Bzrk, p.15
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       Bzrk, p.15

         Part #1 of BZRK series by Michael Grant
 
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  And if he didn’t …

  Renfield’s biots would turn the tide. Where were they? What the hell was keeping Renfield?

  Vincent turned to see, and there was Renfield, on his back, arms splayed wide, head lolled to one side. Vincent could see him. Renfield would not be rescuing anyone.

  There was a shoe blocking Vincent’s field of view.

  Then a gun jabbed his ear. Cold steel.

  “Freeze, motherfucker,” a stressed voice said. “And I mean all the way down in the meat. Or die.”

  Plath still had the gun in her hand. She had never fired one before. The noise—so much louder than in the movies—and the kick—so much more satisfying than she’d have guessed—had surprised her.

  And the horrifying fact that it had worked.

  She had aimed, squeezed the trigger, and sent a lead projectile through the air to smash flesh and bone.

  The man she had shot now sat in a pool of blood flowing from his groin. She had made that happen.

  And yet even as she stared in horror her head was filled with the nightmarish vision of awful, lurching, spiderlike monsters, grainy and gray, and tumbling madly around on a plain that had tilted up without warning.

  Vincent was facedown. A man in a blood-splattered parka held a gun to his head.

  Keats took her arm, squeezed hard, and propelled her toward the door.

  Renfield lay in a dark-red lake.

  Dead and dying men sagged against equipment. Smoke filled the air. Anya Violet was crawling through blood.

  Then, in the doorway, a man.

  He was smallish, maybe five feet eight. He was stocky but not fat, and dressed with great care in a deep-purple velvet blazer, collared shirt, sage slacks, black leather boots. On his head was a top hat. The hat was a sort of faded version of the blazer, with a wide gold band and a jaunty feather.

  He was craggy, tan, sardonic, and amused, and his eyes were black at the bottom of deep valleys. He might be forty or he might be sixty, and he carried something with him, a feeling, an aura, a dark truth that swirled, invisible but felt, and undeniable.

  Sadie knew without being told.

  Caligula.

  FIFTEEN

  He had a pistol in his left hand. In his right was a short-handled axe. The axe looked strangely like a child’s notion of a Native American tomahawk: it had a painted handle with what looked like leather strands hanging from it. The blade was liquid red.

  There were three surviving TFDs when Caligula walked in.

  The first spun, raised his weapon, and fell backward with a hole through his forehead. The sound came afterward. A huge bang.

  A second AFGC man had a bullet through his windpipe and the third, attempting a belated and futile escape, stopped when the axe appeared as if by magic in his back. The down and nylon poofed out around it.

  Caligula stood in front of Anya so she couldn’t crawl any farther.

  “No,” Vincent gasped. “Not her.”

  Caligula looked around and said, “Anyone else?” He pushed Anya with his foot so that she fell onto her side.

  He went to look down at Renfield. “Shame,” Caligula said. “I liked him.”

  He pulled the axe from the spine of the gibbering, terrified TFD whose legs had stopped working altogether. And shot the man in the head.

  Then with four powerful chops he hacked through Renfield’s neck. No evidence of biots could be left behind.

  Plath would have thrown up again, but her belly was empty.

  Caligula pulled a black plastic trash bag from his pocket, dropped Renfield’s head into it, tied it off, and handed it to Keats. “Carry this. Don’t drop it.”

  “What the hell—” Keats demanded.

  Caligula looked at him with amused disbelief. “New kid, huh? Well, new kid, you don’t question the man who’s saving your life.” Caligula knelt in front of Vincent. “What’s with you?”

  “Two in her head.” He indicated Anya Violet. “Ambush. I’m in trouble. Renfield …”

  “Renfield won’t be helping,” Caligula said. He stood up, turned now to Plath, looked at the crotch-shot man, still moaning in terrible pain. “Never aim for the balls. Aim for the center of mass. Unless you ever get good enough for head shots.”

  “I didn’t … I didn’t mean to, to aim there, I just …”

  “Well, you might as well finish him off.”

  Plath shook her head violently. She held the gun away from her as if she would drop it on the floor. But she didn’t drop it. Instead her gaze was drawn to it, she held it up and looked at it.

  Caligula laughed. “They are seductive, aren’t they?” Without needing to look he pointed his gun at the injured man and fired once. “See? There you go. You can tell yourself it wasn’t you that killed him.”

  Caligula went around the smoky room picking up loose firearms. He checked each one, popped an empty clip and found a replacement inside blood-soaked clothing.

  He handed one handgun to Keats and the other to Vincent.

  “We’re probably going to have a bit of a fighting withdrawal here,” Caligula said, kneeling now to look at Anya. “Now, listen to me, whoever the hell you are. Vincent over there doesn’t want me to kill you. But if I have the slightest trouble with you—any trouble at all—I will ignore young Vincent and shoot you. I don’t know if you’ve been wired or not. If so, it’s going to take all your focus and concentration. Try. Try very hard.”

  He stood up, wiped his bloody axe on a body, and said, “All right then. Follow me.”

  The elevator was playing a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.”

  The buttons were bright. The walls were mirrored. Sadie saw herself. Pale. Freckles on the bridge of her nose. Hair matted with sweat.

  It was Keats and her. Caligula had summoned the first elevator and boarded with Vincent and Anya. “You two come out ready for a fight,” he’d advised them. “And listen: don’t accidentally shoot me. Right? I will resent it.”

  It had taken a while for a second elevator to come. Plath and Keats, waiting, staring at the call button, both self-conscious with their pistols, both with heads swirling with images of tumbling monsters.

  “Oh shit!” Keats cried at one point. “I just saw color. The thing. Just like a flash of color.”

  “Still gray scale here,” Plath said.

  Keats looked at the crèche still in his hand, shook his head, irritated at his own stupidity, and slid the thing into the back of his jeans, where it should be safe so long as he didn’t sit down. Or get shot in the rear.

  The elevator had come, and Plath had punched the button for the lobby.

  “What do we do when the door opens?” Keats wondered aloud.

  Plath had no answer. Or rather, she had one, but she didn’t want to say it. The gun weighed a hundred pounds. The grip was slick with sweat.

  They passed the tenth floor.

  The seventh.

  “I take this side, you take that side,” Keats said. “I’ll go first. As soon as the door is wide enough.”

  Plath nodded curtly, not trusting herself to speak, and not minding, for once in her life, that someone had basically told her what to do.

  Third floor.

  The elevator slowed.

  Took a slight bounce.

  Through the doors came the sound of a gunshot.

  Plath wondered if she had wet herself. Wondered why it mattered, and the door opened and Keats shoved through and BAM!

  And she stumbled after him.

  Caligula stood there; Vincent and Anya leaned against a massive marble pillar.

  “What the hell are you shooting at?” Caligula asked. Not angry, just curious.

  “I …” Keats said.

  The lobby lights were low, but still plenty of light to see two McLure security guards dead. Someone had shot them and dragged them out of the line of sight from the sidewalk outside. They were behind a stand-up billboard for an event at the Museum of Modern Art, sponsored by McLure Industries.


  As Plath emerged all the way from the elevator, she saw two other bodies in the one Caligula had taken.

  “Cops are on the way. Bad guys are on the street outside.”

  “Is that them?” Plath nodded at an SUV and a compact car steaming exhaust out at the curb.

  “Yes. We’re going to go and take the little car.” With a fluid motion Caligula grabbed Vincent, held him at arm’s length, and put a gun to his head. “Let’s go.”

  Caligula marched Vincent like a prisoner through the glass doors, out onto the sidewalk, leaving Plath and Keats behind with a panting, shattered-looking Anya glancing around wildly, wondering if there was an escape, any escape.

  Anya was, Plath realized, almost old enough to be her mother. And Plath, and a boy she’d never known before, were suddenly in the position of having to shoot the woman if she tried to run.

  Vincent’s biots dragged themselves away.

  Bug Man’s nanobots were in pursuit.

  The chase was long, but now it was reaching a desperate point. Now V1 and V2 were stepping onto the eye. He had stayed on muscle fiber as long as he could because there he was at par in terms of speed.

  But the time was up. Now he had no choice but to back onto the orb itself, and when the nanobots followed they’d be beyond the macrophages, out onto a slick, smooth surface—as slick as anything in the human body. They would drop to their wheels and trail their legs and outrun Vincent in a matter of seconds.

  Vincent felt Caligula’s gun pressed against his ear.

  “I’m going to lose,” Vincent whispered.

  “Can’t help you down there in the meat,” Caligula said, his voice grating, then rising to yell, “Hey! Assholes! This is Vincent. You want him? I’ll trade you for free passage outta here!”

  The window in the SUV lowered.

  Vincent saw a man talking on a phone. Tense. Waiting for some kind of answer.

  The small car lowered a window as well. A muzzle emerged, aimed at them.

  Something appeared in the air. An object the size of a baseball, but dull steel. It flew from Caligula’s hand, right through the window of the SUV.

  Caligula pivoted, fired, BAMBAMBAM!

  A cry from inside the small car.

  A shout of panic from inside the SUV.

  Caligula yanked Vincent down with him as he dropped to the pavement.

  The grenade exploded inside the SUV.

  Nanobots had their wheels in contact with the eye, and V2’s legs were slipping, and the windows blew out of the SUV, and the doors exploded outward, and three nanobots were on Vincent’s crippled biot, stabbing and stabbing, and Vincent felt it as if each stab was in his own guts.

  He cried out and Caligula fired again at the small car and yelled, “Get out here, now!” and waved his arm and Vincent saw Keats and Plath and Anya all running, and a fourth person, too.

  A fourth person.

  A Goth street girl with a weird tattoo on her eye.

  Keats missed a step as he recognized her: the girl from the cab.

  “The woman!” Caligula yelled to the newcomer as Vincent felt a terrible pain deep inside himself and Keats yelled, “Right eye, right eye!” and the Goth girl, Wilkes, jabbed a finger hard into Anya Violet’s right eye, and Anya cried out in pain and tried to bat the girl away.

  V2 leapt over the ripped and dismembered body of V1, reckless, heedless, not giving a damn now, because this was the end, so all in, Vincent knew, all in.

  The biot killed two nanobots before losing its legs. Both of Vincent’s biots were now almost immobile. Two of their total twelve legs were still attached.

  Nothing left but the stingers in their tails and the tiny beam weapons. But without legs neither was of much use.

  Eight nanobots surrounded the two dying biots.

  “Can I get a withdrawal? Can I get a withdrawal?” Bug Man yelled. “What’s happening in the macro?”

  “A bunch of dead people is what’s happening,” Burnofsky reported.

  “Tell me!” If he could get a withdrawal—if someone, anyone, could be there to offer Bug Man a way to climb off the woman—then he could drag one of Vincent’s biots with him. Maybe both.

  It would be unequaled game play.

  Unequaled!

  “What the hell are you doing?” It was Jindal bursting in. “The Twins are seeing all this! Quit screwing around. Kill him off! Kill him off!”

  Bug Man felt as if he’d been kicked in the chest. In all this time it had never occurred to him that his video was also being watched live by the Armstrong Twins.

  He turned sickly eyes on Burnofsky.

  Burnofsky laughed. “Yeah, there’s that.”

  Bug Man gritted his teeth and surged his nanobots ahead.

  “Caligula,” Vincent said. He sat hunched forward in the backseat, looking like he might throw up. Plath was beside him and a girl she’d never seen before. Anya was jammed in the passenger seat with Keats. Six of them in a car made for five at most. A car with one window gone and blood all over the dashboard.

  Caligula drove with the same compact precision he did everything. Police cars went screeching past, heading for the massacre at McLure headquarters.

  “Caligula,” Vincent said again, and the killer in the front seat sighed and answered.

  “Madness or death,” Vincent said. “Make it death.”

  “You don’t give that order, Vincent,” Caligula said calmly. “Only Lear gives that order.”

  “Shut the hell up: no one’s giving that order,” Wilkes said. “I’m the cavalry. Yee-hah.”

  A ghost of a smile on Vincent’s face.

  SIXTEEN

  “He’ll be okay. Vincent, I mean. He’ll be okay.” Nijinsky looked somewhat the worse for wear. His hair was short of perfect, and his collar was limp. He almost flopped into the chair.

  Plath had showered. The water had run red and she’d stayed in there quite a while, crying where the others couldn’t see her.

  She sat now beside a solemn, shell-shocked Keats. He still had blood splatter on his face. He still smelled of gunpowder.

  Anya was … somewhere … with Ophelia. Caligula had disappeared. Wilkes sat a little apart, noisily devouring a bag of spicy Doritos.

  Renfield’s head in the plastic bag had been taken away to be incinerated, obliterating any evidence of nanotechnology.

  “Two of Vincent’s four biots are injured and lame for the time being,” Nijinsky said. “They’re back in crèche; they’ll likely recover. Wilkes’s biots also were roughed up. But she went two against eight with the Bug Man. Saved Vincent and made it out alive.”

  Nijinsky made a little salute, which Wilkes saw but did not acknowledge. She ate mechanically, stuffing the chips in her mouth, eyes looking at nothing.

  “You both got thrown in the deep end tonight,” Nijinsky said, not quite apologizing. “It must have been tough.”

  “It was a bloody nightmare,” Keats shot back. He blinked. Drew a little further into that diffidence of his and added, more quietly, “Still is.”

  “Yes, and more to come,” Nijinsky said.

  “Not tonight,” Plath snapped, and was gratified that Keats nodded in support of her.

  “Got that right,” he said.

  Nijinsky waited, letting the silence calm them both down. Plath felt like someone had rubbed her entire body with sandpaper. Like she’d been shot up with speed. Like a screaming rant was at the tip of her tongue just waiting to be released.

  Ophelia came in. “She’s under control,” she said without elaboration. She was carrying a bottle and a tray of mismatched and not-very-clean glasses. She set them down in front of Nijinsky. He poured a whiskey for himself and for Ophelia. He looked speculatively at Wilkes, Keats, and Plath.

  Plath accepted a glass. Following her lead, so did Keats. Wilkes joined last. She snatched the glass angrily.

  “To Renfield,” Nijinsky said.

  Five glasses tapped and five shots went down with varying degrees of gasping and coug
hing. The liquid fire spread through Plath’s stomach and radiated out through her body.

  “I hope he is with his God,” Ophelia said.

 
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