One more to go.
Then its over.
Chapter 24: Endgame
The Agent stepped into the room.
“Sir! Commander Callion wanted you-”
The first guard jerked as his head snapped backwards.
Even as the first man fell and the others drew their weapons the Agent was leaping forwards, guns flashing as Kral and Lian dived through the door behind him.
“Shots fired, shots fired, sound the alarm!” the captain shouted, and a man lunged for the console.
The Agent turned, never stopping, and threw his pistol as he didn’t have time to reload it.
It cracked off the man’s head and stalled him long enough for the Agent to draw a knife, leap forwards, and plunge it into the man’s neck.
Rolling past the dying guard he snatched his one pistol while slapping a cartridge into the other. As he popped back to his feet he saw Kral and Lian standing back to back. As Kral swept his submachine guns back and forth Lian steadied her hand and carefully picked her shots.
They made a good team, and he could tell that there was the potential for something more between them, but he did not have time for that right now, nor did they.
He spun back and shot another guard and another, and another and another.
He emptied the cartridges, then emptied them again as a group of reinforcements rushed in from the cellblock itself. Finally the room fell quiet.
He turned, reloaded his pistols, and walked into the cellblock.
Many of the cells were empty. Some held political prisoners, some held people that the Agent did not recognize.
And there at the end he saw an open door and a terrified looking man holding a blade to Sho’s throat.
“Not one step closer! Not one step or I’ll kill her!”
But he had not counted on Sho herself. The guards gone she calmly tore her left hand free of the cuff and faster than the torturer could react grabbed his wrist and broke it.
As he began to scream she tore her other arm free and smashed him twice in the kidneys. Sitting up she stabbed him through the eye and began to unlock the cuffs.
“Took you long enough”
“Yes, well, we were busy. Hurry up. We’ve got to go kill Callion”
“Is Lian here?”
“She’s keeping watch. Lets get going”
As he stepped into the lift he could see Sho grabbing weapons from the fallen guards.
“Was this a good idea Sir?” Kral stood at his side while Lian watched Sho gather her weapons “Letting her arm herself?”
“She’ll be helpful against Callion’s guards”
“If you say so”
“Hurry up you two!” he added in a louder voice “Lian, you know your program will only delays Callion’s alerts by a few minutes. We need to get going”
As the other two stepped into the lift the Agent looked at them closely. This was his team. Two criminals, one a hacker, one a psychopath. One Agent, loyal to the people of the Arc, and a competent leader in his own right. And himself, a man who had been all of them and none of them, a man unlike any other.
They would kill Callion. They had come too far just to fail.
“Do you see the destruction Jor? The glorious war, the flames, the ruin being made manifest? And all for my gain. You were born for this Jor”
Callion stood in front of a window on the viewing deck of the Annihilator, the flagship of the Colony fleet. The Agent wove between consoles as he approached him.
“What do you mean I was born for this?”
“Oh Jor, don’t you know? Have I never told you?” Callion turned, a sadistic grin playing over his face “You belong to me. I created you. In a way I am your father”
The Agent stopped, staring at him “What?”
“You heard me. You were an experiment Jor. Just an experiment gone horribly wrong gone horribly right. I guess its time that you knew your past, and I guess the past of your sister too”
“The Butcher! Well, not truly your sister, but close enough genetically. You are almost the same person”
“We are entirely different people Callion”
“Oh no. And much as you wish it you are very similar to me too. You see, as I said, I made you. Before I was a crime lord, I was a geneticist”
The battle continued outside the window, ships burning, falling to pieces as this final battle over Mars was fought. If the Earth Council won here then they would win the war.
“And I wanted to make weapons. Do you know much I could have sold you for? What about an army of people like you? Super soldiers, faster, stronger, smarter, better? But it was not to be. My experiments and actions were slated as being ‘immoral’ and I was shut down. My lab and all my research was destroyed. But the test subjects, the women who had already been impregnated with my genetically enhanced babies, the ones who would bear you and the Butcher and a dozen others were turned free and given money to help them make ends meet. I tracked down and killed four of them in the next month before the others got wise and went into hiding”
“What?” the cruel brutality with which Callion said it stunned the Agent for a second “Why?”
“Because I needed the children. I cut them from the wombs and broke down their genetic code. I was able to slowly begin to reconstruct the genome, the template. I hunted down the next six over a few years. The remaining four, including your mother, the Butcher’s mother, and two others, were the hardest to find.
“Eventually I found the next one. And I found out that something had gone horribly wrong. The children were all maniacs. There was something in my tinkering that made them entirely unstable, irrational, and killing machines. They could not be controlled at all. And so I killed the brats and gave up my efforts of reconstructing the genome. It had become futile.
“Time passed and I found two more. The Butcher escaped her mother’s fate, but the other child wasn’t so lucky. I eventually found out that you had killed your mother, and so had made my job a bit easier. And then you made it even easier when you stumbled into my hands. And I found out that you, the last of the children to be created, was the one who had the most brain in him. The one who had the most control, was the most normal. Imagine my glee, and my horror at having discarded the bodies of the other one without taking samples. I knew then that there would be no hope of reconstructing the genome again. So I instead decided to save you.
“Eventually I realized that you were my ticket to power. And so I tracked you down when you fled and I brought you to the Arc, where you paved my path to the top with the blood of my enemies. It was glorious.
“And now you know your history Jor. Isn’t it wonderful? You were created for war. Your sole purpose to bring power to others, to be forever a tool. And there is nothing you can do about it because of that lovely neural chip. Lovely indeed”
Jor took a step forwards, and raised his hand. A small bloody square sat in his palm.
“You mean this neural chip?”
Callion’s eyes widened.
“Guards! Guards! Save me!”
He slammed his hand down on the buzzer again and again.
“I’m afraid that that is quite useless. My friends and I already took care of the guards”
Kral, Lian and Sho stepped through the door.
“No. Thats not possible! You can’t do this!” his eyes darted frantically before settling on Kral.
“Agent Kral! You can help me. Shoot them! Stop them! These three are traitors, and a danger to the citizens of the Arc!”
Kral shook his head “Unfortunately not Director. Or at least not as much as you are. When this is all done I’ll try and take the Butcher and Lian in, maybe, sure, but never Jor. He’s a true servant of the Arc, unlike you. You see, I saw through your lies. Oh, and by the way, Cassy won't be coming to help you either. We executed her for being a traitor”
“No. No. No!” Callion backed up against the window as Jor advanced.
“Yes” he reached out and grabbed Callion under the chin “You are going to die now Callion”
He pulled Callion back from the window and drew a pistol.
“Grab hold of something you three” he called over his shoulder as he took aim at the glass.
“Now, this is supposedly strong enough to take a hit from a battery from outer space. But was it reinforced against shattering from the inside?” He shot the glass, once, twice, three times. Nothing happened.
“Hmm. I guess it is” He slammed his pistol into the side of Callion’s head, stunning him, and pinned his clothes to a chair with his knives. He placed the chair in front of the window and then placed sonic grenades on the window all around it.
“Goodbye Callion. The world will be a better place without you”
The four walked out the door. It slammed shut with a clang as Callion’s eyes fluttered open again. He had time for his eyes to widen at the thought of safety before Jor detonated the sonic grenades.
Callion’s chair was far enough from the window that he was only thrown facedown. Then with a cracking the window exploded outwards.
Jor watched through the small hatch in the door as Callion was sucked out into space. Eventually his body might fall into Mars and burn up, but he would be dead long before then. Jor watched until the body had floated out of sight then turned to the others.
“What do you say to getting off this ship huh? I’m sure that Lori is waiting down there for us, ship ready to blast. And I don’t envy being on this ship when the Earth Council finally gets through the defensive screen”
“Why do you think that they’ll do that?” Kral asked as he fell into step beside Jor.
“Because the only reason they haven’t won the war by now is because we kept killing their generals mid battle. And since we ditched that mission to kill Callion, well, I think they may have just won the war. That worry you?”
“Nah. I think that the people of the Arc will be just fine under the Earth Council now that Callion no longer has any say in the matters. I think that they’ll be just fine”
“Umm, sir” Kral’s voice dropped a bit “Don’t you think we should arrest the Butcher now? She is still a menace to society, and from what I have seen of her these past few days she is not redeemed, no matter what Lian says”
Jor shook his head saldy.
“I don’t think she ever will be Kral. But I was going to give her an option. She can be released to an exile somewhere, to continue her painting like she did during the first year of the war, or she can be institutionalized, so that doctors can try and help her”
“I don’t think that she will approve of either option sir” Kral looked sidelong at Lian and the Butcher. Even Lian gave the Butcher a wide berth now. The Butcher was fondling her knife with one hand and gesturing animatedly to Lian with the other.
“Unfortunately, I think that you may be right. But, I don’t see any other real option asides from killing her, which I do not want to do. Barring circumstances, our positions could have been reversed”
“So you will show her mercy? Her, who has butchered hundreds for fun? For art?”
“I…I don’t know Kral. But not is not the time to talk about it”
“Not the time to talk about what little man?”
Jor looked up to see the Butcher glaring at him.
“The future Sho” she winced at the name and he saw Lian sadden a bit more “The future of the Solar System”
“Not my future little man? Little Agent? That will always be your foremost concern, won’t it? Protecting people. And I am a threat to your beloved people”
“Only if you choose to be Sho. But, this can wait. Let us get off this ship first”
But the Butcher shook her head “No. We do this now, not prolong it. What are my choices?”
Kral tugged at Jor’s sleeve, but he shook him off.
“If she wants to do this now Kral then we can” he stared into the Butcher’s eyes and saw only hatred, only anger. No remorse, no mercy. And much pain, buried so deep that she likely could not feel it anymore.
She nodded as she stepped up to him.
“So Agent? My options?”
“Kral thinks that we should give you a fair trial. But that will result in your execution. I suggested instead either an exile to someplace where you could paint and be alone, or to try and help you. We have good therapists now who can try to help you through this deep rooted pain”
“These are my only choices?”
“If you can come up with a better one that will not end with citizens injured then I will accept it. But you don’t need to give me an answer now; take some time to think on it”
Jor turned away and began to walk down the corridor again. Lian stared at the two with sadness plain on her face. Kral shook his head and hurried to catch up with Jor, before falling into step with the tall man.
“Telling her may have been a mistake”
“It was the only choice that we had”
“I think that we could have wai-”
What would have said was lost as he was cut off by Lian’s shout. Jor half turned when the Butcher tackled him, knife driving into his middle as her momentum knocked him to the ground.
She yanked the knife free as she continued her roll over him and drew a pistol.
Kral was still drawing his own pistols when she shot him.
Jor saw Kral jerk backwards, and begin to fall, a perfect red circle in his forehead. Jor rolled over, and leapt to his feet, his jacket hanging open where the Butcher’s knife had sliced the fabric, but impacted on the armour.
He did not have time to mourn, though he wanted to scream for the man he had come to care about as a brother.
He was still reaching for his weapons when the Butcher swung her pistol towards him and fired.
There was a crack followed by a muffled whumpf as Lian jumped in front of him and caught the bullet.
A dull roar forced its way out of his throat as the Butcher’s eyes widened in surprise.
Before she could recover Jor had his pistols out and was charging at her firing. She dropped her pistol when he hit her hand, and the knife got broken in half by another bullet.
She screamed at him, and lunged with the broken off hilt.
He tried to dodge, but felt the jagged end catch in his cheek and tear. A line of red hot pain shot across his face as he fired his pistols into the Butcher’s stomach.
He kept firing, his fingers pumping faster than should have been possible.
The cartridges empty he dropped the guns as the Butcher finished her lunge, the blade ripping his ear in half.
He forced the pain away as his cheek flopped down, his mouth elongated in a massive tear that continued past the jawbone up to his ear, and flipped his daggers out of their sleeves. It wasn’t until he started the action that he remembered leaving them embedded in Callion’s chair.
The Butcher spun past him and stabbed at his back with the knife. The jagged end got caught in the armour and stuck, so she let it go.
Jor turned, and pulled his secondary pistols from inside his coat as he started after her.
Blood left a trail marking the way as he took off running.
Chapter 25: Hunting once more
The Agent could not stop and mourn his dead friends. He could bewail the chances that Kral and Lian would never have, could not curse the Butcher for taking away their chance at a future. If he didn’t run now, she would escape.
He didn’t bother to reload his pistols. That would take time he did not have. Instead he ran.
Feet pounding against the metal of the corridors he was struck as he ran by how similar this was to the beginning. But now the stakes were higher, now things were personal, now he had to kill the Butcher, for his own peace of mind. And he would do it by his own choice, not because Callion told him to.
Callion…That man was dead now, and would never again trouble them. Never again would he rise up, a dark spectre from the Agent’s past to tower over him, guiding his life like some sinister puppet master.
“I guess he always has been in one way or another. Even before I was born” the Agent dodged past a group of soldiers lying dead on the ground, one of them missing his rifle.
How could he process this? How could he accept, how could he understand this, that he had, his entire life, been but a plaything of Callion? That he was who he was, all his flaws and all his successes because of Callion messing with his DNA before he was even born.
But it didn’t matter. It couldn’t matter, not right now. Right now he needed to catch, and kill, the Butcher. Sho.
The Artist ran, panting, one hand to the terrible wound in her stomach. She could not heal that she knew.
The Sniper had finally killed her. But she would not die alone, she promised herself. She had come to far to die alone.
Others would die with her.
She started to fulfill her promise by breaking the neck of the group of guards she came across, grabbing the man’s machine gun, and gunning down the rest. She stumbled as she took her hand away from the wound and a sharp burst of pain flashed through her. But she would not give up. Not when there were so many people left to kill.
“Butcher!” The cry tore through the halls behind her and she swore quietly “I am coming for you Butcher! And when I catch you, you will die!”
The Sniper was still on her heels. Why was she even surprised? It had started this way, and so it would end this way. But this time she would be victorious. Victory in death.
Yes. She knew that the Sniper had killed the commander of this vessel. If she could disable the pilots, then it would fall.
She smiled as her plan took shape, and she turned at the next lift. The doors opened too slowly, but not quickly enough for the crewmen to get out, or even to get off a shot.
They fell to the floor as the Artist stepped in, clutching her stomach still, and pushed the button for the bridge.
The lift lurched into motion as she tore a strip of cloth from one of the men’s shirts. This she quickly wrapped around her stomach, at least staunching the blood flow. Her strength lent her the ability to tie it off tight enough to cut off circulation to her entire lower body. She didn’t tie it quite that tight, but tight enough that she would not bleed from there anymore.
Then the doors were opening as she pulled a grenade from the same man’s belt and threw it through the door. As she grabbed a pistol she swept the machine gun back and forth, increasing the chaos caused by the grenade blast.
She was an angel of death here, come to see her will done. There was no time for beauty in the kills, no time for art. Only time to put her plan in motion and to make her final piece of art. She had been denied her most beautiful one, but she would make her most glorious one now.
An entire city devoted to her art? An entire star dreadnought, large enough to kill a city?
Yes, they would make fine grave markers. Fine indeed.
She smiled grimly as the captain lurched from his seat and ran at her, firing. One bullet grazed her shoulder, but she was moving too fast for him to get a good shot. having darted from the lift the moment she saw him moving. Running along the walls she continued to shoot, shooting everyone, everything that moved.
The brave captain fell in a puddle of his crewers blood as his gun fell from limp fingers.
Finally the Artist slowed and looked. Everything was dead. Time to destroy the controls then.
She walked to the command console, turned the turrets to full auto, swung the ship towards the planet, locked the drives into full, and shot everything.
As sparks flew she laughed.
The Agent got off one shot as the Butcher stepped into the lift. He could not tell if it hit her or not, but she did not react, so he assumed it did not.
Then the lift doors slid shut and it disappeared.
Where had she gone? He looked at the schematic and saw that the lift was going three floors down…to the bridge.
So that was her plan. To take everything with her as she died. It was what he would have done a year ago.
But how would he stop her?
With her implants she was faster than he was even, so by the time he got to the bridge, everyone would be dead, the job would be done.
He would have to stop her another way.
But…if he went down to engineering, it would be too late. She might escape another way, cause more havoc on the ship.
He resigned himself to dealing with it later, and pressed the lift call button.
The Artist just finished shooting the controls when the lift doors opened.
She spun and shot at the Sniper even as his first shot blasted her gun from her hand. But she smiled as she saw him jerk backwards, his left arm flailing as the shot caught him in the shoulder.
She swung the machine gun up and opened fire as she ran to the other side of the room and the second lift. Pressing the call button she kept the fire up, pinning the Sniper into the lift.
The lift was almost there when she saw a small ball come flying her way, bounced off the wall of the lift, and out.
It landed at her feet as the doors opened, and she threw herself backwards into the lift as the sonic charge detonated.
The closing lift doors blocked some of the blast, but then they jammed.
“Close, close!” she shouted, stabbing at the buttons, any buttons, with her finger.
The Agent shook his head. This was so similar to the past. He and the Butcher, fighting it out.
But it was so different. So many things had changed. He was almost an entirely new person. He had been through so much this past year. He had finally freed himself from Callion as well.
He had seen what was wrong with the Butcher, with Sho, and also seen what was wrong in himself. He had confronted it, and defeated it, in his own way. He was, he hoped, done with this, forever.
Jor had not stopped during his introspection. No, he dived through the door and rolled behind a console. His left arm hung in pain, a muscle or tendon snapped or something by Sho’s bullet.
He frowned as he lined up a shot with one arm. It would be a hard shot but-
He didn’t get to finish the thought or the shot as the entire ship lurched. It had entered the gravitational field of Mars.
As he got his feet back he could feel the ship tilting under him, and then the tremors as it began to take hit after hit. He turned just enough to see a dozen surface to space missiles flying up at the hulking ship; the ground bases on Mars wanted it crashing no more than the Agent did.
He looked back to the lift just in time to see it go rocketing up, the doors still jammed open.
And he heard a horrible rending tearing noise, as of flesh.
As he lurched and staggered back to his lift, the ship still shuddering under the unending barrage by both Earth Council and Colony ship, he glanced to the lift shaft, and saw Sho’s severed foot lying on the ground.
But he had no time for that, as he threw himself into the lift and jabbed the button for the very top, the outer structure.He was sure that the runaway lift would not stop until the top, and prayed that he was right.