It was hard to hold the stolen knife as he crouched in the darkness. The blood trickled in runnels over his hand, some even finding its way into the sleeves of the tight, black infiltration armour that covered him from head to foot. His own knife lay embedded in the chest of a young Black Flag legionnaire two floors up, sunk to the hilt even after being thrown fifty feet.
As it turned out the flamboyant move had proven costly as the boys’ dying spasms sent a few rounds into the ceiling. Even now he could hear the approach of squadron 18 and he shook his head in disgust. According to the duty rotas he’d hacked from Black Flags’ database they were supposed to be patrolling D quadrant until 2:15am, putting them a whole one hundred and twenty seconds ahead of schedule. Sloppy, very sloppy.
The killer waited until the squad was level with him and then exploded from hiding. Two were dead before they even knew he was there and the remaining four tried to train their guns on someone who seemed composed of smoke and liquid shadows. A bladed hand crushed the windpipe of the large black man on the right even as his elbow shattered the skull of the girl behind.
Before they dropped the killer had spun like a dancer between the last two, whipping their knives from their belts. He moved so fast that they never had time to turn before the stolen blades sliced into their backs, precisely between the third and fourth ribs on the right hand side, puncturing the lung and rendering them incapable of making any noise.
The whole combat had taken less than sixty seconds. He reviewed the schematics of the base on his neural net and moved unerringly toward one of his many boltholes. The killer was veteran enough to know that once the mission had begun the only thing you could reliably plan on was the plan going awry at some point. He moved quickly, confidently through the shadows, trusting in the refraction optics woven into his armour to keep him one with the dark and hoping that no one was using thermal imaging just yet.
He slipped into the storeroom that he had chosen as his first refuge two weeks ago and crouched behind one of the many boxes of dried rations. He had assumed that this store wouldn’t be high on their priority list and that only a small squad would be despatched to check it.
Now he simply had to wait. The base was on alert, which would make his job more difficult but the killer had the confidence of a man who had never failed, never been beaten. He knew he would complete his mission. The thought of failure never even entered his head. The intruder grinned in the darkness. Life hadn’t always been like this, moving from shadow to shadow, kill to kill, always behind the barrel of a gun or the blade of a knife.
Yes, life had indeed been different. Before the cold metal wombs of the program birthed him a second time. He grinned again. Life hadn’t always been this much fun. The door hissed open and the killer tensed as he listened to the footsteps. There was one guard, moving silently, cat-like and sure. Perfect.
A single blow rendered the unfortunate legionnaire unconscious and the killer quickly flipped him over onto his stomach. He pulled another knife from his boot and sliced through the straps on the guards body armour, then the uniform below, exposing his back from the neck to the waist. The killer unclipped a dull black metal tube from around his thigh and activated the device with a button near its bulbous head.
It looked like a metal centipede, even down to the multitude of tiny legs and pincers at the head. A green LED began to blink on and off and the killer used his knife again, this time to cut through flesh and expose the guard’s spine. A swift application of cryo-gel stemmed the flow of blood and the intruder quickly placed the NSO into position.
That was what the Lab-rats called it, standing for Neuro-Symbiotic-Override. Everyone else in the program had promptly christened it the Puppetmaster. As the Puppetmaster settled into place its pincers shot forward, penetrating the brain stem and sending nano-filaments up into the brain itself. The filaments snaked through the Medulla and insinuated themselves into the cerebral cortex.
The legs of the Puppetmaster were busily injecting their own nano-machines into the spine itself. These would hijack the motor neuron pathways, masquerading as sensory neuron axons and sending their own messages to the brain. Pain signals were blocked completely whereas those areas in the medulla responsible for movement and awareness were boosted exponentially.
The green LED turned amber and the killer stepped back as the guard rose smoothly to his feet, through the door and upwards through the base on his pre-programmed "escape" effort. The killer moved swiftly, deeper into the complex, down towards its’ heart. He could hear the gunfire above him and, very faintly, the screams.
Cassandra hadn’t changed it seemed. She wanted the intruder alive for torture and questioning. The killers’ puppet laboured under no such constraints. The killer soon reached his destination and considered several options before simply levelling a kick at the steel door that blasted it from its’ hinges. There was an immediate burst of gunfire from the room but he was safely passed the door, hugging the wall.
He threw a small black disk through the doorway and waited two seconds for the magnetic suppressor to activate. This was one of his personal favourites. The suppressor inhibited the small working parts of automatic weapons, rendering them useless and forcing his targets to meet him hand to hand.
The killer entered the room, swiftly despatching the two guards impotently pulling their triggers. A vicious left cross lifted the first from his feet, hurling him into a bank of machines which buckled and sparked in their death throes. He followed the move round smoothly, turning full circle to hammer a roundhouse kick into the chest of the second. The wet snap of his ribs was clearly audible as they drove into his lungs.
He turned to see the remaining two moving towards him with perfect, almost choreographed steps. These would be the best that Black Flag had to offer, bar Cassandra herself.
They didn’t even see the blows that swept inside their guard to drive their shattered nose bones up and into the brain. The door at the far end of the room opened as they fell and the mistress of the Black Flag organisation moved into the room. Cassandra was still beautiful, even through the fear that twisted her flawless features. There was determination there as well. The killer knew that alarms were ringing even now and Cassandra had only to hold him for seconds rather than minutes.
Viper swift he moved in, not trying to land a blow but trusting to her own fear to compel her to strike. Sure enough her fist flashed towards his face, the blow so fast that the tearing of displaced air could be clearly heard. The killer swayed backwards, his own hand catching hers in an iron grip. He twisted her arm as he pulled her towards him so that her elbow joint faced upwards. The killers other hand cannoned down, smashing through the bone and tearing the flesh.
Cassandra was enough a child of the program that her grunt of pain was barely audible and even as he crippled her arm she attempted to bring her foot down onto his instep. The killer twisted away to stand behind her. He grabbed her hair, bound in a ponytail, and quickly looped it around her neck, pivoting on one leg at the same time and placing a foot in the small of her back.
He increased the pressure and reduced her air supply just enough to take some of the fight out of her. He stood there in perfect balance, Cassandra’s weakening struggles hardly moving him at all. Then for the first time the killer spoke. "I will almost miss you Cassandra". Cassandra’s eyes widened as she realised who her executioner was to be and then his foot drove forward as he wrenched at her hair. Her eyes widened further as her neck snapped and she fell bonelessly to the floor.
The killer felt a pang of disappointment as his quarry fell. Now the mission was over. Now would come the interminable wait between assignments, the wet embrace of the bio-gel that held him in dreamless stasis while they probed and tested, always refining the genetic process, making him stronger and faster all the time.
These momentary doubts flashed through his mind in a second, even as he was turning towards Cassandra’s chambers and the escape route he knew she would have there. Without a backward glance at the corpse of his sister, the killer faded back into the shadows.
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