part VI

Roe stepped softly over the wet pavement, careful to keep her cloaked footsteps quiet, as she crept down the narrow alleyway under the fading evening light. The trio of men stood at the end of the passage outside of an open garage, speaking loudly about something, but Roe couldn’t quite make out the words.

Only ten meters, a couple of dumpsters, and some scattered bits of trash stood between her and the stolen rifle strapped to the thief’s back.

“The guy’s ERA is 6.5. Are you outta your mind?” the man nearest the garage said, his beady eyes squinting in disbelief, deeply set within his square head.

The thin, rat-faced man beside the thief shook his head, “Nah, nah, nah, the King is king. Sure, he’s had a bad few weeks, but, if they’re strategic with his starts after the break, he can dig ‘em out, easy.”

“You’re delusional. I get the ‘legendary hometown hero’ thing, I really do, but, come on, he’s washed up. He’s done.” The square-headed man looked to the thief for input. “Are you hearing this?”

He looked up from his red multi-tool, his voice brittle, “He’s meeting us in two. Let’s load up.”

The rat-faced man wrung his hands in excitement, “All right, time enough to grab a bite. I’m starving.”

All three started towards the garage, as the thief finally chimed in, “And King is garbage. Fuck the legend.”

An unintelligible uproar erupted, as the rat-faced and square-headed men shouted simultaneously, their shrill voices echoing off the surrounding buildings.

“Hey, assholes.” Roe’s voice suddenly boomed off the walls over the alleyway, stopping the men dead in their tracks.

Their squabble silenced, they slowly turned around to find nothing. No one. A crooked grin of gold, silver, and yellow stretched across the thief’s twisted face, his pockmarked skin weathered by a combination of time and violence. “So back for more, eh?” he prodded, recognizing her voice and scanning the deceivingly empty alley with a ghoulish glint in his eyes.

“That rifle belongs to me,” Roe growled.

“It’s a gorgeous piece,” the thief gloated, pulling it from his back. “I cleaned it myself this morning.” It expanded with a KA-CHUNK in his hand, and he looked at it affectionately. “I figured you’d have a tracker installed considering all the mods,” he sneered, “But I didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to come after it.”

“Where’s the generator?” Roe’s voice rang from nowhere.

“The generator?” The thief grinned, almost pleasantly surprised. “Is that what this is about?”

Roe didn’t answer.

The three men chuckled to one another. They’d stopped searching and simply stood, weapons at the ready, awaiting her next move.

“Well,” the thief pondered, looking at his multi-tool in mock-seriousness, “It’s probably halfway to Ceres by now,” and they burst into laughter.

Roe fumed silently, mere meters away from the pricks, waiting.

Their laughter slowed, and a slimy scowl dawned on the thief’s face. “So what are you gonna do now, sweetheart? Up for another tussle?”

“Ugh,” her groan echoed over the dead end.

“Or did you not learn your lesson last night?”

Roe sighed loudly and, in a single, crackling instant, de-cloaked and appeared only meters in front of them, a disgusted sneer on her bruised face.

Faster than they could aim and fire, Roe tapped her multi-tool, and, with a flash, her rifle lit up within the thief’s grasp, sending white-hot branches of electricity shooting out from the weapon, enveloping the thief and arcing to the others beside him. They convulsed violently, jaws clenched in anguish, as Roe held her finger steadily on the multi-tool, reveling mercilessly in the moment. Her finger lifted, and the shocking ceased, sending the three hard onto the pavement.

Roe stepped over them, glaring in contempt, and wrenched the rifle from the thief’s grasp, as they writhed and groaned. “I’m a slow learner.”

The thief moaned angrily and tried to grab her boot, his weakened fingers flailing to grasp it. She easily shook him off and stepped away.

Back to the crumpled pile of crooks, Roe examined the rifle for any signs of tampering, while, with great effort, the thief painfully pulled his sidearm from its holster unnoticed. She scoffed at a scuff on rifle’s right side and muttered, “What did you do?”

His hands shaking, the thief flicked a switched on the side of the gun that made its barrel glow blue and outstretched his arm, taking aim at Roe.

The shot rang out, and Roe lurched forward.

Panic filled her eyes. Her hearing had gone, replaced by only a thin, high pitched squeal and the shudder of her staggered breaths. She scrambled, searching her clothing for the warm, wet crimson of blood, but there was none. She quickly turned to the thief to find him struggling to his feet, and that’s when it caught her eye:

A tiny pulse-charge blinking on her right shoulder blade.

“Shi--“ she screamed, but it was too late. The charge exploded with a massive pulse of energy, flinging Roe like a rag-doll across the alleyway, headlong into a dumpster.

And all was black again.