hurt, untamed and raw firepower, but there was more that caught my eye. Inspecting a nearby stone pillar, the burn marks intrigued me, and I measured the intensity of the blackened char and diameter of them by sight, sliding my fingers across the marks, being about 9-inches in width, 10-inches in height on average, leaving severe punctures upon each impact.
These weren’t the results of fusion-based guns, not the average kind —punctures would be lessened and the marks would be smaller— but it clicked to mind that these were the work of Cryptinium-based arms. High-impact, high-velocity energy rounds, even a basic rifle can nearly match my Futuras in strength at the expense of high power requirements; inefficient military wares, made to fight wars, not thugs. Between the rusty, dinky pistols and rifles to these weapons designed for taking down interplanetary empires, these people didn’t stand a chance as the attackers plowed through.
The question, or one in a million of them, was who supplied the arms for this raid in the first place. I doubt anyone here in the isolationist nature of The Amaron System could get their hands on such weapons to arm an army, not even The Chromon. Clearly these conspirators had a connection from the greater galactic zones, but shipping something like a series of gauss cannons past planetary security meant this connection has a brain.
I looked at the map once more, though it didn’t really matter now; comparing the markings to the environment around me, the destruction blended together. No distinct landmarks to judge my place on it, so I only had the pathing to guide me. There was a wooden bridge over a glowing river ahead and I realized that this was the end of the road before entering the labeled Dead Zone — I arrived at my destination at last.
Approaching a bridge would usually be a rudimentary exercise of choosing whether or not you want to cross it — upon my first step, something was afoot. On the other side were damaged, desolate buildings and, upon reaching the middle of the bridge, my cat ears twitched with the instinctual sensation that something was coming my way. I stopped my walk and took in the desolation, the radiated, glowing river water rushing beneath me… and something else.
I witnessed shadows within shadows move from inside the windows above, specters on the prowl, finding meat in this forest of green. It was me they had their eyes on and the footsteps, while faint, were audible to these bothersome ears of mine. They were coming down the stairs, clanking the cheap wood with each step downwards. Clenching my fists, I braced in anticipation; this wasn’t my first rodeo with an ambush, and I didn’t have much of a choice for this job of mine; this was the only way to The Dead Zone and beyond.
A moment passed, the echos died, but the sounds of boots got louder. They were to the ground floor now and from the doorless buildings came them: A gang of four were across this bridge and they had me in their sights.
These hoodlums coming toward me were Sovalkars, a species reminiscent of rodents, particularly of Naked Mole-rats from Earth, all young-adult males, dark-gray wrinkly skin. These fellows were quite possibly the best dressed I’ve seen anyone, not that they’d stack up to the surface with suits this cheap and with all that cosmetic damage.
They formed almost a cone-like formation. Behind was the largest of a brutish build, no doubt the bruiser of the group with brown overalls, a white collar shirt under a vest with missing buttons, bulky boots with holes in them; to the right was an athletic type, damaged gray-suit stained with dirt and oil, no undershirt, black dress-shorts, brown loafers, carried a pipe with his right hand that he rested on his shoulder; to the left was a chubby, sack-like type, wore glasses with a crack to the right lens, has a bright straw boater hat with holes and the roof of it dangling to the side, disheveled brown suit and gray vest, no shoes, wearing only his dirty black socks, has a blackjack in his left hand; and finally, at the center was a slim, moderately short goon, walking slinky and laidback, hands in both pockets of his his beige coat, fully pressed collar shirt with black tie, clean leather loafers, and a flat cap free of any damage or stains resting on his head that feature the smuggest face I’ve seen around here.
It was almost as if the hierarchy was chosen based on who had the best clothes, to which the one in the middle was probably the leader. As they got closer, I unbuttoned a few buttons of my coat to expose my holsters a little in case my iron was needed in a flash. Coming within a close distance, the hoodlums ceased to walk and looked at me with intent.
“You escape from a dollhouse?” the hoodlum leader asked with a mocking tone.
“Yeah, you lost?” asked the chubby hoodlum in the same fashion. “She a good lookin’ dame, ain’t she?”
The athletic hoodlum chucked. “Fine-lookin’ hairball! Can’t stand it!”
“Charming,” I remarked sneeringly. “Let take a guess, you guys must be The Quantifusers, right?”
“A few of us yeah,” replied the leader. “Good head ya got there, doll, but not too good if youse here with no parlay, no good reason. Dressin’ sharp, lookin’ good. Nice coat, Fed’s sister would probably love it, ain’t that right, Fed?”
“Yeah she would,” answered the bulky hoodlum known as Fed.
“Seems a tad… dangerous for a little hairball like you to be walking here. Case youse blind, things ain’t so safe around here no more, people running for the hills, but not us. We standin’ an’ youse stand out in all the right ways.” The leader moved his eyes, looking at me from the bottom and moving his gaze all the way to my face. He whistled as we locked eyes, though I tried to remain unfazed despite the compulsion to wince in disgust. “Must be awfully uncomfortable having that coat on down here; radiation an’ coats don’t mix so good. Hows about ya let off some steam, come with us, take a break from it?”
“I’ll pass,” I replied. “Got business to take care of.”
“Well we ain’t got fish around these places, see. Best have some good business for steppin’ on our turf.”
“Private investigation, missing persons case. On my way to the sewer sector, but before that, I’d like to speak to your leader for more information. Are you Corr?”
“Nah, I ain’t the boss. ‘Fraid if youse wanna talk to Corr, ya better pay up somethin’ before this gets… complicated. Toll’s about 5,000 mussaks, doll.”
“Don’t have that much.”
“How ‘bout that coat? Fed’s sister really would love it.”
“Not for sale.”
“Darn, that’s a shame,” Fed interjected snidely.
“Yeah, give us somethin’. C’mon, dolly.”
I tilted my head. “Don’t have anything to give.”
“Nah, ya do. The fact youse down here, the fact that youse walking on our turf, the fact youse disrespectin’ us tryin’ to do your ‘business?’ Says to me ya gots much to give or take. Ya seem like the… the word… ‘prideful’ of sort. How much is this business to ya?”
“What are you getting at?”
“C’mon, pussycat. Ya want entry and wanna to talk to the boss? Gonna need some of that pride to go. Beg to us, doll. Down on youse knees, beg us! Purr like a good kitty cat, appease me so!”
“Course, there’s also the… other option too,” the athletic hoodlum said.
The leader smirked. “Yeah… ya right. Hows ‘bout the, uh, tender approach, dollface?”
It was about here where I had enough. Time was slipping by, these goons were blocking the way! It would’ve been one thing if they simply tried my patience. The anger within me was reaching a boiling point; they were after my self-esteem, and no job —no gig— was worth any of it. I knew where this conversation was going from the start and I figured it was about time I prepared for the worst; preemptively unbuttoning my coat was merely the first step. Forget about Corr, I knew where I needed to go anyhow, even if, in hindsight, I didn’t truly grasp the full picture and why I should’ve cared about it at all. Who needs a full picture when you’re packing?
“Hate to break it to you, but a cat that purrs isn’t always a cat that’s being nice. Sometimes when a cat purrs, it wants you to get out of its face.”
“That a threat?” the leader inquired with scorn.
“It is a threat. I want you to get out of sight and out of mind. I want you to get out of my face so badly I’ll scratch your face off like like a mad tiger without a therapist. I have someone to find and you’re nothing but a cockroach to me, you and your pals; pests to be stomped on, no more, can definitely be less. If you even understand a single word I just said, you will move, otherwise… I’ll make you move.”
An unwise mouthful. The hoodlums could only watch their leader’s face grow a seething hatred for me on-the-spot, the dark-gray skin of his ugly, wrinkly mug tinting to a noticeable red through the seconds he stared, processing my act of defiance.
The leader chuckled. “Cockroach? Hear that? Pussycat called me a cockroach!” His underlings, previously just as smug as he was, turned to a silent caution, stepping back as the leader’s anger rose with his wrinkle count along the shifting of his distempering expression. Wasn’t surprised for what would occur next, just like so many times before. I saw his right hand immediately begin to rise from his pocket. Experience taught me quite a number of things, responding to the deployment of my eminent end was one of them.
I moved my right arm to my left, flexing my forearm to grab the revolver in my left holster. Gotta admit, the mook was fairly swift, probably practiced in the act of pulling out his iron; he was halfway to exposing what he had just as I gripped the handle of my left Futura with my right hand. As soon as it was out of his pocket, like a machine, he extended his arm, raised his wrist, and was now aiming a jaded, but fully functional R8-16 boltcaster towards my head just as I aimed my Futura at his, the guns pointing in opposite directions like two pets barking at each other, all in less than the span of a second.
This was a situation I haven’t brought myself into in a long while: A standoff. Gotta admit, a part of me was… excited if only because that same part of me was stupid.
“Toots’ packin’!” one of the other hoodlums yelled. I didn’t bother seeing who; not a smart thing to do when a gunman directly in front of you wants a good opportunity to fire.
“GOOD!” shouted the leader with a psychotic smile, “I LOVE A FINE PUSSYCAT WITH GUNS! MAKES IT INTERESTIN’!”
“SHUT UP!” I shouted back, “I’m not here to become spoils for ugly finks who’d rather stand around and look like lamebrained floor-mats than to be of use for once! Now I was told the gangs of The Underground were attacked by an unknown party and those responsible happen to relate to my client’s missing husband’s case!”
“Yeah?! An’ where ya hear this?!”
“The Ender Pub, heard of it?!”
“Deiter? That know-it-all slimerat?!”
“Ah shucks, ya a freelancer?” a hoodlum asked.
“The fact I bothered to enter this hellhole packing galaxia-grade iron should make that clear! Now take me to Corr or I might just enjoy dropping you!”
There was no clean way out now. As much as I tried in my past, I was never a good peacemaker. Enough failure makes you want to give up certain acts; trying to make peace where there wasn’t any tends to drag you to a bar and buzz yourself to the floor. The leader glazed his finger on the trigger, so I knew whatever discipline I abided by wasn’t gonna last, moving my index finger from the side and hovering over the mechanism that would turn this moron’s head into bursted fruit. The leader’s smile grew, his eyes widened ever more, while I bit my lip and growled wondering if I should’ve just given up my coat after all.
“WHAT’S WITH THIS GODFORSAKEN NOISE?!”
Then… there was someone new, shouting from behind the hoodlums. Unfamiliar to me, but as soon as it roared out, the leader’s psychotic expression, at a speed presumably faster than his own thoughts, turned to sudden horror as the others turned to the one who shouted.
“Ah crud on my foot…” the leader muttered in an uneasy tone.
They moved out of the way, revealing this person: An elderly woman of their species standing with a wooden cane. Sweat started to form on the leader’s head like a command no one gave
“Where is my tea, boy?!” shouted the woman. “Told you to go to the general store almost an hour ago! Gonna miss my radio show!”
He ignored her, or attempted to, keeping his attention on me. Personally, I couldn’t stop trying to process this weird turn that just took place, but clearly this hag was someone of interest… and of fear to them. She walked forward, past the goons, toward the guy I still had my gun aimed at.
“Speak when I speak to you, boy!”
The leader lightly turned his head to the left. “I’ll get your tea later!” he shouted.
“I want my tea now!”
“Go back to the shack!”
“Watch your tone! You don’t tell me off like that! I’ll do what I want!”
“Can’t ya see I’m in a standoff, grandma?!”
“I see a boy playing with guns is what I see! Want me to smack you with my cane, boy?!” She raised her cane.
“Don’t smack me with the cane! Please don’t!”
She was real gutsy, I’ll give her that. It was as if the presence of firearms were invisible to her, made me chuckle.
“Wanna be smacked by your grandma’s cane?” I scoffed.
“No, I don’t wanna be smacked by grandma’s cane!”
“I wanna be smacked by her cane,” the chubby hoodlum remarked.
“That’s my grandma!”
It was at this moment that the old woman turned her attention to me and scowled her eyes to mine. An unusual jolt of anxiety ran through me, something I couldn’t remember happening after my childhood ended, but the feeling was both nostalgic and an instinctual reminder that there was ill intent coming from her. She began pointing the cane toward my direction; it made me gulp and, for the first time tonight, I wanted to cower.
“Hey, whoever you are!”
“Me?!” I cautiously inquired.
“Wanna get smacked by my cane, girl?!”
“No! No I don’t!”
“Then put those dang darn toys down, the both of you! Or you’ll be beaten you so bad I’ll turn you to fertilizer and give y’all to the crops!”
Me and the leader looked at each other, only the difference was we no longer looked like we wanted to kill each other; we wanted to desperately live. We set our guns down and holstered them, his pocket and my holster respectively.
“Children, all of you.” The old woman approached her scared grandson. “You better explain why I don’t have a cup of tea in my hand right now, boy.”
“W-well, we were headin’ to the store until we spotted this here dame comin’ near the bridge. Figured to shake her down… y-y-ya know?”
She glanced at me and calmly said: “Well… she does look rather sharp. Too sharp even.”
The old woman began to approach me now. I partly desired to walk back, but I managed to regain whatever composure I could after being threatened by her wicked cane.
We were at conversation distance now, and with that came a good look at her. A worn-down brown and dark-blue polka-dot button blouse matched her worn-down dark-blue dress skirt, topped with a white headdress that covered her black hair, a curvy lock sticking out over her forehead to her right side. She was fairly short, barely taller than 5-feet, wide-profile, but likely not entirely due to body fat. Sovalkarian females develop a natural hardened underskin over the muscles, enhancing their durability and strength as a means to defend their young, something that remains even into old age. Unlike before, she appeared calmer, looking like someone I’d actually want to talk to; the juxtaposition startled me. Then she cleared her throat.
“What brings you to these parts, stranger?” the old woman asked me, “You’re clearly not from around here. Better have an awfully good reason or I might just walk off and let you two continue your Wild-West charade.”
“I’m Kitty Sugawara, freelancer, currently a private investigator.”
“Oh? Private investigation, eh?”
“Yes. Client’s a wife of a union leader, he’s missing, probable kidnapping. Been following a trail that’s led me here as of now, trying to find my way to the sewer sector.”
“I see…” The old woman turned to the hoodlums. “Boys! Go back and tell the others to let Ms. Sugawara here through, no interruptions! And for Heaven’s sake, get me my tea this time!”
“Yes ma’am!” the hoodlums replied. Didn’t take an additional second before they started running off back into their turf; odd for a gang to respond so decisively to an old lady. As she turned back to me, I thought about why. What made her so special? Better yet, why did I feel a piece of what they felt? As she looked at me, I wondered if she, of all things, could read my mind, and that my paranoia was at all justified. For now, I decided to ride the flow.
“Must be a hoot of a union leader if it’s led you down here.”
“My target is a Beniard Movak, associate director for a union advocating for Cryptinium refinery workers rights.”
“Well the gangs certainly didn’t do it. If any of them did, I’d know.”
“Don’t worry, I don’t think any of the gangs did this, though I suspected The Underground at first, partially thinking this whole ordeal as a scheme to use a union leader to demand ransom. That was until I heard that you all, from the Southern and here in the Western regions, were attacked by an unknown force wielding galactic military weaponry.”
“Think they’re involved, huh?”
“I don’t think this is about ransom at all; something else is afoot, which is half of why I’m here. I was tipped off that I should speak to The Quantifusers’ leader, Corr, as I heard they were hit the hardest. He could probably tell me things I don’t know.”
“That so? Well… I’m afraid Corr is… busy at this time.”
“Doesn’t matter, gotta see him, get more info, get to the bottom of this.”
“You already know where the attackers have headed, I presume. Simply go after them, Ms. Sugawara, find your missing man.”
“This job has turned into a conspiracy and I’m compelled to figure out what’s truly what. Mr. Movak is only a piece of it, but I’m compelled to know more. Where do I find Corr?”
The old woman fell silent, closing her eyes. Hard to tell what her thoughts were, though I guessed she didn’t plan on being non-cooperative, or at least I hoped not. Her eyes reopened and she turned to the direction of The Quantifusers’ turf across the bridge somewhat dramatically.
“Please follow me.”
I had no intention of questioning her, not after her cane threat, and especially not after so much time passing by. Better to follow along and potentially come face-to-face with Corr sooner than later. The old woman began her walk and so did I right behind her.
Passing by what remained of The Quantifusers’ turf convinced me that they really did get hit harder than most places, though it wasn’t a surprise at this point. Hoodlums and other passerby’s simply looked on at us both as we walked further West, from their windows, from their doorways, rooftops, tables, the curbs, the ruins of demolished buildings. The Quantifusers were everywhere, though none seemed to want to bother us. Figured the news spread faster than anticipated; no one dared to approach me nor the old woman for that matter, only the stares of the curious, the cold, and the apathetic as we ventured down what appeared to be a long, damaged road. Even then, I kept my trenchcoat open, in case I needed quick access to my iron.
“Where are we going?” I asked the old woman.
“We are heading to the sewer sector.”
“But I want to see Corr!”
“As I said, Corr is busy, too busy to see anyone, Ms. Sugawara. However, what Corr can tell you I can tell you.”
“Ask away, girl. What do you want to know?”
Alarms should’ve gone off by now, but I was too tired and out of alarms, driving through the traffic on auto-pilot, too overwhelmed by the mystery to think through the logic, wondering when this rollercoaster would end. Fine, if she wasn’t gonna take me to Corr, might as well give her a quiz.
“I heard the force that attacked The Underground were surprisingly effective in their sector sweeps, yet kept non-combatants unharmed for the most part. That true?”
“Indeed. They intended to march on through like we were ghosts. When we blocked access to the Inner-West passage, they opened fire with what appeared to be galaxia-grade armaments, likely purchased from a black market off-world. Judging from the body armor they wore, these assailants are likely a private militia, though who they belonged to is everybody’s question.”
My brow was raised higher than it ever was this whole night. Oddly… knowledgeable for a grandma.
“And The Quantifusers?”
“We’ve been burying the dead all through the day over at the quarry, water burials that is. I apologize if everyone you’ve seen around here seem more on-edge than usual outside of my fatheaded grandson and his friends; boy ran off with his tail between his sacks, didn’t do squat when everything went down.”
“Don’t seem too shaken up over it.”
“I’ve seen it all; old enough to. You get used to it I suppose.”
“Any details you can share? Heard the attackers were large and stone-like, but many species match that description, need more specifics.”
The old woman place her fingers on her chin, staring out to the distance, and hummed in thought. “Militaristic armor… inhalation masks, the rifles powered by Cryptinium, can tell by the noise they made.”
“Probably Quantic Automatic Rifles then. We’re they Rigatorians? Estra Demphi?”
“No, Ms. Sugawara. None of them have glowing white eyes.”
“Glowing… white eyes?”
“Yes. That a detail you didn’t know?”
Stone-like with white eyes…? Now I knew; only one species fit that. It was the worst guess I had, put it at the back of my mind, the worst case scenario now confirmed. Looks like my curiosity has led me to a pit with a bed of spikes on one end and a battalion of rifles on the other.
“Militaristic war race who hold tradition in high regards. Their cultish blood pacts are infamous, believing that fury itself to be the creation of a higher being and not merely the feeling when you get when you receive the wrong order at a fly-thru. Tough as a steel Andro-bruiser, as persistent as Oblovese fire-dogs.”
“Been here over 200-years, but I’ve never encountered a species like that. Don’t suppose you know about the cargo they were hauling as well?”
“Cargo? Never heard anything about cargo.”
“Thought so; it’s been covered up by the local government since it started, though I don’t know why. They fought in two groups, one who attacked were the offensive force, the other was smaller and escorting a large mobile flatbed with cargo under a tarp, rows of containers carrying lord knows what.”
“They planned to fight the gangs…”
“And did so with extreme professionalism, operating with rules of engagement that focused solely on combatants. Dead civilians means unwanted attention.”
My eyes sprung wide. “And the cargo… if they’re weapons…” A realization truly above my rate. Should’ve demanded more money. “Mr. Movak must know secretive information about the Cryptinium plants throughout the surface! If they’re carrying weapons in those containers…!”
“They can use The Underground sectors to stage a Cryptinium heist of great proportion, from the bottom to the top. The ones above won’t know what’ll hit them and, if this militia is smart enough, they could very well make it look as though we were responsible, shift the blame, cover their tracks.”
I froze, pulled out the phone from my pocket. “Mrs. Movak needs to be warned!”
I opened my contacts and pressed Celine’s profile. The phone attempted to connect, but after nearly a minute of trying and failing, no matter what, I couldn’t get through to her number. After the 4th attempt ended, I stared at my phone in disbelief.
“What, you think a phone can reach the surface world from here?”
“Must be connection interference from the radiation…”
“Could be… could be.”
I placed the phone back into my pocket. “Let’s keep going. I want find these goons and get this over with.”
Both me and old woman continued the trek to the sewer sector, though I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened with the phone. Despite the radiation theory, my connection was still at a three-bar reception strength, certainly more than enough to make a measly phone call. The error beeps that played upon each failed attempt didn’t seem like the kind you get from a bad signal, but from the number not existing at all. Could Celine have given me a bad number?”
We eventually reached the entrance to the sewers, a concrete tunnel blocked off by a large steel grate with bars, at least 8-feet tall and wide. Looked removable, though you’d probably need at least three capable people or an Andromensch to move it anywhere. I was about to go and move it myself, that was until the old woman raised her arm to the side and blocked me from going forward.
“I’ll move it for you, Ms. Sugawara.”
The old woman approached the grate, gripped two of the bars tightly and, as if a machine, began to lift the steel grate off the tunnel, carrying it away without much exertion, before setting it down and letting it tumble forwards to the ground with a loud thud. Sovalkarian females were strong all right, but this woman seemed stronger than most if capable of moving a steel grate of this size without much issue.
“Are you not afraid?” she asked curiously.
“Quaking in my boots, but that’s normal,” I casually answered.
I walked to the now opened sewer entrance, but just as I was about to enter…
“You’re not a Neko Sapian, are you?” the old woman asked with light hostility.
An unexpected question came from her, made me freeze in my tracks in shock. I turned to her and met a stern, suspicious expression directed at me, like I was a suspect who did no crime.
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t try and mess with me, Ms. Sugawara.”
“Afraid I don’t understand what you mean.”
“I’ve lived long enough to encounter many species, both here in The Amaron System and from outside, including Gorbonovicans, Zordamanizor, Estra Demphi, and yes, Humans and their mutated variants. All have a distinctive look, yes, but also a smell. This nose has served me generously, I’ve smelled them all, but alas, something is off about you.”
I scowled. “Go on.”
“My eyes are deceived, but this nose is not; you look the part, yet you don’t smell the part. Much like these Hathgora you’re chasing after, you are something completely new to me.”
“We all have something to hide. You probably know that better than anyone, don’t you, Corr?”
The old woman, Corr, erupted into a nefarious grin that slammed into my mind; her true nature revealed in full. “So you figured it out?”
“I figured it out as we were walking here. After all, what kind of old lady has so much sway as to push gangsters around like that? Interesting that Deiter thought you were a man.”
“Even that over-glorified bartender can be wrong, Ms. Sugawara. It’s reaffirming actually; my true identity being unknown to the broader world. Deception is stronger than any gun.”
“Then I should get a bigger gun.”
There was a moment of silence, awkward, strange. Corr stared at me, amused, before snickering, more and more, until at last she burst into intense laughter.
It took me aback, felt a tinge of fear from it. It was maniacal, loud, made my hands start to shake, mouth open out of nervousness, my eyes unsettled from the sheer emotion that intimidated me. I stood my ground, yet it was crumbling underneath my feet.
“THAT’S GOOD! GOOD ONE! QUITE THE MOUTH YOU GOT THERE!” laughed Corr.
The laughter continued a little longer as sweat slid down my head, eventually dying down after a minute longer. Regaining some level of composure, Corr looked at me yet again with her nefarious eyes.
“But really, what are you?” asked Corr arrogantly. “What are you really?”
“W-what I am is irrelevant,” I nervously replied.
“Oh, I beg to differ. See, I don’t know what you are, I don’t know the smell you give off, but you don’t send livestock to kill a hunter, but a hunter to kill a hunter. You’re after people with black ops combat training, yet you insist on going ahead with it. Others would’ve backed down by now, but not you, and that’s valuable to me; you could be of use.”
“You’re… using me?”
“I prefer to think of it as… a mutual share of interests. Remember the unwritten rule of favors? I told you pieces of information you lacked to complete that mental puzzle of yours; I did you a favor, Ms. Sugawara, and favors must be paid in full. I want you to repay my favor with blood! In turn, you get to find whoever you’re looking for and give those responsible what they deserve! See? It all fits together.”
“Good! Now go on, find the Hathgora menace, kill them all, for me and for yourself! Pay your debt in full, otherwise… we will find you. Sounds like quite the bother, doesn’t it?”
“I suppose it does…”
Corr stepped back. “Now go, freelancer! Avenge our dead! You’re the only one who can! Or rather… the only one who’s willing.”
I turned to the dark void of the tunnel, pulled out my phone, and activated its flashlight function, lighting the path ahead. Walking in and moving forward, my chest was uneasy, my head was wired, tied to the all-encompassing dread that made me want to turn back. But I couldn’t; this had to be done. I had to find my target… and to pay back my “debt.”
I turned my head back to the entrance in which I had entered, wondering if Corr was still there. Sure enough, there she was, continuing her amused, crazed stare that dared to imprint itself on my brain, full of the intense psychosis and vengeance it came with, from a being whose modus operandi was of death to those caused death.
Yeah… I should’ve absolutely demanded more money.