An ancient predator walks amongst us.
He is neither man nor animal.
He is the by passer of evolution,
a blight on creationism,
and the nightmare of man given form.
"I have a runner here!" shouted the corporal into her helmet's integrated headset.
"Location and profile?" The lieutenant looked down at his watch. It was just after 2200 hours, two hours past curfew, and just late enough to start using deadly force.
"He ran between two buildings just north of your location. He's probably a Fanger. He was moving too fast to be human. Didn't look like one though."
"How do you mean?"
"He wasn't naked like most, but wearing a long, black coat, and he's well over six feet tall."
"OK, we're on our way." The lieutenant glanced at the six men of his squad, and gave the hand signal to move out. He looked up at the overcast sky. There would be no assist from a full moon tonight. "Go to night vision, people."
The Curfew Authority Termination Team (CATT) headed due north from their present location. The Authority had created these squads to patrol the streets of all the major cities. They punched in at dusk and punched out at dawn. Fangers were their primary targets, but if some other scum 'accidentally' walked into their crosshairs, they'd be more than happy to put them down.
The squad quickly met up with the corporal, and all eight CATT officers huddled at the entrance to the alley. They were a unit of the police for that precinct, but looked and acted more like a military squad. Plop them in the middle of war-torn Eastern Europe and they would have blended right in. Their camouflaged black and dark-grey fatigues were perfect for nighttime operations. Each member had the latest high-tech gear including a military issue AB1 assault rifle. It was the only auto-beamer that had a 'sunlight' setting which could actually hurt a Fanger. With several officers, and their rifles set on full auto, it was quite possible to permanently kill one. "Drop 'em then pop 'em" was the saying every CATT officer knew. It practically became their mantra, and it was the first lesson a rookie learned.
"Report, corporal." The lieutenant didn't waste time making eye contact, but scanned the length of the garbage-strewn alley.
"He pulled off a couple of boards and ducked into the building." She pointed at one of the few windows near the middle of the alley.
The lieutenant looked up at the familiar concrete and steel structure. "OK people, listen up. This used to be a warehouse, but now, as far as I'm concerned, it's a safety hazard. It's been abandoned for years. The wood inside is rotting, so check your footing. Move."
The squad entered one at a time through the same window. The large, square warehouse's interior was mostly empty. The only obstacles were two-dozen thick, steel support pillars evenly spaced throughout, each one ending at the forty foot high ceiling braced by a series of steel beams. The floor was strewn with the usual trash, the left over scraps from when the warehouse had first been cleared out, and later, the garbage left by countless squatters before it had been recently boarded up. The smell of rusting steel and wet dirt assaulted the team's nostrils as soon as they entered.
Once all were inside, the lieutenant barked his orders. "You're with me corporal. The rest, in twos, spread out. Let's find this lowlife and put him out of my misery. Corporal, use your thermal scanner, find him."
"Yes, Sir." The corporal removed her backpack, took out the device, and gave the interior a 180-degree sweep. With a puzzled look, she swept a second time.
"Corporal, I don't want to rush you," the lieutenant said with pretend courtesy, "but we need those readings, now."
"Sorry, Sir. I had a reading, but it vanished. The scanner is working. It's picking up all of us just fine."
"Hit playback. Let's look at him before he ghosted."
The corporal replayed what she had recorded on her first sweep of the area.
"There! Freeze it." The lieutenant pointed at an orange blip on the small pad's black screen
"I've never seen a thermal like this, Sir. Vamps are in the cool spectrum. This one is on the opposite end - way too hot.
"What are you saying, corporal? Is he human?"
"Not sure, Sir. Could be, I guess, a human that fell asleep under a sunlamp for a day." She tried to be funny, but her commanding officer didn't even crack a smile. He was already thinking a step ahead.
"So, an alien then?"
"That would be my guess."
The lieutenant adjusted his headset's microphone. "OK people, listen up. We might have an illegal alien situation here. And when I say 'illegal alien' I'm not talking about Mexico - got me."
"Affirmative," said the other six officers over their headsets.
The lieutenant continued. "Go back to your standard beam settings. This ain't a Fanger. If he's human, we kill him. If he's from another planet, he's just as dead. No aliens allowed in the Eastern American Imperium, even if we weren't under martial law."
"What's the target's location?" one of the officers called in.
"Yeah..." the lieutenant replied, taking a moment to choose his words carefully. "About that.... His last known position was near the far northeast corner. We lost the thermal after that."
"What do you mean? How can we lose it?" questioned another officer who was a little flustered by the lieutenant's unexpected answer.
"Not sure," the corporal cut in. "If it's an alien, maybe it has some tech that can block our scans, or it's some natural bio thing. Hell, I don't know."
The lieutenant took charge. "We're going to have to rely on night vision and motion trackers only, people. Look sharp. Team two, head north along the west wall. Team three, head east along the south wall. Team four, head northeast, directly toward the target's last known position. The corporal and I will move to a central location, see if we can pick up anything, and drop him if he doubles back. Move!"
A few minutes later, all pairs of teams reached their destinations.
"Team four here. There's no sign of him. Maybe he got out, went through another window."
"No," said the lieutenant firmly. "I know this place. Every window is boarded up and every door is locked. If he tried to break out, we would have heard it. He's still in here. Team two, head..."
"Aaahhh!" The scream shattered the silence. It was quickly followed by the high staccato sounds of an assault rifle on full auto.
The lieutenant saw the gun's red flashes in the far northeast corner. "Report!" he shouted.
"Team four here. Jenkins is dead! The target dropped down on us from above! Cut Jenkins in half with a curved sword or something! I think I hit 'em! He ran south along the east wall! Christ, he's fast!" He wiped the splattered blood from his face with the back of his sleeve. "This ain't happening.... Who cuts people in half with a sword?"
"Team three," the lieutenant yelled into his headset. "He's heading directly for you!"
Team three responded immediately. "He just came in range of our motion tracker.... Got a visual.... Here he comes.... We have him in our crosshairs.... Just a little closer... a little closer...."
A split second before two AB1 assault rifles erupted sending a hail of red beams at the target, the runner jumped higher and farther than humanly possible, and landed in a squatting position directly between the two officers. The sickle shaped sword was a florescent green in their night vision lenses as the shadowy figure raised it high.
"Slishhh - Aaahhh!"
"Crupppt - Fuuuck!"
"Team three." Static was the lieutenant's only reply. "Team three!" There was now a hint of panic in the lieutenant's usual authoritative voice. "TEAM THREE!"
"They're gone!" shouted the corporal, getting in the lieutenant's face. "The target was briefly on my motion tracker when he was due east of our position. I think he's doubling back to the northeast corner."
The corporal was right. A burst from an AB1 was quickly followed by the sounds of efficient butchery, and the second member joined his teammate in death.
The lieutenant, overwhelmed by a sudden realization, shared his fear with the corporal. "He wasn't trying to escape from us. He lured us in here. It's a kill zone - his!" He turned away from the corporal. "Team two."
"Yeah, we're here."
"Get back to the entry window. Double-time it. We're getting out of here."
But it was too late. This time there wasn't even a burst of auto-beam fire, as the two men were taken by surprise and from behind. The lieutenant and corporal froze in their tracks when they heard the sounds of flesh being sliced and hacked. So efficient and quick were these kills there came no screams. The squad was being systematically slaughtered.
The lieutenant made a panicked call to Headquarters. "Emergency! Urgent response! My team is down! I repeat! My team is down! Send everyone you've got! Lock in on my signal!"
It was the last communication Headquarters received from the squad. Four other squads were quickly dispatched to the abandoned warehouse. Other support units were called in. Body parts were collected. All eight officers were accounted for and black bagged. A couple of rookies vomited, but no admonishments followed. Even the seasoned veterans were shocked by what they found.
The whole area was now on high alert. Roadblocks were set up, several square miles were locked down, and two hover-copters flew their grid search patterns. Every available officer was combing the streets, and the four CATTs were methodically searching all the abandoned buildings in the surrounding area.
A dark figure paused before entering the grey, stone building. His lean, muscled form was completely dressed in black. A long, leather coat kept him warm from the cool night air, and a wide-brimmed hat kept his head dry from the rain that began to pour down upon him. He didn't mind the rain. He welcomed it as it washed away the gore. He imagined it could purify him, a baptism from nature. How many times before had he stood like this? With the blood mixing into pools of rainwater at his feet, and with similar thoughts of being cleansed both physically and spiritually. Too many, he thought, but there was never enough rain from the heavens to wash him clean.
He heard the far away voices shouting all around him. They were closing in. He desperately needed a place to hide. Blood had been oozing from several beam wounds in his left side. The CATTs had been tracking his blood trail, but he was fully healed now, and it was time to find a place to hide. If they wanted to find him, he would make them work overtime.
He looked up at the old structure. Of all the possible buildings to hide in, it had to be this one, he thought. He knew he had no other choice, so he entered the last place on Earth he wanted to be.
The Gothic style church was an old one. Early 29th Century he guessed; a smaller recreation of those dating back to medieval times. He walked over to the holy water font, splashed some water on his pale, gaunt face. He then bent his head down and drank thirstily.
Behind him he heard footsteps and then a voice. "I don't think it was meant for that, my son. Now, if you were a horse, I'd understand."
The newcomer turned around to see an old, bearded priest, dressed in a simple, brown friar's robe standing a few paces from him. "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink." The man in black gestured to the water font, and then wiped the water from his lips with the back of a leather-gloved hand.
"I was a stranger and you welcomed me." The priest completed the sentence, motioning with open hands toward the tall visitor. "Mathew 25:35. You know your Bible." He smiled.
"I have had a great deal of time to read it, but it is not my Bible. Knowing it and accepting it are two vastly different things."
"So, you do not believe."
"No, I believe, I have no doubt. Let's just say, I choose not to receive."
The priest noticed the rainwater pooling under the stranger. "You are soaked to the bone. Please, remove your coat, and I'll get you something warm to put on."
The priest came forward, but the stranger, caught off guard, turned away, inadvertently revealed his sword hidden beneath his coat.
"A weapon! You bring a weapon into the house of the Lord?"
"I'm sorry, father. It was not intentional" He opened his coat, unsheathed his sword, and laid it on the stone floor near the entrance.
"Is that a khopesh?"
The stranger was surprised by the priest's unexpected interest in his 'blasphemous' weapon. "Yes."
"I'm sorry, you must think I'm mad. You see. I'm an avid student of history. The khopesh dates back to ancient Egyptian times. It was even the weapon used by Joshua. May the good Lord forgive me for saying" - he quickly made the sign of the cross - "but it is a weapon of Biblical proportions. May I see it?"
The shadowy figure picked it up by the grip with the blade down, and at arms length, held it out to the priest.
The priest gripped the handle and examined the blade. "How strange it is that man can create such elegance and horror together in one form?" His eyes lit up like the many prayer candles that surrounded them. That is, until he noticed something on the handle. "Is that blood?"
The stranger nodded and turned away with his back to the priest.
After an uncomfortably long pause, the priest broke the silence. "Do you wish to confess your sins, my son? It often uplifts the spirit to unburden one's self."
"No father. You would die of old age long before I would be finished."
"This is not a joking matter, my son. No man is so evil as to be beyond redemption."
But the priest was unaware that the dark stranger standing before him wasn't quite human.
"Is a shark evil?" the stranger asked, knowing full well the answer.
"No, of course not. It is a creature of God."
"Yes, but to survive."
"As do I."
The priest's initial shock turned into a smile. "You are joking again."
"No." The stranger turned, and with only one look from his piercing, grey eyes, the priest understood his seriousness.
It is said, eyes are the windows to the soul. For the first time, the old man knew exactly what that meant. There was a deep darkness within those brooding eyes, a thirsting malevolence beyond his comprehension. A drastic change came over the priest. It was as if Satan himself was standing before him. And he began to fear for his life, and his soul.
The stranger continued. "I have killed to survive. I have also killed indiscriminately. Such is the ways of war."
"Ah, you were a soldier," the priest said with relief.
"I have been."
The shouting of the police got closer, disturbing the usual serene interior of the church. The priest became aware of the commotion for the first time. "I wonder what is going on out there?"
"Small fish are searching for a shark."
"Are they looking for you?"
"My son, the church no longer grants sanctuary. I'm sure you know this."
"Does the church still believe in saving souls and lives?"
"Yes, of course."
"Then hide me and accomplish both; my soul for not taking their lives," he asserted with an awkward smile.
"Yes, well, when you put it that way, how can I refuse?" The priest didn't know what to make of this stranger, but he didn't trust the government either. When the people were more afraid of their government than the prospect of eternal damnation, there was something seriously wrong.
A few minutes later, the butt of an assault rifle knocked loudly on the ornate, wooden door.
The old priest opened the heavy door only a head's width wide, and looked at the CATT lieutenant who stood holding an AB1 across his chest. His squad was waiting for him under a dim street light no more than ten metres away. "Yes?"
"We're searching for a cop killer. Could be a vamp or possibly even an alien. Have you seen or heard anything?"
"No. Nothing. It was rather uneventful until you came pounding on the door."
The lieutenant looked to his left, then his right, and then over the grey haired head of the priest, as if to catch someone in the act. "Well, if you do, don't hesitate to contact us. Make sure all your windows and doors are locked."
"Yes, of course, I will." And with that, the priest closed the door and slid the heavy, steel bolt into place. "I'll start with this one," he whispered to himself. He turned to the stranger who stood only a few feet away, hidden within the shadows. "He's gone. I doubt he'll be back."
"Thank you." His sword disappeared under his coat.
Neither of them said very much after the squad left. The priest shared a modest meal with the stranger, set up a cot for him in the nave, and retired to his private quarters, making sure to lock his door, just in case. He would get little sleep that night.
When morning finally came, it was sunny and cloudless, a stark contrast to the previous dreary night. The stained glass windows casted their multi-coloured warmth onto much of the church's otherwise drab interior.
The priest approached the stranger, who, to his surprise, was standing reverently before a large statue of Christ on the cross. Jesus was depicted as a brown skinned, Middle Eastern looking male with long, dark hair, short beard, and brown eyes. A liberal amount of red paint was used to realistically render the blood.
The priest stopped to stand close behind him. He looked up to admire the statue. "It was recently done by a local sculptor, a very gifted artist. What do you think?"
"It is a beautiful sculpture depicting an ugly execution," the man in black commented without turning around. He seemed far away, deep in thought, but quickly snapped back into the present. He turned toward the priest. "Again, thank you for not turning me over to The Authority, but I must leave you now." The stranger walked past the priest as if he wasn't even there, and headed for the front door.
"Wait! I have questions.... Don't you have anything else to say?"
The stranger turned, smiled, and pointed at the statue. "His beard... it was much longer."
The priest looked back at the statue. "I'm confused. Again, it sounds like you're joking, but you never..." He turned to look at the stranger, but saw only the open front door. "...joke."
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