You've Come A Long Way, Baby Chapter 8

By Imrahil

His hurried footsteps echoed off the dark concrete walls as he clutched the small package. His heart pounded as he nervously darted his eyes from side to side while running down the center of the deserted warehouse. Large wooden crates of all sizes were stacked around him. Anyone could be behind those crates.

He swallowed hard and began to run faster. He felt a sharp pain in his side, causing him to gasp loudly. Just a cramp. The disheveled man gathered new energy and forced himself to run even faster.

It seemed the building went on forever, but he had to reach the end some time. He had to.

His lungs were about to explode. He stumbled off to the side of the warehouse and leaned against one of the larger crates, gasping for air. He rubbed the water from his eyes with his sleeve and coughed hard. He had never had to run for so long.

He looked down at his trembling hand holding the brown package. It was covered in red. He had done what he had had to do to get the parcel. It was battered, now, and smudged with the guard’s blood. The man managed to smile as he panted and wheezed, and he began to peel the brown paper off, revealing the metal container underneath.

As if on cue, the sound of slow, deliberate footsteps suddenly echoed through the complex. The man paled, and held his breath. No, it was not over, yet. The man knew exactly whom the heavy footsteps belonged to. His fingers fumbled over the latch of the box and he forced it open with a quick pull. The loud metallic clang could be heard throughout the building. The footsteps began to quicken their pace.

The man’s eyes glinted as he recognized the soft gleam of gunmetal. His shaky, bloodied hand grasped the weapon. He chose a small clip from the box, and loaded the firearm with a loud click.

The heavy footsteps suddenly stopped. The man listened carefully as he held the loaded weapon close to his head. Minutes of silence passed. The man’s nervous breathing was the only sound in the entire complex.

Suddenly, from the furthest end of the warehouse, a set of lights came on with a thundering crash. Light after light rumbled on almost rhythmically until the huge warehouse was completely illuminated.

The man turned from side to side, panicking. Realizing that he was still quite well hidden between two very large crates, he relaxed a little. At least until he heard the footsteps again. The man wanted to yell; scream out in anger at the tortuous way he was being followed. He shut his eyes hard for a moment, and then sprinted out from behind the crates. He ran across the center of the room and looked down towards the entrance, which was so far away. Much closer than he had expected, he spotted his pursuer.

“Hey!” The large figure was only about fifty yards away. The panicked man stumbled as he fired a few shots at the person, and then darted behind a few crates across from where he was hiding before. He prayed the shots had found their mark. The man waited, panting from behind the crates, for a sound from his adversary. There was nothing.

The man began to slowly move to the edge of the crate, preparing to sneak a look around the corner. He extended his head from behind the crate, only to find a well-placed fist in the center of his face.

The man flew a few feet in the air and landed in a crumpled heap against a some boxes. His gun flew from his hand and slid between two crates. The man had been surprised, but he was never unprepared. As he lay face down in a pool of his own blood, he could feel the stare of his adversary on his back. Soon, he heard the crackle of a radio.

“Alex, do you need any back up?” The radio clicked off.

His opponent sighed. “It looks like I got him. I appreciate your help with the lights, Kat. I’ll be out with him in a minute.”

“He’s alive?” The radio crackled to life once again.

“Yeah.” The semi-conscious man felt his right arm be pulled behind his back. Fortunately, this was exactly what he wanted. He let the scalpel fall from his sleeve and into his open palm. With a sudden, quick movement he turned over and slashed at the face of his pursuer.

“Ah—!” His foe stepped backward, holding onto his own right arm, now, which was spurting blood. Apparently, he had cut quite deep into his opponent’s bicep, instead of slashing his face. The man didn’t waste another moment. He ran over to the crates where his gun had slid between, and grabbed it in a flash. He didn’t stop for a second and continued running down the center of the warehouse.

The man heard his opponent yell a few commands from behind him, but he ignored them. The man had to get the gun somewhere safe.

Perhaps he should have listened to the policeman. The man heard what he had been dreading: a gunshot. He felt an extraordinary explosion of pain in his knee, and his legs folded under him. It didn’t matter, he had made it.

* * *

The bar had a nice atmosphere, and it was a good place to just sit down and talk. It was one of the few places in the building where one could hear laughter, which was a very welcome sound after a day’s work. Dozens of small tables dotted the large room, each with a patron or two sipping a small glass. Booths lined the walls, where groups of men and women dressed in informal blue and black uniforms talked and joked with each other. A gray counter could be found at the head of the room, where a young bartender tended to the needs of her customers. The place was like a small oasis in the center of hell itself, and it was a welcome break from the everyday world.

A gray door slid open at the entrance of the bar, and a wearied individual stepped through and looked around the room. Most of the patrons looked up, even a few from the large groups in the booths, to see the newcomer, but then quickly returned to their conversations or drinks. He was a little out place in the bar, to say the least; he seemed to be the only blemish in the sterile environment. He was wearing a complete uniform instead of the blue and black shirts that the other patrons were wearing. Impregnable armor covered his torso, forearms, and legs. The armor looked as if it had just been through a warzone, however. A few bullet holes dotted the surface of his chest, and small chunks of metal were missing from parts of the protective suit. Scorch marks were spread across the exterior, accompanied by small amounts of dried blood on the right forearm piece. As he looked at the informal garb of the bar-dwellers, one could easily see he was a little self-conscious. He looked from side to side nervously.

A woman from one of the large groups waved at the newcomer, and motioned for him to join her. The tired man walked over to the group with long strides, and quietly took a seat beside the woman in the booth.

A thin man with his arm around an attractive young woman sitting across from the weary individual smiled when he sat down. “It’s been a while since you’ve been around Rye’s. Nice to see you’ve decided to grace us with your presence.”

“So, what did the magistrate want?” The young, dark-haired woman who had motioned for the man to come and join the group asked.

“I guess he was in one of his moods. I’ve been demoted to second class, again,” the man said in a quiet voice with a grim expression on his face.

“What? But didn’t you put the plebe down?” the attractive woman attached to the thin man asked.

“Yeah. Apparently, he took something really valuable from the labs, and it’s not at the scene—”

A large black man sitting to the right of the couple interjected. “He couldn’t have possibly demoted you for that; you aren’t responsible for evidence retrieval.”

“Well, he also said that since I didn’t execute the runner, I’d have to lose my rank, Poe, and—”

The thin man spoke with disbelief, “Wait, don’t tell me you let another runner live! Why are you so bent against the Regimen?”

The woman beside the newcomer spoke angrily, “I’m sure he had a good reason! Right, Alex?”

“Look, there was no reason to kill the plebe, he was—” Alex started.

“He tried to kill you! And he murdered Frank!” the black man, called Poe, said a little louder than anyone at the table had expected..

“And he stabbed you, right? There’s no lenience when it comes to assaulting an officer,” the blond with the thin man said.

“With a non-lethal weapon! A tiny knife!” Alex said while showing the size of the blade with his thumb and index finger.

“Laced with ANV,” the thin man said with a smirk.

“Did you all read the reports, or something?” Alex said, quite exasperated.

“Listen, Alex, you just have to start following the guidelines. If you hunt down a murderer, you have to kill him. That’s all there is to it,” The dark haired woman said to him.

“All right, well if I made an error in judgement, Kat, then tell me this: why is it that the plebe is still alive? The magistrate is interrogating him, for chrissake! Something’s not right about that runner.”

“They’ll kill him anyway,” the thin man said. “Finish what you started.”

“Maybe, but if the magistrate is keeping the plebe alive, then there is definitely something going on,” Alex said with a furrowed brow.

“Well, it’s basically the magistrate’s fault the plebe got away after killing Frank, anyway. He’s probably taking a lot of heat from the Upper Wing, and he’s just looking for a scapegoat; someone to share the blame.” The black man resumed with a quieter tone as he spoke.

“Whatever. You’ll get back up to first class, just like before.” She paused for a moment. “Did you want something?”

“No, that’s alright. I just wanted to know if you guys had heard anything about what happened.”

“Is your arm okay?” The dark-haired woman craned her neck to see the bandage on Alex’s right arm.

“Yeah, the doc said I’d just have to let it heal naturally until the nanites recover from the damage the toxin on the knife dealt. Those damn surgical blades cut deep.” Alex fingered the bandage as he spoke, and smiled meekly.

“How repulsive,” the blonde said as she looked at the damp bandage.

“Hey, I thought civs weren’t allowed in here, Grant,” Alex said to the thin man. The blonde was wearing Grant’s blue police coat.

“But, Alex, this is Officer Grant, can’t you read the name on the front of her jacket?” Grant smirked evilly as he sipped his drink.

“You’re an idiot, Grant,” the black man said.

The thin man made a vulgar motion with his hand while grinning. He and the blonde snickered and then passionately kissed.

“Yeah, look, I’ll see you all later. It’s late, and I’ve got desk work waiting for me in the morning.” Alex began to get up.

“Too bad. We’ll see you when you come around next time,” Poe said. “Sorry we couldn’t offer better conversation.”

“You need any company? I could walk with you to your room,” the dark-haired woman asked.

“Thanks, but no, I think I’ll just get right to bed, thanks,” Alex said hurriedly. He left the booth, and nodded at the bartender on his way out of the bar.

The well-lit corridors seemed to twist and contort in a tangle of chaotic strands as the recently demoted cop strode toward the officers’ quarters. In fact, this was not far from the truth. The architect responsible for the monstrosity called the Law Center had designed the halls to resemble a spider, or some other many-legged creature, due to his apparently quite disabling mental condition. Remodeling never took place, mostly due to disabling mental conditions of many members of the High Administration, called the Upper Wing. These members believe inefficient transportation provides good exercise for officers, and they are completely right. There are halls in the building that double back on themselves, and stairs that seem to lead nowhere.

Fortunately, the officers’ quarters were located very close to the bar from which Alex had come, and he did not have to go very far in his poor condition. He approached his familiar gray door and rested his thumb on a tiny black screen mounted in the doorframe. After a loud beep, the door slid open, and closed behind Alex after he walked in the one-room chamber.

Alex sighed and quickly removed his battle-worn armor and threw it against the far wall, where it stuck on the wall, as if by magic. He walked past his small bed and sat down at his desk and waved his hand at a screen mounted on its top. The screen flickered on immediately and displayed a large blinking ‘LC’ icon.

Alex furrowed his brow and told the screen to display the message that he had been sent.

The familiar face of Jacob Lehns, an Upper Wing authority, appeared on the screen.

“Hello again, officer. I’m sure you’re still a bit shaken from your recent encounter with your Division Magistrate, and I’d like to state that any decision he made regarding your rank has been cancelled, by me. It is not often a criminal gets away with sensitive materials, scot-free. Without you there, following your regular patrol route, to spot the runner’s escape, we would be in a very poor position indeed.” At this point, Jacob averted his eyes from the screen and paused. “Anyway, it’s also not often that an officer follows a runner for three miles through the Darkscape on foot, and successfully catches and disables the runner. If anything, you deserve a promotion for your extraordinary duties. In fact, I am hoping to see you off the streets very soon, and in the Upper Wing. Report to my offices in eight hours; we need to speak privately. Good job, officer; very good job.”

Alex had been resting his chin in his hand during the entire message, a puzzled expression across his face. No one is just offered a place in the Upper Wing. Alex knew there was something more to this message than just a simple commemoration.

Before he could reflect on the matter any more, he suddenly felt an overwhelming sickness come over him. He got up from the desk and ran over to the tiny closet-sized room that served as his bathroom and shower. After he was finished being sick, he sprawled out on his bed and sighed. He had endured ANV before, and he knew the worst was yet to come. Alex silently cursed the name of the jerk that had developed the anti-nanite scourge called ANV, and slowly began to drift off to sleep.


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