No Trouble

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Berlin in 2085 is a nightmare. Murder, corruption, and exploitation blight the city. The slums, already choking under the misery of poverty and suffering from societal decay, are on the edge of collapse. A new drug has flooded the streets, spreading chaos in its wake. Hot on its heels come the grasping hands of greedy crime lords and shadowy cults. With the Neukölln district on the precipice, a small group of friends gather together to put an the insanity and bring the city back to its feet. Can they succeed?

No Trouble

The bright neon haze seared her eyes, a sea of electric desires and wants. Smiling Asian women gestured at themselves, their eyes promising an evening of refined conversation and delicate, sensual delight, visible even through the harsh crackle of dying holo emitters. A bright glare erupted to her left as a tank exploded, scraps of super heated metal stabbing into screaming soldiers. A mountain of a man burst from their midst, blazing away at unseen enemies. “One for you and one for you and one for you! Oh and daddy couldn't forget you!” The beefcake slammed the over sized gun into the feminine face of the enemy commander, his fine mascara mixing with the blood leaking from his burst eyes. “See the new Van Honen masterpiece,” an announcer boomed as the hero tore a man's head off. “And witness the might of the German solider!” The image stuttered a moment, fizzing and popping as the emitter reset, before blasting the advertisement again.

Next to the theater was a bar, a giant plastic hand gripping a stein fixed to its crumbling roof, promising the usual mix of watered down beer and overpriced wine. She snorted as she saw the clientele: another batch of washed up losers and has-beens.

Across the street stood several abandoned stores, their windows and doors boarded up with cheap steel. Faint lights shone from their windows, and from time to time she could discern faint specters, their forms bending and shivering. As she walked past, she saw the line for the brothel extend out from behind the building out to the sidewalk, curving round the caved in walls of one particularly broken down structure.

“Fifty Marks!” cried a bouncer as he walked up and down the line, his brass baritone punching through the rain and smoke. “Step right up and enjoy some good old fashion Berlin Hospitality! Our Ladies and Gents know how to please!” He ceased bellowing long enough to separate two brawling patrons, their protests cut short as he cracked their skulls together, the snapping sound of bone cutting through the chill air. He threw their limp bodies into the gutter running beside the sidewalk, scattering an innumerable number of rats and insects.

She kept walking, already a master at ignoring the sights and sounds (and often smells) of the Neukölln slums. She scanned the faces on the crowds, trying to find the oaf that Alexei needed. Klara cursed, wishing that someone else could have done this job. Contrary to certain people's opinion, she did not enjoy walking in the freezing rain, trying to find one mobster asshole in a sea of assholes. A grimace crossed her face as she recalled the route that Alexei said he would take.

Apparently, the man in question had made some money. Quite a bit, in fact. Klara smirked as she remembered Alexei's face twisting in anger, his dark eyes growing hooded. “He's selling a new kind of drug,” he had told her. “Void-

“-Dust,” she said, cutting him off. “I've heard about it. Its something that rich kids get when they're slumming. Who cares?”

Alexei's eyes narrowed and his teeth clenched. He leaned forward, his bulky weight towering over Klara's slim form. Klara balled her hands into fists, ready to strike him if he so much as twitched. They glared at each other, the tension between them a palpable thing; so thick that one could drown in it. Alexei exhaled after a moment, closing his eyes. He placed a hand to his face, massaging his forehead.

“I'm sorry, tovarich,” he said, remorse filling his voice. “My friend, Gunther, he died because of this drug.” Klara stared at him a moment longer, before looking away.

“Its fine”, she said, hating herself for her brittle tone. She hated herself even more though, for speaking without thinking. Not that she cared if some rich brat died in pain-she just wished she hadn't made Alexei feel like that; She too had lost friends to an overdose.

“So,” she continued, “why tell me this? Its not like I know how to bring him back from the dead or talk to him. My powers don't work like that.”

“I know,” Alexei said. “What I need instead is information. That drug used to be manufactured in the Rummelsburg district, near its target market. Now its being made here. The police shut down the factory a couple of months back, hence the move.”

He paused and looked away, a broken note entering his voice. “It looks like they've lowered the price of the drug, or they're selling a less pure version of it, since Gunther was able to get his hands on it. Did I ever tell you about him? He was my first friend in the city, my first in Germany actually. He showed me the ropes: how to avoid the police, the gangs, the slavers-he was my mentor.”

He looked back up, blinking away unshed tears. “We stopped talking after a job went bad. It was my fault, but I refused to admit it. I pushed him away, and I started badmouthing him. Its my fault that our mutual friends turned away from him and its my fault that he fell to drug addiction.”

He took a breath, composing himself. “Vladimir found him in a gutter in the Neukölln district. His skin had turned purple, like a fucking eggplant and he was covered in dog shit. He'd been lying there a while; three days at least. When I saw his body, lying there in the morgue, the fire and life gone out of him...I knew. I knew I was responsible for this.”

Klara said nothing.

“I need to know where the drug is made,” he continued. “I'd try to get the information myself, but I'm stuck with another job. I heard that you were free and I was hoping you'd be able to get the info for me.”

“Sure,” said Klara. Alexei cocked his head, his face twisted in confusion. Klara strangled the urge to laugh. “That's it? You don't want anything? No payment, no-”

“Its fine,” she said, waving a bony hand. “I owe you, remember? Besides,” she said, her tone softening, “I know what it feels like, to lose a friend.” Alexei stared at her, a relieved smile crossing his long, pale face.

“Thank you, tovarich”, he said, relief bleeding through his voice. Klara smiled back, the harsh lines of her face softening. She ignored the fluttering feeling in her stomach, and told herself that she was just glad the he wasn't crying.

She'd have broken his jaw if he'd started bawling.

“We know the who the owner of the factory is,” he said, gesturing to the holo table behind him. It wheezed into life, the old machinery clanking as emitted a blurry image. Klara squinted her eyes, straining to take in the detail. A fat, heavy jowled face was twisted into a scowl. Yellowed, molding teeth clashed terribly with pale, languid skin. His eyes glinted in the captured light, the monochromed steel shining cleanly in contrast to his dirty face. The faint gleam of bionics could be seen at the back of his head, though no more than that could be discerned, as the angle of the picture was too narrow.

He was short of stature, his arms thick, either with muscle or fat. Most likely fat, judged Klara from his hanging pot belly. Short, stubby legs stretched out in a pair of old slacks, the sides of which were caked in dirt. She raised an eyebrow at the giants as his side.

Even through the terrible quality of the photo, they horrified her. Their bodies were covered in crude bionics: a clear fluid was visible in the tubes that flowed in and out of their skin. Dirty, rusted metal covered their torsos, stitched in between corded muscles. Their teeth had been sharpened into hard points, the enamel now shod with steel. Their eyes were flesh rather than chrome and they were a burning red, the iris barely visible in the sea of copper colored blood.

“Who are these freaks?,” she asked, a note disbelief permeating her voice.

“Albert Krueger, with his body guards, also known as Brutes,” said Alexei.

“He's an up and coming provider of muscle and freak fights. There's not a whole lot of info on him, other than some basics. He grew up in Berlin and joined a gang at an early age. Krueger took control of the gang within a few years of joining, after his rivals suffered 'accidents' or died during fights with other gangs. Once he took control he forced the gang to focus on protection rackets and drug dealing. After a while he saved up enough money to open a fight club, composed exclusively of roided up freaks, as you can see. The cash started to coming in droves, which let him hire more freaks, which made him more money-you see how it goes.

"He's been doing this for a while now, building up his network of dealers and clubs, sucking the lifeblood out the businessmen he extorts. He's made so much money in the last few years that he was able to buy an old pharmaceutical factory. This let him cut out the middle man when it came to selling drugs. Now he's able to push the Mongols and Blue Angels out of the drug trade in the district, just by flooding the Market with cheap, mass produced drugs.

Alexei pressed a button and the image blurred before resolving into another photo. It showed Krueger sitting at a street side cafe, an eager expression on his face. Across from him sat a thin man, his own face blank and expressionless. The man didn't have any obvious bionics and the clothes he wore were nondescript, the kind that any office worker would wear.

“What's a suit doing this side of the river?” Asked Klara.

Alexei shook his head. “No one seems to know who this guy is or who he represents. The only thing I can confirm is that Krueger started selling Void Dust a couple of weeks after meeting this guy. It looks like the makers of the drug needed someone to manufacture it on this side of the river.”

“And they picked Kruger,” said Klara

“They picked Krueger,” Alexei agreed.

“The location of the factory is known only by the workers and Kruger himself. The only other group of people that would know where it is would be his bodyguards. And since they're a bunch of 'roid raging freaks...”

“...They're not gonna spit out where the factory is.”

Alexei nodded and pressed the button again and the image shifted to a map. A green arrow wound through a cross section of streets, looping around itself in several locations.

“The target-”

Klara snorted.

“-is something of a creature of habit. He takes the same route every week, inspecting his properties, taking protection money, talking with his dealers, et cetera, et cetera. You'll need to find a way to corner him and find out where the factory is based.” Alexei paused and then said, “Try to leach the information when he's talking with a dealer. It might come up quicker that way, you know? Right at the front of his mind. Can't miss it.”

Klara crossed her arms. “Is that how you think it works?” she asked, tossing her hair over her shoulder. “There's more to it than just kicking down the doors and grabbing the first thing you see. You have to dig deep and carefully; you have to slowly pull out what you need, like a farmer pulling out his crops,” she continued, stretching her arm out to admire her nails. “Subtle, Alexei. You have to be subtle. Not that you'd know what that means, with that tiny Russian brain of yours.”

“Klara,” he deadpanned, “you got the safe combination from that Italian by slamming his mind over and over, like a freight train, until the numbers poured out of him like spilled milk from a bottle.”

“Fuck you!” she snapped, her cheeks coloring as he chuckled. “You know that we had to get the info before his friends showed up! Stop laughing asshole!” Klara fumed as he laughed, her pale face growing ever more red as he chortled. Alexei stopped laughing after a minute and the smile slowly faded from his face. He was silent for a moment before speaking again.

“Please be careful when you're out there Klara. I'd hate to know another friend died because of me,” he said, quietly. Klara rolled her eyes at him, pushing him away from the table with a grunt.

“Relax Alexei,” she said in a confident tone. “I'll get you what you need. Just promise me one thing.”

“Anything,” he said.

“Promise me you'll let me come with you when you burn that place to the ground.”

Klara sighed as she remembered, wishing that she could have been somewhere, anywhere else. She hated this part of the city, no matter how many times she'd walked through it. It reminded her of the shit hole she'd grown up in. “He's so lucky we're friends,” she muttered.

Klara walked for more than an hour, peering at what was perhaps the most grotesque collection of human faces this side of The City. She had seen some messed up people in her time but this was really sickening: faces grown slack from cheap, back alley implants, their cheeks sagging down the sides of their face like a pug dog; those whose skin had faded into a pale white substance, the color of molding cheese, with black splotches jutting out of bruised, purpled skin; and, rarely, strange skeletal figures, their faces scarred and their bodies covered in tattoos.

Her gorge rose as she scanned the faces of pedestrians; she had to fight the urge to vomit several times. Klara supposed it wasn't a shock that Krueger had hired so many freakish people to fight for him. All he had to do was look out into the street and beckon some down-on-his-luck loser to fight for him. She suspected that more than a few people would work for that fat asshole, given their wretched poverty.

Klara stopped and stretched after a time, her mouth opening in a yawn. She slipped a hand inside her pocket to check her phone, only to curl her fingers round the hand of another.

Hair whipping behind her, Klara turned, cursing the street urchin that tried to pickpocket her. He was a scrawny thing, just skin and bones. The child pushed against her, trying to shove her to the ground. Thin as Klara was, he lacked the physical strength to topple her. Klara grabbed his stick thin arms, trying to snatch her wallet away from his bony little fist. His foot shot out, as he tried to kick her feet out from under her, only to succeed too well, as they both fell in a tangle of limbs. The boy struggled to free himself, as Klara had landed on top of him.

“Little shit!” she shrieked, scrambling to pin the twisting child.

“Get off me you bitch! Help, someone! She's trying to kill me!” he yelled. The crowd parted around them, not a single soul interested in this latest batch of street drama. She smacked the child a couple of times, vainly trying to force him to give up her wallet. He clawed and bit at her, drawing blood, gouging shallow furrows on her arms.

“Hold still you little-ow! Okay, fuck it then!” She slammed a bony fist into his face, bruising sallow skin. He still struggled, so she hit him once, twice, and on the third strike he sobbed, a tooth fallout out between broken lips. She prised her wallet from his limp hands, sneering at him as he curled into a ball.

“Watch who you try to steal from you little brat. Or you'll end up in the river next time.”

She stalked off, shoving the wallet in pocket. She shook her head, vainly trying to clear her mind. Klara stuck her hand back into her pocket and pulled out her phone, her finger flicking to the planned route that Krueger was supposed to take. She turned left, onto Allaten-Strasse. If she kept walking straight she might find him at the Bull Dog Fight Club.

She grimaced as the cuts on her arms tore open just a little more, cursing the brat that did this to her. “Alexei would laugh his ass off,” she muttered as she rubbed her wounded arms. “Vhats that tovarich?” she said, mimicking his thick accent. “Bites on your arm? I see you're taking your lovers rougher than usual these days!” Passerby gave her a wide berth as she babbled, though she hardly noticed. Making fun of Alexei beat walking in sullen, painful silence. “And, Ivan, Ivan would stand there like some stupid monkey, his mouth open in that stupid little O shape, that dumb smile splitting his face in half. And Marcia, oh Marcia would be the worst. Stupid conceited bitch.”

“How could you beat the poor kid you dumb clod?” she whined, voice lowering into nasally octave that caused several people to wince. “Wasn't it obvious he was starving, the poor thing. And who gave you the right to hit him anyway! You violent piece of trash!” Her teeth ground as she remembered how she'd given the loot she'd stolen to charity. And Alexei defended her! Saying that they needed to give back to the poor, help the people, not themselves-all that goody two shoes crap.

“He's so lucky I owe him,” she grumbled. Klara winced again, the pain radiating out, spreading branches of misery up her arms.

“Should get that checked, girl” an old, tired voice grunted to her left. She glanced at the speaker, frowning. “Ah, I know that look. I used to wear it myself when my dad used to bark at me.”

An old man, his face creased with age leaned forward. The stool he sat on creaked, its rust stark in the half light of the alleyway it sat in.Klara opened her mouth to argue, only to snap it shut when she saw the bandages on his arms.

He smiled wanly, the corners of his eyes creasing. “Street dogs,” he said, gesturing behind him. “Moody little bastards. Just as likely to bite your hand as lick it. Well, I got bit this time.” He pointed to an old clinic across the street, streaks of rust girding its steel clad form. An old cross was fixed near the top of the building, glinting in the light of the slums, it body gleaming a dull grey. “Johanna, one of the doctors, fixed me up good though. Even gave me a bit of bread to eat. Nice woman. She'll fix you up too.”

“And what do you get for sending me in there? A cut of the cash they take from my cold, dead body?”

He gazed serenely at her, easy smile still fixed to his face. She stopped herself from punching him. Barely. “We've got to look out for each other these days,” he said. “World's getting colder, people getting harder, and the government's not even trying to pretend anymore. If any of us are going to make it out alive, we're going to have to stick together.”

Klara blinked. “I know someone who talks like that all the time. Never stops going on about how we have to help each other, lend a hand, that kind of crap.” She paused, her eyes narrowing as she took in the man, drinking in every detail. His face, as she saw earlier, was wrinkled with age. His skin sagged, as though it had lost the will to stick to such weak, brittle bones. A stained, faded shirt, holes and cuts stretched across thin cotton, covered a bony frame, ribs pressing out against feeble skin. Worn out jeans, stitches and tears criss crossing unwashed denim hanging loosely over thin legs completed the pathetic picture.

The old man inclined his head. “Our mutual friend would not want you to drip blood all over the streets. Go on in, and tell them Anton sent you,” he urged. Klara wasted another moment staring at him before turning around stepping across the thoroughfare into the clinic. The old man watched her as she walked inside, a thoughtful expression lining his wizened face. “The infamous Klara,” he murmured. “Alexei will have his hands full with that one, I'm sure.”

He cocked his head, as though listening to someone. “No, I'm sure she'll be fine. A few new bruises and scars, but nothing too bad.” He reached for the half empty bottle of booze sitting on the box next to his stool, the fizz long since gone. A gnarled hand grabbed the drink then paused, bottle halfway to his mouth. “Oh. One of those guys got scrambler? Hmm, that'll cause trouble.” He gazed mournfully at the booze, the sour stench wafting into his nose.

Reminded him of the cheap shit he and his brother used to drink. A sigh escaped his lips. “Don't worry, I'll take care of it,” he said. Dropping the bottle on the stool, he stood and stretched, joints popping as he twisted his body. “Kids”, he clucked as he turned and walked into the black alley behind him. “Always the same.”


Klara grimaced as the stink of antibacterial wash assaulted her nose. That sharp, invasive brought back a lot of bad memories.

It'll be alright Klara. I promise”

Please don't leave, I'm sorry.”

You never meant anything to me.”

“Hello? Ma'am? Can we help you?” Snapping out of her reverie, Klara locked her gaze with a pretty nurse. Guileless brown eyes looked back between brown locks. A concerned expression stretched across a petite, heart shaped face. A plain, cream colored robe spilled down a slim, curved frame. Her hands gleamed in the sterile light. Old bionics, Klara noted, but serviceable. A pair of older model Krupp s, most likely made when enhancements for doctors was a new thing.

Wordlessly, Klara held up her bleeding arms. “My god!”, cried the nurse. “We need to get that fixed immediately.” She motioned for Klara to follow her as she turned and walked towards a set of old swinging doors. The nurse hit a button on a steel panel, and the doors sung open nosily, screeching as they turned on rusty hinges.

“I told Marcus to those oiled,” hissed the nurse. “I swear I'm going to take it out of his hide!” Klara smiled slightly, not expecting such viciousness from the pretty nurse. “I want to see Johanna. Anton sent me,” Klara said. The nurse glanced back at her, surprise flitting across her face.

“I'm surprised Anton recommended you come here. He seems to keep to himself...” The nurse shrugged, increasing her pace. “Come on”, she urged, “the sooner we treat that, the better off you'll be.” The nurse led Klara through a series of twisting hallways, dodging deftly around old file cabinets and peeling wooden doors. Klara raised an eyebrow as they passed a room filled with doctors. They huddled around a shivering form, alternating between arguing and taking notes. The shaking figure (whom Klara supposed to be a man) coughed violently, his body shuddering with each report.

Bloody fluid leaked from his mouth, staining the sheet wrapped around his thin, skeletal body a nauseating yellow and red. His eyes wept constantly, leaking a clear fluid. His arms, long and thin, curled around his distended stomach. In between coughs he moaned, a low keening sound. It reminded Klara of a beaten dog she'd once seen, left to die in an alleyway.

“There are a lot of people like him,” said the nurse, noticing Klara's gaze.

“Yeah?” replied Klara.

“They usually come from upper class families,” explained the nurse as they rounded a corner. “That new drug, Void Dust, has ruined these people. It gives a high like nothing else and the toll it takes on the human body is unbelievable.” Her voice lowered to a whisper, as if afraid of who might be listening.

“But the scariest thing about it isn't the physiological scarring-its the things that its users see. I listened to one boy; he couldn't have been more than fifteen. He talked about how he could see beyond the stars, into the black space between galaxies. How his friends were waiting for him there and all he had to do was open the door.”

The nurse hugged arms around herself, her face paling as she spoke. “He said he could only open the door by cutting his parents. The police found him in a warehouse near the clinic, after people reported hearing screams. The cops found him in an old storage space, painting symbols on the wall, his parents cut open. He was covered in their guts and was mumbling to himself. I swear I could smell the blood on him when they brought him here; I smelled it even through the observation window when doctor Schulz interviewed him.

“No one knows why it breaks down their bodies and screws up their minds-not doctor Keppler, not doctor Singh, not even doctor Johanna! The government says that they're close to making cure with the Bayer corporation but I don't think it can be cured. No one knows how the drug is made and it uses ingredients and compounds no one has ever seen before.”

The nurse fell silent a moment before whispering, “and more and more people are using it.” They walked in silence afterwards, passing rooms filled with crying parents, dying teenagers, and silent, brooding doctors. Klara marveled at how large the facility was. Every hall they passed seemed to branch off into two or three different areas and those halls continued to split. The equipment being used, as far as she could see, was old, perhaps by two or even three decades.

Klara saw men walking in old, bulky bionics, their pistons hissing as they moved; past surgical wards where cheap Fujikawa and Pfizer neural enhancers were being implanted into carefully opened skulls; older men and women having their creaking bones fitted with simple steel supports, and young children having having their malnourished bodies restored through nutrient transfers.

After a few minutes they stopped before an empty room, light spilling into the darkened space from the hallway. The lights banged into life as they stepped in, their old motion detectors warbling as they sensed movement. The nurse gestured towards the patient bed, which Klara gratefully sat in. Her legs ached from so much walking. “I've buzzed doctor Johanna,” said the nurse. “She'll be here in just a moment.”

She rummaged through a drawer, the old steel creaking as she dragged it open. She cursed under her breath as she searched and Klara made a mental note to remember some of the more interesting ones. She'd have to remember to use them when Marcia pissed her off.“There!” the nurse declared in triumph.

She turned to Klara, an old Pad flashing to life. A cross bloomed across the screen, a faint blue tint leaking from the glass. The nurse tapped a few icons, smiling in satisfaction as the new patient program activated.

“We understand if you don't want to give us your personal information,” the nurse began. “But we do need to know certain things about yourself in order to help you. Lets start with the basics,” the nurse said, hitting the [Record] button. “What it your name?”

“Lila,” replied Klara.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty,” Klara lied.

“Do you have any allergies or illnesses we should be aware of?”


“How did you get those cuts?”

“A Street kid bit and scratched at me.”

The nurse glanced up at her, eyes narrowing. “Did his skin look bruised, like a muddy purple color? Any kind of scarring on his body, any weird tattoos?”

“I was trying to grab my wallet back from the little shit. I wasn't interested in learning his life story,” Klara snapped.

“Please try to remember. We just want to make sure that we have as much information as possible”, the nurse intoned in a calm voice.

“What do you care?” asked Klara, her voice brimming with confusion and not a little irritation. “Some street kid tried to rob me and scratched my arms up when I tried to stop him,” she continued. “That's it.”

“I understand,” said the nurse in the same calm tone. “But we're trying to note down and log with the police if you've run into any violent and strange individuals. They've asked us to do this since the upswing in Void Dust users.”

Klara sighed, brushing her short hair behind a pierced ear. “No, I didn't see any tattoos on the kid, or any scars. He looked like any other homeless kid.”

“Ok,” said the nurse, tapping on the Pad with an old stylus. “Doctor Johanna should be he-there you are, doctor.”

An older woman had stepped through the door, a weary smile on her face. The doctor's robe she wore was as creased and rumpled as she was. A face lined with age gazed warmly at Klara, her blue eyes twinkling in the light. Her hair was tied back in an untidy bun, loose strands hanging limply down her face. Her hands ended in bionics similar to that of the nurse, though the doctor's were of a more modern model.

Klara shifted uncomfortably, the kindness in the doctor's gaze reminding her of her mother. Doctor Johanna stepped forward, nodding to Klara. “Hello, my name is Johanna,” she drawled, her accent rich and cultured, marking her a native of Hamburg rather than Berlin. “Maria said that you asked for me specifically?”

“Anton recommended you,” replied Klara.

“I see. Maria, could you please see to Doctor Keppler? He's been trying to convince a patient to take his medication but he has not had any luck. He asked for some help I think you would be best suited to that.”

“Are you sure you don't need my help here doctor?” Maria asked. The doctor waved an arm, a small smile fixed on her face.

“Its just some routine stitching, nothing I can't handle. Go on,” she said, making a shooing gesture. Maria placed the Pad on the counter, saying to Klara, “I hope you feel better. Try to avoid walking after dark. Its not safe anymore,” before walking out the door.

“It never was,” muttered Klara.

“I wouldn't say that,” said Johanna as she pulled out an alcohol pad. The plastic tore away with sharp rip and she swabbed the bite marks on Klara's left arm. Klara hissed as the doctor applied pressure, the wound aching a little harder.

“When I was young,” the doctor continued, grabbing a thick needle from a drawer, “It was actually safe in this part of town. Upper class people and educated foreigners came to live here, to take advantage of the low cost of living. The police, of course, were beefed up to protect these people. It wasn't fun for the those who already lived here, of course. Rents and the cost of living went up to take advantage of wealthier tenants, which forced the desperately poor to move away.” Johanna tapped an icon on the needle, nodding in satisfaction as it glowed a pale green.

“Hold your arm out please. Thank you.” The doctor gripped Klara's arm, her steel hand emitting a faint warmth, heating her freezing skin. “ For those who stayed it was good. Actual police officers watching over the neighborhood, a stable district government, and jobs that actually paid enough to live decently, or close enough to it.

“Over the years though, as the big corporations moved their factories and offices across the river the middle and upper classes went with them, along with the police and accountability. Now things aren't so good.”

As if to punctuate the point, Johanna drove the needle into a bulging vein. Klara bit back a scream as the thick tip punctured her flesh. She shivered as the medicine flowed into her arms, spreading through her bloodstream. Numbness spread from the point of impact, dulling the pain that had been eating away at her. Klara sighed in relief as the ache slowly faded, receding away into the depths of her perception.

Johanna reached behind her, pulling out a syringe gun. Again, she clamped her hand around Klara's arm, flicking the safety off on the gun. She placed the barrel over the first set of gouges the boy had made, maneuvering the gun to cover the whole of the angry red spread. The doctor thumbed a switch and the gun hummed as it analyzed the target area. It beeped an acknowledgment after a moment and Johanna depressed the trigger.

Klara's arm jerked under the impact. The doctor held her arm in a vice grip, pressing the barrel hard against the meat of her arm. Klara grunted as the thick gel rushed into the open wound, its antibacterial body cleansing the damaged flesh and soothing the irritated skin. It expanded quickly, blocking off the target area and sealing it airtight. After a moment the doctor removed the gun and ejected the spent magazine, tossing the used container into an orange and black hazard bin. Johanna pulled out a replacement magazine from a coat pocket, and repeated the process with the other set of gouges on Klara's shoulder.

“You guys always walk around with those?” asked Klara as the doctor moved on to sealing the long cuts on her face and arms.

“Not all of us,” the doctor replied with a smile. “Just the old hands,” she said, rubbing the alcohol swab across the affected regions. “Those of us have made peace with the fact that we're going to be doing a lot of this kind of thing.” She plucked a thick cord of thread, the dull white of the med-cotton shining in the light. Carefully, she threaded it through a stainless steel needle, pushing Klara back on the bed.

“Every day and every night, every week and every month. The faces start to blur, you see? They all begin to look and talk and suffer the same way. That's not true of course-every patient has a unique circumstance that led them to get the injury. Some come in after getting bit by dogs, like Anton. Others come in after their boyfriend beat them senseless. Some people show up twice, even thrice a month, victims of constant bar fights or industrial accidents. After a while, they all start blending together, as if you're treating the same person over and over again, with only the hurts changing.

Johanna was silent for a moment, slipping the needle in and out of Klara's bruised skin, the med-cotton threading its tendrils through her cuts, binding them tightly shut.

“Some people,” the doctor continued, glancing down at Klara, “come in after getting hurt doing favors for friends who should know better.”

“You don't know what you're talking about,” snapped Klara. “I knew what the risks were. And I know that I could get shot, stabbed, raped, or whatever in this hellhole.”

She turned her face away, not wanting to look at those eyes anymore.

I'm sorry, please don't leave me, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!

The memory struck Klara suddenly and she closed her eyes, fighting the urge to cry.

She hated hospitals.

Johanna sighed. “Always the same, you children. You should be in school, with friends, worrying about you're boyfriend standing you up or you're father embarrassing you.”

Klara barked a laugh. “What world did you come from grandma?” she asked with a sneer. “Things aren't like that and they never were. Its always been like this. Some of us live, some of us die, and some of us get bitten by little shits that should've known better.” She turned her head back, her green irises glaring into the doctor's calm brown orbs.

“Things can be like that if you want them to be,” said Johanna, pinching the thread and tying it off. The first cut done she moved to the next, her fingers deftly moving to the thread the med-cotton again. “Too many people come in here, thinking this is all there is. That all they can do is suffer and die.

“It doesn't have to be that way. All you have to do is work to get out of here. Join the military or one of the big corporations. Slave away like a dog, busting your hump to get somewhere. Its not fun. Its not easy. But you can do it, if you want to.”


Johanna remained silent as she stitched Klara's skin back together. The doctor finished within a minute and took a step back, judging her work. She nodded in satisfaction and placed the med cotton back in the drawer. “You're going after Krueger,” Johanna said as she tossed the needle into the hazard bin.

Klara said nothing.

“Don't underestimate him. He may look like a fat fool but he's not. Krueger's the most ruthless boss I've seen in a while. He's taken over large chunks of Mongol, Red Sand, and Blue Angel territory in the last three weeks alone. The other gangs are running scared and they're pouring into clinics like this.

Johanna gestured at the bed Klara sat on.

“Eight Mongols yesterday, a dozen Angels on Monday, Fifteen Mustafans on Sunday-they haven't stopped coming in and they won't. Not unless someone stops him. What he's doing...” Johanna looked away, glancing at the floor for a moment before looking back up.

“I meant what I said. Children like yourself shouldn't be in this business. Yes Klara, I know who you are. I know who Ivan is too, and Marcia, and the others. None of you should have to fight like dogs to survive but you do.” Johanna glanced at a digital clock, its sharp angles shifting from 11:55 to 11:56.

“Krueger is scum. Pure and simple. He needs to die and that drug needs to be eradicated. Too many parents have come in here with their dying children, the arms manacled to their legs to stop them from clawing their own eyes out. Homeless people crawl to our doors, their bodies broken and their minds shattered after his brutes used them as toys. Conditions in Neukölln were already terrible but this is beyond the pale.”

“In about an hour Krueger will be at the Johannesburg Club. I don't know what you plan to do with him and I don't want to know. But you should be on the lookout for thin, skeletal men. They're covered in tattoos and scars and they're the ones who have supplied Krueger the materials to make and distribute the drug. If you see them, run. Don't stick around and don't fight them. They are like nothing you've ever seen before and they'll kill you in a heartbeat if they think you'll try anything.”

Klara mulled over this information in silence. She took the doctor in again, forcing herself to look Johanna in the eye. Those brown orbs, the color of earth and sand and so reminiscent of her mother were not calm and placid. They were resigned.

They had a deep sorrow, a heartfelt sense of loss. Klara didn't want pity. Nor did she desire to be treated as a child. She'd lived long enough as an adult.

But that abiding sorrow, that look of weary acceptance, the knowledge that life wouldn't get better in the ghetto, but only ever worse-it spoke to her and reminded her not just of her mother but her old friends, of the people Klara had suffered with back in Stuttgart.

It reminded her of home.

“Don't worry Grandma,” drawled Klara, her neck cracking with an audible pop as she craned and twisted her neck. “This isn't the first time I tracked a mark.” She leapt from the table, her black boots clacking hard against the white tiles. Klara stretched her arms, popping the joints as she pivoted her hip, loosening her locked muscles. She favored the doctor with an easy smirk. “Just relax. Soon you'll be back to dealing with tripped out teenagers and their screaming parents.”

She sauntered off, strolling to the door with casual ease. As she passed the threshold Klara heard the doctor murmur, “Be careful.” Klara waved an arm behind her, the confident smile still plastered across her face. She was Klara Mueller, and she'd be dammed if she let some fat crook and his muscle bound freaks scare her. Krueger was going to die tonight and and Klara was going to rip what she wanted right out of his fat head. And afterwards?

Well, the night was young, and Alexei would want to know what had happened. She'd be sure to fill him in on all the details. Oh yes, she thought, her smile now growing wide enough to split her face. She'd be sure to have his undivided attention. And when she was done filling him in? Klara would be sure to be specific as to how he could compensate her. She remembered telling him that he didn't need to pay her. But Klara was certain he wouldn't mind giving her what she wanted...

The grin splitting her face made a child cry as she passed him and his mother on her way out. Klara didn't notice the mother's glare as she stepped into the rain swept streets, the downpour unabated. Rainwater streamed down her cheeks as she slipped into a passing crowd, their shouts of revelry growing louder as she joined them, lending her voice to their drunken song.

As far as anyone could tell she was just another street rat, drinking her way into an early grave. Klara laughed with and mocked the idiots around her, shoving some when they got too grabby and cracking jokes with those not too drunk. She glanced up, her gaze falling on looping add for Kraft Beer, the holo emitter sparking as the rain seeped inside its body.

Around her blazed the symbols and ikons of society: The burning cross of the Church, the inviting smiles of holographic whores, the thugs calling out for new recruits. And, of course, the dealers, their eyes and hands replaced with back alley bionics, their cheap plastic and ceramics looking worn and faded. The neon haze seared her eyes once more as she made her way to the Johannesburg Club.


11:30 PM, West Neukölln

“Where's my money, Maurice?”

“I-I'm sorry.

“That don't answer my question, boy. Where. Is. My. Money?

“Mr. Kruger, these people, they don't I mean, I-Urk!

“Hold him still Hans. Not too tight. There. That's good.”

Spittle flew as a meaty fist thudded into Maurice's stomach, forcing the breath from his lungs. He gasped in pain before Kruger struck him again, this time over his left kidney. Tears leaked from his eyes as the blows came. His body jerked with each hit, making him thump against the Brute holding him.

“I was good to you Maurice. I gave you that loan, got you this space, and I even recommended your store to my associates. And all I ask is that you get me my money on time. That's fair, isn't it? It's only reasonable that a businessman like myself gets compensated for his investment. And yet, here you are, spitting on my generosity.

“What kind of example are you setting for your boy there? That its Ok to cheat people? To rob them of their justly earned incomes? No, that won't do, that won't do at all. Perhaps I should show him how to take care of business. Yes, that would be good.”

Kruger breathed heavily, air rasping in and out of ravaged lungs. He wiped a spatter of blood off his lips and glanced at the cowering form of the boy. Tears ran down his tanned face and his shoulders shook as he wept. The child huddled behind his mother's legs.

“Come here boy,” he growled. “I said,” he snarled, grabbing the child's arm and wrenching him from his mother, “come here. Take a good look at your dad. He's not doing so good, is he? That'll take a while to get better. Take his nose for example,” said Krueger, his hand reaching out to grip Maurice's nose. Cartilage snapped and blood burst as Krueger twisted Maurice's nose. The brute holding Maurice chuckled as he saw the mother faint.

“Please, Mr. Kruger, I'm sorry. I'll have the money next week, I swear-”

“Next week won't cut it I'm afraid. I run a business Maurice. A proper business, unlike you. If I go easy on one client then the rest of them will try and take me for a ride. And where will I be then? Don't answer that, it was a rhetorical question.”

Krueger eyes fell to the boy and a nasty smile made its way across his face. “You know Maurice, I just realized that there's a way out of this. For you, anyway. I know that you won't make enough to pay me next week. But I also know that the shopping season kicks off next month and you'll earn just enough to make your payments. So, here's what I'll do. I'll take your boy and I'll wipe away a third of your debt.”

Fat hands gripped the boy's face. The child squirmed and whimpered as Krueger squeezed his head, the pressure making his ears ache. Krueger looked back at Maurice, that sickening smile still splitting his thin lips. “The Arabs like their toys young and tanned. He'll fetch a good price with the Niqaba.”

“I can pay, I swear, you don't-”

“Oh, but I do. Can't let you get away with fucking me, now can I? But, just because I like you so much, I'll let you choose. Your wife or your son. Better pick fast. Or I'll just take them both and burn this shit heap to the ground.”


“Tick tock, tick tock, Maurice. Times wasting.”

Maurice was silent, his gaze switching from his son to his wife. His breath came in shallow bursts and he could feel his heart slow and the sounds of the street outside quieting, fading into a shallow murmur. A tear leaked from his eyes as he whispered, “Alice.”

“Smart boy. You'll need to your son to provide for you in your old age.” Krueger snapped a finger and the brute released Maurice. Whimpering as he hit the floor, Maurice crawled towards his son and wrapped him in his arms. He pressed the boy's face into his shoulder, blocking his sight as one the brutes picked up his unconscious wife.

As the brute passed them Krueger held up his hand. The rings in his hand flashed as they caught the light. A blazing afterimage imprinted itself in Maurice's eyes, and, for as long as he lived he would always associate the color of gold with that awful day. Krueger cupped Alice's face in his hands.

He turned her head left, then right, like a jeweler inspecting new merchandise. Pinching her cheeks between a fat forefinger and thumb, he check the consistency and softness of her skin. With a critical eye he ran a hand through her hair, checking his hand for any trace of filth. Krueger ended this impromptu inspection by checking the whites of her eyes.

Finally he gave a grunt of approval and motioned for the brute to keep moving. “Had to make sure she was clean. You're boy obviously is, but you always gotta check women. They're always hiding something,” he said with a smirk. The brute towering above Maurice chuckled.

“Ha! Got you to laugh Vincent! You'll pay up when we get to the Johannesburg,” said Krueger, his smirk growing wider. Vincent nodded, his customary scowl once more making its way across his scarred face. Krueger glanced once more at Maurice.

“Have my payment ready by next month Maurice. Or I'll have to take your boy. And I do hope you'll keep in mind that this was a one time reprieve. If I need to take the boy, it will cover a far smaller amount.”

Stepping out the door and ignoring Maurice's sobs behind him, Krueger stuck out his hand and grasped the proffered bowler hat that a brute held, its black leather wet with rainwater and sweat. “Warm tonight,” Krueger grunted. The brute nodded. “Lets go boys,” Kruger cried. “There's more peasants to tax!”

The rain beat down on them as they made their way through the slums. Neon signs cast their electric glare on ragged groups of men, their clothes uniformly disheveled and stained, their faces covered in dirt and grime. The rain ran down their faces, trailing out from blood red eyes. They flinched as Krueger and his Brutes passed them, keeping their eyes low. Occasionally, a man would stop near the crew, making sure to keep out range of the brutes, and wish Krueger good health or inform him of of police spies and useful targets.

Krueger would simply smile and nod, basking quietly in the fear and adoration of the city's scum. A toothy grin cut its way across his lips as he eyed a passing group of whores. They smiled and waved their gloved hands, their mascara running down in thick black lines. One woman brushed her rain slicked hair back and smiled, her pearlescent teeth gleaming in the night.

“Krueger, darling, you must visit me in my suite. Its been so empty without you. I sit and wait for you in dark and you never show.” She pouted, her chocolate skin turning milky underneath the street lights. Krueger laughed, taking off his hat and bowing slightly. His stomach bulged against his belt, its girth straining to be free.

“Kirche, my dear,” replied Krueger, the unsettling grin still splitting his lips, “I do believe I'll pay a visit to your chamber this winter night. Its a shame to see you so cold.”

The whore let loose a titter, her ruby red lips a stark contrast to her dark skin. Her smile never left her face and the laugh lines stretched across her attractive visage. Her hair, soaked by the rain, fell around her bare shoulders. The curls glistened in the neon light, flaring like roaring flames. Kirche's long, shapely legs stretched pleasantly against the silks she wore and her thigh muscles could be seen flexing and tightening. She twirled, spraying the other whores.

Ignoring their shrieks, Kirche flashed her undergarments at Krueger, sashaying her way towards him. Her chest thrummed as a brute growled; lightning sparked and danced along his arms as electrical charges were primed. Krueger merely stepped around him and took Kirche's hands with his own. They pirouetted in the downpour, Krueger's fat bulk keeping pace with Kirche's lithe form. The stopped after a moment and smiled genuinely at one another.

“I do hope,” murmured Kirche, “that the snakes have treated you well?”

“Course they have,” said Krueger. “I'm finally getting the respect I deserve Shatz. The Mustafans are running like the dogs they are, back the Anatolian shithole they crawled out of and the Mongols are one day away from being smashed.”He drew her hand to his mouth and gently pressed his lips against it. “I told you I'd find a way. I always do.”

Kirche still smiled, though her eyes betrayed her worry. She leaned towards him and whispered in his ear, “be careful Al. The snakes can't be trusted. And none of your men can, either. Danny Boy had his hands deep with the Mongols. He's lying in river right now, but I can't always be there to watch out for you. Keep your eyes peeled okay? For both our sakes.”

Krueger's gaze turned hard and he moved his head so the others would not see his expression. “Danny Boy? I raised that bastard up with my own two hands. You're sure?”

“How many men in this city wear a dog's face?” she asked.

Krueger pursed his lips, thinking hard. How many had been turned? How many had Danny reached out to? The factory would need its security beefed up and the accounts needed to be checked. Silently, he activated his organizing suite, and the bionic embedded in his skull hummed as it woke up. Water, ice cold, seemed to slide into his mind as the bionic came to life. The trickle of water could be faintly heard; distant waves, like a ocean just on the edge of sight. His vision jerked, the world growing hazy and indistinct, before his eyes readjusted themselves.

Figures blazed before him, obscuring Kirche's rain slicked face. Running down his vision in fiery waterfalls, he quickly scanned the status of the offshore accounts, flagging any oddities. The Pendelton Twins would correct them soon enough, while his boys would 'discipline' anyone who had tried to double cross him. On the periphery of his sight winked green acknowledgments, the brutes held in reserve departing for the designated rallying points. His grip would be like iron this night. Nothing would happen Neukölln without his knowing, and no one would escape retribution for this. As soon as this meeting with Adams ended, he would personally lead his brutes in suppressing the plotters.

The grin made its way back into his face, though it was no longer merry. Kirche shivered as he smiled at her. She remembered the last time he'd smiled like that. The west side had erupted in flames, its blackened blocks vomiting out shambling human torches. They filled the streets in the aftermath, screaming in horror their skin ran down their bodies like melted wax. By dawn, the Black Kings were no more, just another set of ashes in a city that had nearly went up in smoke.

“All for you, Shatz,” he had told her, that awful smile fixed on his face. “Your girls can move in as soon as the new blocks go up. A little bit of paint, some varnish, and the place will be as good as new.” He'd draped an arm around her, and it was with practiced restraint that she fought the urge to shudder. Loyal as a dog, she thought, and as vicious as a cornered rat.

Sometimes, she thought about killing him. Not out of jealousy, or lust for power, no. She was scared. Deep down, she knew he would crack. One day, some henchmen of his would try and rip him off; a shopkeeper would refuse to pay the protection fees; his coffee would be brought to him cold; someone or something would set him off and there would be no end to misery he'd inflict. Old friends as well as hated enemies would die screaming.

Fear settling in her gut like a stone, she leaned forward, brushing his cheek with her lips. Breathlessly, she said, “be careful Al. Whatever you do affects me.” Air wheezed into his mouth, and strained lungs struggled to draw breath as he tried to offer a rebuttal. Kirche cut him off with a slim finger, resting it on his fleshy lips. “Remember, when we where kids, and how you'd always hit that pack of dogs? That heavy wooden stick you always carried around, waiting for the chance to smack those mewling pups right across the eyes?

“It was funny, wasn't it? Watching them yap and run away, like the bitches on Chatham Street. A fun way to waste the afternoon. Until they cornered you. Until they bit back and forced you down.” She cupped his chin, drawing his eyes to her's. Quietly, she said, “Stop kicking the dogs Al. If not for me, then for you. This city is looking for ways to cut you open and you're running out of friends. Whenever I look out in the street I catch a glimpse of the snakes, their stupid tattoos glinting in the night. Richard jumps at every shadow since the mugging and Hendricks won't come out of that hole.

“Find a way out of their grip Al. Or you'll find yourself staring down the barrel of a gun, if you're lucky.” The rain beat down on them, pattering against the cracked and stained ground. Krueger's eyes, once bright, now stood dead, like a pair of black marbles. For several minutes, neither of them said anything; Kirche simply cupped his head in her hands and gazed steadily at him. She couldn't tell what he was thinking and prayed that he would, for once, pick the safer option and find a way out.

Finally, he gently grasped her hands and kissed her forehead. “I'll fix this, Shatz. The gangs, the traitors, the fucking snakes-they'll all pay. And they won't hurt you, or any of the others. Because if they do, there won't be anything left of them to bury.” He looked past her, into the bright streets beyond. “Things will change tonight. Be certain of that.”

He pulled his head back, the smile back in place. “I'll see you tonight, my dear. Be sure to wear the red dress.” Kirche ran her tongue across her lips and ran her arms down her sides.

“I await you with baited breath,” she replied. Her eyes bore into his, the worry in them unabated. He gazed back, his black eyes confident and hard. Krueger gave another bow and ambled off, whistling a tune. The brutes fell in around him, like a pack of wolves gathering around the alpha. The whores scampered off, jeering and cursing Kirche for spraying them earlier. Her laughter rang in Krueger's ears long after they parted ways. It walked with him as he made his way to the Johannesburg Club.

Krueger made a few stops along the way, shaking down the usual group of clients. Word of Maurice's punishment had spread and the owners were politer than usual, bowing and scraping in their effort to placate him. One of the brute's laughed as an old man, his bionics rusting and locked in place, struggled to pick up the credit chip he'd dropped. After several minutes of painful grunting and sobbing the man finally retrieved the cash and dropped it in Krueger's hand.

Krueger patted the man's face. “Good boy,” he drawled, pinching the man's cheek. “You wouldn't even dream of stiffing me, would you Heinrich?”

The man's lips quivered.

“Well?” asked Krueger, pinching the old man's cheeks harder. “Would you?”

“N-no sir,” the old man stuttered.

Krueger stared at the man for a moment, his expression unreadable. Suddenly, he shoved the man back, sending him in to a pile of garbage. The old man landed with a thump. He lay still, his shoulders shaking in terror as the rats crawled over him; squeaking in anger as they were disturbed. “Good boy,” Kruger said in the same drawl.

So it went until he made his way to the club. Krueger sighed in relief as he stood in front of its golden doors; his legs ached after so much walking. The lion head above the entrance roared fire as he stepped towards the entrance. His hand shot out to meet the outstretched arm of the ruddy man, who stood waiting, near the gilded doors. Krueger laughed as he greeted John Adams. Their eyes bored into each other, Krueger's black orbs clashing with John's grey chips. Johns eyes reminded Krueger of nothing so much as dirty snow, the pristine white long since bleached out.

“John, you old son of a bitch! How are you these days?”

“Making a killing, like always. Hows the baby Al? He going to crawl out soon?”

“Oh, he's kicking his way out alright, just in time to see me break that red face of yours. Tell me, did the Niggers hold you down until the sun burn became permanent? Or did you inherit it from your uncle-fucking mother?”

“Still got that slum boy charm I see,” laughed John.

“And that business sense of course.”

“Of course. I take it your hear to discuss my offer?”

“Naturally. But that can wait until we've had a pint or three.”

John gestured towards the door. “Come on then, old friend. Lets see who can out-drink who.”

Krueger opened his mouth, ready to toss the challenge back in John's face, when the retort died in his throat. John kept his arm extended for a moment, before it fell limply. “Al?” he asked, the jovial tone now slightly forced. “C'mon, lets get out of this rain.” Kruger didn't move. His eyes stayed locked on the distance, gazing at nothing.

John stepped forward, opening his mouth to ask Krueger what was wrong, only to get tossed back by a brute. John slammed into the ground with a thud and the air exploded out of his lungs as his back made contact with the pavement. The rain fell into his eyes. Water pooled around the metal of his bionics, and it ran in rivers down his cheek. Steel eyelids blinked the drops away as he stood up, waving a hand to stop his guards from taking on the Brutes. Well trained as they were, they had nothing on those rusting freaks.

The Brutes surrounded their master, shaking him and demanding that he respond. Kruger swayed limply as they jostled him and his tongue lolled grotesquely out of his mouth.

It reminded John of the retards he mocked in his youth, who never responded to his taunts; the inbred freaks passively accepted the abuse he had heaped on them. He breathed heavily and pressed a finger to his temple. Not that he needed to press his temple to contact his men; it simply calmed him, reminded him of his service with the Archangel Division.

“Yes bo-

“Tell Arthur to the get ward prepped. Albert Krueger his having some kind of physical breakdown.”

“Yes si-”

“And have someone bring me that swill I brought back from Capetown.”

He cut the link and glanced back at Krueger. He was awake now it seemed. For a given value of awake, thought John.

“Grr! Ughghaahhh. Saahhgg, sabachtha-hnnng!”

Krueger moaned and raved, shaking his head, waving his arms. The Brutes stood back, unsure how to respond. “Hold him still you idiots!” snarled John. “He'll break an arm if he carries on like that!” The Brutes turned to him, gazing at him silently. John stared back, his eyes wide with rage. “Move, you useless bastards!”

The Brutes kept their silence until one of their number turned back to Krueger. The brute in question grabbed Krueger's arms while another stepped forward and held his jaw still, stopping him from biting his tongue. Slowly, they guided him to the entrance of the club. John waved them on through and looked around the street, a thoughtful expression on his face. Abruptly, he turned around around and marched through the club's open doors.

The rain continued to pour down, lashing the clubbers and gangsters choking the street. Women crowded around the shoulders of their men, huddling underneath their bulk. Brutes joked with Niqaba heavy hitters. They jeered at one another, boasting of their kills and thefts. Crooked cops spoke quietly with hooded men, their faces long and hard. Money changed hands, needles were slid into bulging veins, and the flash of steel could be seen as heated arguments erupted into brawls. Through the rain could be heard a thousand conversations, the sounds of metal striking flesh, and the ever present coughs and sighs of the addicts.

Within this cauldron of misery and exuberance walked a pair of drunks. They walked silently, each leaning on the other for support. Suddenly, one of them began belting out an old navy song, his hoarse bellowing echoing off the buildings and into the ears of passerby. His friend joined him, lending his deep voice to the tune. The whores, the gangsters, they turned to watch this pair, unfriendly eyes narrowing as they decided weather to kill them before or after taking what little money they had.

An ugly man with an old, puckered scar splitting his face drew an ancient K-BAR knife, its well oiled edges glinting hungrily. He took a step forward, a grim smile etched in the flatness of his face, when the dealer he'd been speaking with burst into song. His voice, warm and rich, blended well with the bellows of the drunks. Across the street a junkie joined in, his hands darting to catch the notes that floated before his blood red eyes. Slowly at first, then with more speed, others joined the song and their many voices combined into one great sound, so strong that it seemed the people lining the street were pressed into a wall of noise.

The air itself shook and the buildings shuddered as they reached the crescendo. The scum of Berlin, once so loud and thoughtless, stood silent, their bodies trembling with anticipation. The song resumed with a crash after a moment and at least a dozen windows broke at the onslaught of sound. The song then gradually drifted off, leaving its listeners feeling slightly contented and full. Several men smiled and then laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation and laughter and talk once more filled the streets.

The drunks recoiled as they passed grinning thugs, wincing as they slapped their backs. As they passed an old music store one cracked a joke that made the other laugh.

The one who broke into chuckles, having turned his head left, missed the shadow standing in the alley next to them. It shivered in the cold and clammy hands clutched its head.

A low moan fled from its lips as they passed. “Fuckers,” the trembling form hissed. “My head...ugggh. Why'd they sing? Who the hell does that? Ahhh, fucking Krueger!”

Klara clutched her head, trying to force back stabbing spikes of pain. Her mind churned, its foundations badly shaken and bruised. Drool dripped from mouth, running down her chin in ragged trails. The ache in her skull was a low, constant thrum of agony, as implacable and harsh as the winter ice choking the river.

She leaned back against the wall of the alley and slid down, the water flowing into her jeans through the gaps and tears as she sat. Klara clenched her eyes shut and her eyelids quivered as tears of pain leaked out. She moaned again and her head sank forward, pressing against her chest. The pain changed, shifting from a deep rumble in the pit of her mind to the sonorous clanging of distant bells. Peals of shivering insanity struck Klara, making her twitch and shake with each chime.

Slowly, painfully, she forced herself to breath normally. Her Fingers loosened and she relaxed her shoulders as she carefully breathed in and out. The pain still resounded in her head but she weaved her thoughts around and through it, splitting her conscious and reforming it. Klara partitioned her mind, separating and crushing the black roots that had burrowed their way into the meat of her mind.

She sat for a long time, destroying each piece of the infection one by one. Klara sighed as the last thorny branch was destroyed, its final chime fading away in the wash of rain and street traffic. She thrust her head back, letting the cool rain wash away some of the pain. Tired eyes drank the water eagerly, relieving the stress and rousing Klara from the fatigue that had nearly overtaken her.

After a few minutes she lowered her head and rose to her feet. Klara peeked around the alley, biting her lip as she considered her next move. How did Krueger fight me off? she thought. And how did he learn to fight in the first place? She shivered as she recalled the black shapes he threw at her, how they seemed to scream and shout like living, thinking creatures. His mind at first recoiled from hers when she struck, leaving him dumb and speechless. A minute or two should be enough, she had thought.

Only after she had pounded his mind a few times did the things crawl out of the woodwork. Hissing and spitting as they flew at her. Klara had never had to fight in another person's mind before-hell, she hadn't even known it was possible to fight back against someone trying to break into their mind. As far she knew, she was the only one with this ability.

Which led her back to the earlier question: How did Krueger know what she was doing? And how did he conjure up that black shit? Klara dismissed the questions for now. At the moment she needed to focus on getting into the club. She'd figure out how to rip the information out of Krueger once she was inside.

In her mind's eye she could see Marcia laughing. She would already have come up with a plan, one where she casually stroll in in, take what she wanted, and walk away, with no one the wiser. That Guido bitch have probably walked right up to some thug and batted her eyes at him like a cheap Geisha. The idiot would fall over himself and stutter and of course he'd be glad to spend the night with her.

They'd walk off arm in arm, the thug wearing the biggest shit eating grin of his life while Marcia smiled that damned vacant smile of her's. The bouncer would let them pass silently, his eyes raking over Marcia's curvy form. Marcia would smile at him too, pissing off the thug whose arm she hung off of. Her plan would already be in motion, as she would laugh, joke and manipulate the morons inside; Someone would inevitably do something stupid, like spit on another guy's shoes or make a pass at their girl, or say they couldn't their beer down. Then, once the shit hit the fan, Marcia would quietly slip in the back, pump Krueger full of drugs and have him spill the beans. She'd walk away from the chaos, still smiling as they tore each other to shreds and ripped one another's throats out.

Klara rubbed her chin. Maybe I could do the same? She turned her head and gazed at her reflection in the dirty store window.

Green eyes roamed over her for a moment before bursting out in bitter laughter. A long, horse like face gazed back at her, the skin pale, her eyes cold. Thick dark hair, glistening in the rain, gathered in a ragged mass around her head. A scar trailed its winding way down her cheek. The old wound had long since sunken into her flesh, making it seem as if she had been born with it, that she had crawled out of the womb already battered and bruised by life's tribulations.

A thin jacket covered her bony, angular frame, its body covered in patches and stains. Peeking out between its folds was an old metal shirt, the logo faded and the imprint of the Demon's skull barely visible. Cheap jeans ran down her legs, its blue tint bleached in a dozen different places. Klara supposed she should be thankful that her shoes were whole and firm. She'd looted them from the corpse of an Army Sergeant lying in a filthy alley.

Sighing, she pushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear, musing on how to get in. She had no money, she looked like shit, and her mind still throbbed with residual pain. Cold fingers massaged her aching temples. She really didn't want to sneak in the back. Her back still had the scars from the last time she'd snuck into a club. The puckered flesh was still an angry red, even after so many weeks.

She shook some of the rain off, spraying water all over the alley. Shoving her hair back in place she stepped forward, deciding to spark a riot outside the club. She may not have had Marcia's looks, or her charm, but she should be able to piss off the right group of drunken idiots. The gunfire and screams should smoke the guards out, given their undoubtedly twitchy mood. Hopefully, enough of them would be drawn away so she could-a sharp bang cut off her thoughts. Her jacket whirled as she spun around and she reached for her knife, only to throw up her arms to ward off the blinding glare that shot out at her.

Klara stumbled against the wall, blinking the tears away as the afterimage burned in her eyes. She spat a curse and looked up, her hands balling into fists. “I swear I'm going to tear you a new asshole!” she swore. Water hissed as it struck a rumbling engine, its vibrations rattling the alley's walls. A distant part of Klara's mind wondered how the driver kept the thing in one piece, given the engine's obvious power. It was something more suited to a sports car, not some back alley chop-shop piece of junk.

Silence struck the alley as the engine was cut. Her ears rang and the patter of rain once more filled her hearing. The driver kicked the stand into place and leapt out, perhaps intending to land with all the style and verve as a Van Honen character. Klara choked back a laugh as the man's feet skidded on the wet pavement when he landed, his arms flailing out to grasp the bike's handlebars. He landed face first in a dirty puddle, the wet thump echoing through the alley.

A youthful voice broke out in a series of foul curses, a few of which impressed Klara despite herself. Wiping the filth off his face, the boy turned back to his bike and unlatched a heavy package fixed to his bike. Klara's nose twitched as she picked up a faint scent: the cloying smell of fresh garlic, the stench of burning cheese and the spicy stink of broiled meats. The delivery boy muttered to himself as he wrestled with his burden.

“Damn prick. Making me rush in this downpour. Got a cold last time and I'm gonna get a cold again. And for what? So some gangster gets his pizza on time? What a load of bullshit! I should just open the box and spit right in his damn food!” He paused for a moment in silent reflection, before saying, “On second thought, maybe I'll just go in and be polite. Wouldn't want to end up like Jerome.” The boy shuddered as he recalled that awful memory. He still woke up screaming sometimes...

He snapped out of his reverie when he heard her. The tapping of her feet drew his attention and his eyes grew big as the waif walked towards him. Her pale face, shined pale in the dismal alley, its white skin almost translucent. Her lips, thin and hard, cut her mouth like a knife wound. Her hair writhed about her head like a mass of snakes and her eyes-her eyes held a terrible gleam in them, like a cruel child about to play wicked joke on some hapless victim.

“Hello,” she croaked. The boy shivered at her voice. It sounded like an old witch, something out of his grandmother's old stories. “Who's the pizza for?” she asked.

“Its, uh, its for the guy that runs the Johannesburg Club.”


“Yeah. In fact, I should give to him right now. He, uh, he hates it when he's late. Like, really hates it. So, I'm just gonna go and-”

The freak stepped forward suddenly, her hands darting out to grip his skull. He tried shoving her back, only to receive a bony fist in his gut. Stumbling, he gasped for air, feebly trying to force oxygen back into his empty lungs. Tears sprung from his eyes as the girl locked her hands around his temples once more and his vision grew hazy. Blinking away the rain and fighting off the blackness at the corners of his sight, he locked eyes with her. Those emerald diamonds, sharp and hard pinned him. They held his gaze as tightly as the hands gripping his skull.

Glittering, they expanded to fill the world, burying him in a sea of searing green. Arms flailing he tried to scream, only for the razor sharp waves to flood down his throat. Jagged knives tore the meat of his cheeks, diced his tongue, and eviscerated his windpipe. His heart thudded under the deranged assault and he closed his eyes, praying for the darkness to take him. Distantly, a roar could be heard. He turned his head slowly, whimpering as his insides were pulverized. After an infinity of pain and blood his eyes focused. When his vision resolved, his heart nearly gave out.

Matthias could never recall what he saw. For many months afterwards, when he lay shaking in his bed, he would always catch glimpses of it in the dark: A face that made his skin crawl. Diseased organs that seemed to pulse with sickening minds of their own. A heart made of bile and pus. In the end he could never make sense of it.

And always, he remembered with relief that he had eventually blacked out, sparing him from further misery at the hands of that witch.

Klara grunted as she dragged the boy into the alley. His clothes fit her relatively well, and she smirked as she dumped him in a pile of trash. “Mine now, Matthias,” she drawled. The boy's jacket hugged her slim form and she sighed as warmth slowly returned to her body. Idly, she wondered how he had acquired such a nice piece of clothing. Probably like my old jacket, she thought.

The keys crackled as she fingered them, and her smirk grew wider as she passed the bike. New clothes, a new bike-and all she had to do was rip the info out of Krueger's fat head. She strode swiftly down the street, her eyes low. Her breath hitched as she walked up the stairs and past the bouncer. He didn't so much as twitch. The rhythmic thump of music was more felt than heard when she stepped into a large hallway.

Tiger heads roared silently at her, their faces forever trapped in vicious snarls. The heads were mounted on walls that gleamed in the light. Works of art lay embedded within the red gold stone, the vivid hues depicting great battles and victories. There, a band of savages clashing with a formation of red coated men, their jaws set in determination, their bodies caked in the blood of their enemies. Here, a tribal king, presiding over his court, with his courtiers leaning next to his ear,whispering of plots and conspiracies.

And there, something that might have been shown on the BBC's news hour: Armored men posed before the viewer, their bionics pitted with bullet holes and pockmarks, weary smiles plastered on their faces as the city behind them burned. Gutted tanks and the blasted remains of cars lay strewn about them, the warped and fused metal of their bodies still glowing from the artillery strike. Corpses lay at their feet, their bones crushed and their flesh mangled. One body stood out from the rest. He was propped up, as if he was sitting beneath the armored bulk of the men standing above him.

His mouth was open in a silent scream. Brown eyes, glassy in death, still shined with terror. Lacerations extended down from the crown of his skull to the bruised, red mass that was his jaw. Once white teeth, now coated in bright red and pale yellow, were chipped and shattered; and broken slivers of calcium and bone meal could be seen lying on the ground before him.

The soldier standing to the corpse's left gripped something wet and red in his hand, a nasty smirk on his face. It Klara a moment to realize it was the man's tongue.

Her eyes flicked around the group of men, taking in the scene of destruction with barely restrained disgust. She'd known people that enjoyed the misery of slum life, their eyes filled with a perverse glee as they beat, extorted, and terrorized the populace. But even the most foul and diseased of group of thugs would have hesitated before cracking wise and laughing about putting an entire city to the torch. Slowly, her sight was drawn to the man standing at their center, the stars on his armor still visible even through the mud and filth.

The man at the forefront, his face a ruddy red, was familiar. John Adams smiled at Klara and she shivered. Even in the painting, with his comrades crowing about their victory, his eyes were cold. They reminded her of the corpses the cops sometimes fished out of the river Spree, the faces frozen in contemptuous resignation. She glanced at the title of work: The pacification of Harare.

A faint creak from above tore her gaze from the painting and she craned her neck up. Chandeliers, their golden bodies swaying above her head, hissed and popped, their flames glowing a cherry red. Their long arms terminated sharply; the branches looked more like drawn swords rather than sumptuous ornaments. With no small effort she turned her eyes away, only to gaze in stupefied awe; Klara's eyes widened as her gaze fell to the floor.

Marble tiles spread from the entrance to the end of the hall, the alabaster shot through with veins of beryl, malachite, and brecciated jasper. Precious stones studded the floor, a multitude of glittering gems. They were formed in patterns that looped and repeated. The way they crossed and blended was due as much to the choice of stone as well as the pattern they were placed in: brilliant amethyst, subdued morganite, oceanic opal, and a dozen more besides.

Dazed by the opulence of her surroundings, Klara did not notice the large shadow sidling up beside her until its arm clamped down on her shoulder. She jumped-or tried to. The arm held her in place. Slowly, she followed its winding path, craning her neck to follow its contours, until she found herself eye to eye with a giant of a man. He wore a cold gaze, his finely chiseled features stretched into a tight frown. Skin the color of Jet stood starkly against the white light and his bulky weight seemed more suited to that of a mountain rather than a man. When he spoke, it was with a deep, rumbling baritone.

“Mr. Adams will see you in his office,” he said

“Sure,” squeaked Klara.

He held her gaze for a second, before releasing her shoulder. It ached slightly. Silently, he brushed past her and led Klara down the Hall. The once muted thump of music exploded around her when she crossed the threshold into the club proper. Groups of writhing bodies cavorted and swayed, their forms bright with sweat, perfume, and oils. Wealthy dilettantes danced with tattooed thugs, their thick, voluptuous curves grinding against thin, wiry bodies, their smiles wide and wild. Beyond the throng of revelers a bar could be seen, its length running along the northern wall. Sparkling wines, dark beers, and queer brews all mixed alike as the bartenders catered to the clientele. Bored gang lords and their champions rubbed shoulders with wealthy idiots across the river. The rich men and women laughed a little too loudly and their smiles were just a little too wide to be real. An artificiality clung to them, as if they had stepped out of a TV commercial.

Sparkling white teeth and polished chrome, wafts of Chanel, Clive, and Khorasan, and the latest fashions from Tehran, Paris, and Shanghai clashed with the stink of cheap cigarettes, pitted and rusted bionics, and tattered and faded clothes of the slum dogs. What truly separated them though, was not what they wore. It was the eyes.

Fear, lust, apprehension, and a fine arrogance filled the Suits. The eyes of the street trash, on the other hand, were dead. Devoid of desire, hope, or even hatred, they gazed at the wealthy fools with a mild contempt. Occasionally, one of them would smile at the naivety of their well off neighbors, but it would never reach their eyes.

That's the difference between us and them, thought Klara. They came into this world with everything just handed over to them: The best schools, the best jobs, the best bionics. All we get are the scraps. She hoped the gangers outside robbed them blind, though she knew it was a vain hope. Adams would never risk losing such well paying and stupid customers.

Where else, after all, was the best place to go slumming?

Above the bar was a balcony. It jutted out like a spear tip, its corners sharply angled. Clear Plexiglas served at its railing and Niqaba clan heads and high level bureaucrats could be seen mingling with one another. The Arabs gripped bright blue and velvet drinks. Their bionics were as colorful as the liquors themselves: Gold leaf gilded steel palms and fantastic designs threaded their arms and faces. Traceries of birds, lions, and mythological beasts cawed and roared next to verses from the Koran and quotes from King Abbas.

Joy, rage, amusement, disgust-all the emotions of life played about on their faces as they cut deals, made threats, and cracked jokes. Voices booming, they made a stark contrast with the dour elites they traded with. Where the Arab's bodies were dark and expressive, theirs were pale and emotionless. Gunmetal grey eyes glared out of flat faces. Somehow, they conveyed a sense of cold haughtiness.

Smooth metal sloped down their heads and Klara could almost hear them hum as they calculated a thousand different transactions and deals. Green lines of codes could be discerned in the blue and black circuitry of their eyes as they bargained with the crime lords. Carefully winnowing her way through the crowd, Klara remembered a conversation she had with Alexei some weeks ago.

The upper crust of the government likes to make deals with the crime lords in Neukölln. Some people think its because they're the same as the rich pricks that frequent the Johannesburg and the Bismark. That kind of thinking is usually right, but, in this case, its not. These are the same guys who pulled Germany out of the smoking rubble of the old EU and made it what it is today. They go to these places not because they like slumming; they go to remind themselves of the people who put them in power.

“And to pay them back for their services.”

“ Yes. Those who manage to rise above the pack, to snuff out the competition and make something of themselves in the slums, made the rise of the current government possible. They saw the quickest way to power was to harass, intimidate, and destroy their enemies and they used the big gangsters to do that. They wanted put Germany back in order again, but they knew well enough that they would need the cooperation of the dealers, the mafia, and the Niqaba to keep the ghettos under control. Its why the slavers are able to walk around freely in places like Neukölln and Treptow and why the Arabs are able to operate so openly.

“So they go to those places to cut deals?”

“To cut deals, to network, the threaten-its all business for those guys and their interest is in keeping the riff-raff out their nice ivory towers.

“Nobody talks like that anymore Alexei.”

“Shut up Klara.”

Wood splintering and the tinkle of smashed glass snapped Klara out of her reverie. Screaming hoarsely, a suit was driving an ornate fist into the yielding face of a gangster. Ignoring the pleas of the red lipped dilettante behind him, he lay his bunched fist again and again into the thug. Tossing their drinks to their feet, or shattering the glass into makeshift knives, the thug's friends rushed to his aid.

One of the suits tossed his chair at a gangster, the wood crunching his throat. Another threw a fist at dark skinned man, his eyes wild with fear. The thug slapped his hand away and drove a knee into the white collar's gut. Bone snapped as crude steel met feeble flesh. The force of the blow lifted him off the ground for a moment and he crashed back down on weak knees.

Patrons gathered around, egging on the brawlers. More than one would be pulled into the melee, their cries lost in the clamor of noise and confusion. Bets were called out and money changed hands as impromptu champions shattered skulls and broke limbs. The bigwigs on the balcony watched with idle curiosity. Blue and black eyes flashed as they recorded the brawl.

The giant continued shoving people aside, unconcerned with the fight. Klara followed him, her gait awkward as she strained her neck to take in the scuffle.

Beyond the din of the crowd she heard the stamp of booted feet. Dead eyed and expressionless, a squad of bouncers marched through the throng. Shrill cries of protest followed them as their boots crushed the feet of onlookers and shoved whole groups to the floor.

Bionics gleaming, they slammed in the brawlers like a tidal wave, knocking them down and shocking them senseless. Lighting arced from energized fists and the whir of sonic weaponry sliced through the vortex of noise. Thugs screamed as sixty thousand volts coursed through their veins and suits wept as their ears bled. Flesh broken and eardrums ruptured, the brawlers collapsed. Their will to fight exhausted, the bouncers picked them up and dropped them on waiting stretchers that had materialized from a hidden passage.

Without further ceremony they wheeled them away, towards the western walls. Silently, they parted, revealing a brightly lit corridor, its interior painted a plain white. The harsh lights within brought the injured bodies into stark relief, prompting the more well bred to gasp. Great rents could be seen in the skin of the injured and bloody bones erupted from twisted arms and legs. Tongues lolled and moans flew down the mouth of the corridor.

As the walls in the club slid close, the end of the tunnel opened. A black alley could be glimpsed between the closing partitions and they saw the bouncers dump the bodies in the street. The doors finally closed and the wall was back in place. After a moment the patrons resumed partying, though their smiles become more brittle and they looked nervously over their shoulders.

The giant was leading Klara to a set of massive doors on the east side, their polished bodies the color rich teak. As they neared the doors, Klara noticed a skinny brunette, her eyes an electric blue. She was sitting at the end of the bar and as Klara passed her, the woman smiled, raising her glass towards the returning bouncers. Looks like Marcia isn't the only one who can whisper in people's ear, Klara thought.

The doors shimmered like a rainbow as the strobing lights of the dance floor bounced off its polished body. Like the corridor leading to the alley, the door was devoid of ornamentation. The black man wrapped a massive fist around a golden handle and waited a moment, before opening the door with a heavy clack. Blinking at the sudden dimness, Klara found herself in a long hallway, the walls as dark and cold as the man who led her. Simple electric bulbs buzzed overhead and her ears rang in the sudden silence.

Footsteps echoed in the hall, the acoustics muddling and confusing the sound. If Klara closed her eyes, she wouldn't have known if the sounds came from the man in front of her or from a mile away. And as he led her through a series of winding corridors, she suspected that the length of the hall ran much further than a mere mile. Though they passed no stairs or elevators, Klara was sure they had begun to descend underground.

She kept an eye on the walls, wondering if they too hid rooms and access points. How did they know to open? Did the employees have some inbuilt transponder, that let them pass at will? Was there someone watching everything through a hidden camera, opening the door only when told to? Klara weighed the black man, debating weather to take him down now and try to tear the information from his mind.

Reluctantly, she decided against it. It galled her to follow Marcia's advice, but she had survived situations like this before. Repressing a sigh, she made no move against the giant and silently followed him. She would wait for the right moment and then she would act.

After several minutes of walking, Klara grew bored and tried to start a conversation with the man.

“Worked here long?” she asked. When the man didn't reply, she plowed on.

“I just got this job and I gotta say, you meet a lot of weird people. Not just your average ghetto trash, oh no, but real freaks. Like, this one time, I had to deliver this nasty anchovy and goat pizza to some dude living on the river. And I seriously mean on the river. He lived on this boathouse that was literally falling apart.

“Chunks of wood and metal were torn out its hull and broken pieces still floated nearby. The parts of the hull that wasn't broken was covered in rust.

And you know how when you walk into an old alley after its rained, the whole place stinks like hell's asshole? This place smelled like that, only worse. Sometimes, I can still taste that bloody stink when I close my eyes.

“I was already nervous before I got on the boat. I was worried that the whole thing would collapse when I climbed on. Sure enough, when I stepped onto the boat the whole thing squealed, like a rusty door in an old horror movie. I froze, still as a statue. After the creaking died down and my heartbeat settled, I took a careful step forward. And this time the whole thing screamed, like a dog in pain.

“The groaning metal and the creaking wood hit me like physical thing. The stink too seemed to get worse as the wailing went on. After a minute I was sure the place had some kind of evil spirit or AI, cause the smell now forced its way through my hands, into my nose, and down my throat. I started choking and coughing and I had to force myself to stay still otherwise the whole thing would shake when I moved my foot or shifted my weight.

“For about five minutes-though it felt like forever-I stood there, breathing slowly, trying not to cough. Eventually, the front door squealed open, turning on rusting hinges. The guy that stepped out was, up to that point, the ugliest person I'd ever seen. The skin was pale, almost fully white. His tiny, ratty eyes were like pinpricks sunk into his fat, bald head. When he opened his mouth yellow, molding teeth gave a little color to the black snake that was his tongue.

“His shirt was so full of holes that it was a miracle it still clung to his fat ass and his pants barely reached his thighs. The creepiest thing about him though, was his voice. It was like talking to a little kid, the kind that sing in church choirs. 'You got my pizza?' he asked, in a high, wheedling tone.

'Ye-yeah,' I coughed out. 'That'll be eighteen Marks'

'The flyer said it was ten.'

'Its eighteen, sorry.'

'I know what I saw!' he screamed. 'I won't pay more than ten, you hear me!'


'No, you listen you dumb bitch! You tell your boss I'm paying the ten marks or I'm not paying at all!'

“I looked at him through teary eyes and I thought 'fuck this'. I glared at him for a second, eye to eye, before tossing the pizza overboard. Before it hit the water I was moving, pounding my way back to my own boat. He howled behind me and I shivered. Fat feet thumped the boat and the old thing screamed in protest. He was fast for a fat guy. I felt his hot breath on my neck and I just managed to jump off his dying shit heap before he grabbed me.

“I landed with a grunt and I kicked my foot out. I'd left the engine running, so the boat was ready to go when I hit the accelerator. His screams still cut across the sound of my roaring engine and it still rang in my ears after I got back on the mainland.

“My boss yelled at me and docked my pay for the lost pizza and the duffel bag but I didn't care. So long as I never laid eyes on that freak again I was good. The messed up thing though, is that his boat is still there. Somehow, even though it should be at the bottom of the Spree, it still float. Once, I looked at it through one of those telescopes on the shore and I saw small dot moving around on that rusting heap.

“Since then, I've delivered to even weirder and creepier places. I swear, its like this city is a zoo, where all the animals live.” Klara paused for a moment. “Not that this place is weird. Its actually pretty normal for this area actually. I guess the suits make it that way. Wouldn't want anything to upset those little princesses.”

The black man said nothing. For a full minute he kept his silence before speaking. “You would be surprised by what our wealthier patrons desire,” he rumbled. Klara cocked her head. “Slumming isn't enough for them?” she asked.


She waited for him to go on. When he continued to walk in silence Klara rolled her eyes. Guess he used up his word quota for today, she thought. They walked silently for several more minutes. Biting back a wince, Klara glared at her feet. She'd walked all night and the strain was starting to show. Nodding her head, she made a solemn promise to replace her legs as soon as possible. Cerebral enhancements and the like could wait. You never know, after all, when you'll need to run.

Lost as she was in her thoughts, Klara did not see the giant come to a stop. She slammed into him, cursing as she fell. Scrambling, she struggled back to her feet and glared balefuly at the man. Her ire only increased as she the ghost of a smile flicker across his face.

“Mr. Adams requires me elsewhere. Continue down to the end of the hall and take a right. Keep walking until you pass a pair of augmented gladiators. Mr. Adam's office will be on the third door on the left. Leave the pizza within and do not touch anything.”

“You got it.”

He spared her one last look, an inscrutable expression on his face. Wordlessly, he brushed past her and walked back the way he came. His footsteps followed her as she hurried on. Thanking a god she didn't believe in, Klara pressed forward. In the space of a minute she saw them. Hulking, steel bound monstrosities. The veins on their heads bulged, as if their blood was screaming to be let out.

Heads swiveling, they turned to stare at her. Their eyes nearly took her breath away. The iris and sclera were both blood red, with ropy veins stretching back behind their eyes. The pupil was brighter than the rest of the organ, its color more reminiscent of a fiery flame rather than that of a bleeding corpse. A feverish expression danced across their faces and one growled at her, more beast than man.

Her eyes darted away from that gruesome sight and focused on the blank wall ahead of her. Klara turned slightly towards Adam's office and she quivered as the deep rumbling continued. Worse, she could feel their eyes raking over her, and it felt like they were turning her on a spit over hot coals. Shaking, her fist clamped around a gold handle. The door slammed open as she stepped into Adam's office, only to slam again when she shoved it shut.

Closing her eyes, she breathed heavily. She placed the bag at her feet and kicked it away. It struck a gilded desk with a heavy thump. She turned and pressed her face against the door, the wood cool against her forehead. Eyes still closed, she traced a thin, bony finger down her chest, down her abdomen, halting at her waist. Her heartbeat slowed and her mind stilled.

There was no way she could take on those freaks in a fair fight. They'd smash her faster than she could blink. And her power was normally good for taking down one, maybe two people, tops. She had no guns, no explosives, and no allies. Klara might well have been as good as dead if she made a move against Krueger.

After a moment she pushed away from the door. Turning, she walked towards a high, leather cushioned chair, its red velvet as bright and bloody as the brutes eyes. The leather creaked quietly when she sat and a sigh burst from her lips. Sinking into the plush lining she smiled. This would make an excellent spot to strike from.

She glanced around the room, her smile fading into a grimace. This was going to hurt, she knew. More than last time, if what the Clockwork Man had said was true. She clung to the faint hope that he was wrong, that she would not awaken to find herself in such an agonized state. It was an obvious lie, but one she clung to with the strength of a drowning man. Drawing in a slow breath, she closed her eyes.

Her mind stilled, and focused on nothing, Aimless and adrift, she let it wander. Conversations she'd had tumbled through the emptiness of her mind, their fading words echoing in the expanding void. The stink of the alleyway she'd left the boy in wafted into her nose: the pungent reek of decayed garbage and rusting pipes. She could hear her mother singing, her voice as sweet and pure as an angel.

After a few minutes of meditation, she felt it. A slithering, oily tendril, oozing in the space between her thoughts. Gingerly, she extended a hand towards it, visualizing its snake like form. Gently, Klara caressed the thing, fighting goosebumps as her fingers slid across oily flesh. It hissed at her touch, recoiling away from her. Drawing within itself it watched her, dead eyes boring into her.

Klara once more held out her hand, inviting the thing to come forward. A thin tongue flicked the air and it bobbed restlessly. With glacial slowness, it uncurled itself. Hesitant and uncertain, it undulated towards her hand, its red tongue tasting the frigid air of her mind. Klara forced herself to remain calm.

A black infinity surrounded her, its boundless depths dredging up long suppressed terrors. She always hated plumbing the recesses of her mind, dragging her conscious so far inside herself that the waking world might as well have been a cruel joke. Others may have enjoyed learning more about themselves, of relieving treasured memories. A warm glow would suffuse their skin and a vacant, mindless smile would split their lips. They would sigh with longing and wonder, delighted at what they discovered.

Klara hated them. Their self congratulatory attitude, their self satisfied smiles-she wanted nothing more than to tear them apart, to make them feel as she felt. When she looked within herself, she saw no cherished memories, no innocent hopes. Only an endless sea of darkness. Not a surprise the parasite made its home here. Safe from the light, from the sun's bright glare. Where else would you go, little one?

The thoughts were not entirely her own, and she shivered with revulsion. The snake cocked its head, sensing Klara's distaste. Softly, silently cursing herself, she schooled her features into a blank mask once more. The tongue lashed the air a few more times before it slithered into her palm. Cold and slimy, it wrapped itself around her hand.

Her arm tingled with a thousand pinpricks as it grew, enveloping her arm, curving around her neck, and sliding down her chest. It forced open her mouth and wriggled its way inside, choking her throat, her lungs. Sibilant hissing filled her ears as it penetrated the canals, punching through her ear drums. Her eyes were swamped by the parasite's greasy black body, plunging her into deeper darkness. Not that it made much of a difference, she thought.

For a moment her heart stopped, and she felt the tug of the precipice. A swaying wind buffeted her, threatening to push her into the unknown. Blind and freezing, she shook, her body straining against that terrible lure, that yawning gulf. I have things to do, People to kill, friends to help. Piss off, you cowled bastard. Something ran a hand down her shoulder. Its touch was impossibly cold, leaving a trail of frost in its wake. A soft voice whispered something in her ear. Unintelligible as it was, she could understand the underlying promise and hunger.

“One day, she said. “But not today. Find someone else to haunt, you old piece of shit.” Swaying and shivering in the breeze, Klara said no more. Icy and stiff, the hand lingered on her shoulder. The whispersstill tickled her ears, and her teeth chattered. Like boiling water, the parasite continued to hiss. Its fear, though fundamentally alien and unnatural, permeated Klara and threatened to bowl her over.

The wind died began to die down after several minutes and that dreadful presence slowly faded. Klara's breath misted the air. The white clouds hung around her for a moment, before dissipating in the dark. Cracking her neck, she swiveled to her right. Her mind was sharp and clear, and her eyes were bright and hard.

The void had changed. No longer a silent tomb, it teemed with life. For a given value of life, she thought. Sleek, diaphanous forms glided past her. Their compound eyes were a riot of colors, each one weeping a different substance. Metallic blood, acrid gunsmoke, salty seawater and a thousand others mingled with one another. Faintly, pain grew behind her eyes, kneading its way into her vision. Gritting her teeth, she turned away, hunting for her target. Sickening sights greeted her, no matter which way she turned.

Obese, flabby things fought in the distance, their hammer blows reverberating through the vastness of the Abyss. Towers of darkened skin and bone rose from the depths, gilded with eyes and obscene writings. Somewhere, far away, screams could be heard. Sometimes, they blended together, so that it seemed one great voice roared in unimaginable pain.

Blotting the disturbing sights and sounds out of her mind as best she could, Klara concentrated. The Abyss did not conform to logical thought processes, nor did it correspond with traditional notions of 'up' or 'down'. Rather, it followed the dissymmetry of thought and feeling, of crude reflection. A dark mirror of man's subconscious, as Bennett might say.

In the distance, she saw them. Pulsating flashes of buttery yellows, garish violet, and sun drenched orange. Ignoring them, she honed her sight on the one furthest away. A swirl of reds, greens, and indigo, it lay caged within a clump of twisted bodies. Twining and breaking, they moaned in silent misery. Rotten teeth covered their forms and empty eyes studded their faces. They pawed at their charge, vainly trying to break into the warm, throbbing core.

Klara glided to that splash of color, her gorge rising. The fetid bodies of the creatures writhed grotesquely, their gasps of pain now audible as she closed the distance. A sense of horrified fascination filled her as she examined those abominations. Red entrails bulged and convulsed, while clusters of rotten teeth snapped at any flailing limb that came within reach. Milky white eyes wept tears of pus, coating the creatures in a faint slime. They rolled around in the soft bone of their sockets, pausing every few moments to focus on Klara.

The Parasite, having gone silent since they entered the Abyss, hissed once more. Each time the eyes centered on her, it gave out a harsh rasp, and the eyes would continue to roam aimlessly. Exhaling slowly, Klara approached Krueger's mind. A low growl hummed in her ear and she paused. The Parasite writhed in her mind, keening in fear and agitation. Black scars tore wide rents in her arms and black tongues thrashed in the cuts.

Clamping down on the sudden burst of fear, she pitted her mind against the Parasite. Animal terror slammed against determined rage and the Abyss echoed with their clash. Passing beasts turned their gaze towards the brawling pair. Black eyes traded looks with empty faces, and the more curious denizens of that realm moved closer.

Klara noticed nothing at first, occupied with the fearful snake as she was. But, as she slowly wrestled the screaming Parasite under control, she realized the Abominations had stopped moving. They stared hard at her-or, rather where she was standing. Black shapes blurred as they phased in and out of focus. Ethereal and almost translucent, they blazed with pale corpse light, their forms fuzzy and indistinct.

Distracted, she nearly lost control. Oil, thick and viscous, leaked from her eyes and mouth. Choking on the black filth, she fell to her knees. A mournful cry filled her ears as the Parasite crowed, pleased at its victory. Black threads pushed up from under her skin and the rents grew wider. Vision shot and limbs trembling, Klara summoned a final burst of strength and brought to mind that glorious vision, that shining jewel.

Luminous and pure, a simulacrum of the moon flared to life, and its white light blazed like a torch in the darkness. Lesser beast howled and fled, their skins aflame. Those more resilient pushed forward, babbling in strange and unseemly tongues. Screaming in earnest now, the Parasite writhed within Klara, its black skin crisping in the light. Her arms shuddered and the rents closed, black tongues retracting into her skin. The threads too, quivering, slid back inside her arms.

Klara's breath misted in front of her, white smoke drifting in the black air. The moon above flickered, its corona dimming. She could see them clearly now, the beasts. A vast multitude of monsters, their forms indescribable, sped towards her. I've got to move fast, she thought, before rotten teeth clamped down on her legs. Crying out, she fired a hail of shot, green shoots of mental force, at the at the Abomination that had wrapped itself around her right leg. Flesh burst and teeth flew as it was blown apart.

Two more threw themselves at at her, misshapen mouths drooling. Flinching back from their blows, she rolled to her their right and pushed her palm out.

A swift gale tossed both of them on their backs. She conjured two spears, obsidian and terribly sharp. Hurling them with a grunt, they impaled the things, pinning them. They squirmed and rasped, struggling against black steel holding them. Stalking quickly to Krueger, she plunged her arm into the nexus of lights, only to throw herself away. Three abominations had crept up from behind, the lead nearly taking her head off with a long, slick talon.

She fired another hail of shot, only to strike empty air as their forms split, gaping holes opening where there had once been flesh and bone. They flinched slightly as a few pellets hit them, but nothing more. Advancing, they surrounded Klara, cutting off any avenue of escape. Her mind ached from the strain of so much combat, unused to the exertion.

Klara closed her eyes, and forced herself to breath normally. The Abominations circled her, pawing at the ground with barely restrained blood lust. One crept forward after a few moments, claws extended. It leapt at her suddenly, screaming as it flew through the air. Its dozen mouths drooled incessantly at the thought of fresh meat. Its scream of triumph was cut off suddenly, when a rocky pillar erupted from below, its dagger tip spearing the thing in the air.

The other two scrambled to get away, only to find themselves clawing at the air, their torsos pierced. Glancing around Klara despaired. Though the abominations had been trapped, the beasts of the Abyss drew closer. Her stomach churned again as their forms resolved. Writhing and cavorting, their bodies were sickening not only to the eyes, but to the mind. Lances of pain were driven into mind, unable to handle the unreality before her.

She knew she should pull out and try to save her own skin. It would be pointless to die here, fodder for beasts out of a madman's nightmare. But the thought of walking away, of having come so far, only to toss in the towel at the end game, infuriated her. What drove her now was not a desire to help Alexei, or a simple desire to kill Krueger. What she wanted was to win. Losing to a fat fuck like Krueger and his dead toys was not something she could swallow. Her pride, that which had sustained her for so long, would not bear it.

“I'm probably going to die here,” she told that swirling mass of color. “But not before I crack that skull of yours like an egg and take whats mine.” She thrust her arms into his mind and pulled.

Sight, smell, and sound blurred into one indistinct mass. Thoughts shifted and desires morphed. She felt heavier, her arms more muscular and thick. Folds of fat hung over her eyes and sausage like fingers twitched. Klara roiled under the mass of feeling and thought. Identities changed in the blink of an eye.

She remembered her father beating him, smacking him so hard his nose broke. Other children made fun of him for being so chubby. Brown eyes smiled at her in the night. A smirking Prussian shook his hand.

Fighting against the torrent of memory, Klara separated her sense of self from Krueger. The smell of her mother's cooking, the sounds of Alexei's men fighting, the awe inspiring sight of Castle Steiner- Klara forced herself to relive each memory, cementing her own identity and forming a rock to cling to in the sea of emotion.

Her knuckles, she knew, were white with tension. The strain of holding herself together in the face of the tide was almost impossible. No, nothing at all like a farmer. More like the dumb surfer that tried to ride the wrong wave. Gnashing her teeth once more, she dove forward, into the sea of Krueger's memory.


White arc lights blazed above. He/i/we blinked under the sharp glare. Before us/me was a freak? His eyes were blacker than pitch and his skin as pale a newborn corpse. Sharp teeth glinted in the light and an inscrutable expression graced his face.

“My associates appreciate your difficulties Mr. Kueger. However, we are not willing to disclose where the materials for Void Dust are found. Such information is proprietary, and holds the key to out current success.”

“Your 'success' is dependent on my ability to manufacture your product! Demand is outpacing supply, and we're losing money.

New outfits have sprung up, and they all claim to be able to make copies of VD at half the price.“It doesn't matter if the claims are bullshit, all that matters is that prospective buyers are shifting over to cheaper alternatives. If we don't ramp up production, then we'll find ourselves dropping money into a black hole. And neither of us wants that.”

I pause and wait for my words to sink in. When the freak stays silent I go on, praying that my meaning gets through his thick skull.

“Look, I understand your concern. As far as you can tell, I'm just the ghetto scum your using as a cats paw. I'm the guy that takes the fall for your product, and I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with, is all the stonewalling, particularly when it benefits neither you nor me. The truth of the matter is that the side effects of the drug are starting to make it nonviable in the current market and the alternative produced by the two bit dogs on Helmsmann Strasse is gaining more traction.

“If you were to tell me what ingredients are, where they come from, I might be able to refine it, make it more palatable. The contacts I have in the Niqaba and the Triads would be able to provide materials that may be better suited to the drug and I could have my men alter its composition, make it more viable for repeated use.”

The freak stares at me like I'm a bug to crushed under his boot, and it takes every ounce of self control to not jump across the table and rip his eyes out. They came to me goddammit. They need my factory, they need this machinery to build their fucking product, and they need my boys to sell it. If they want to gain more shares in the market, if they want to ensure a monopoly, they'll need to trust me with the procurement of material and the refining of the product.

Of course, once that's done, I'll just have their throats cut and their corpses tossed in the river. For the insult of course. No one talks to me like I'm just some piece of white trash, not the whore sons in the Reichstag, not the scum in streets, and definitely not some high and mighty suit.

Not that any of this played about on my face. I knew how to play the game, just like the freak sitting across from me.

Your point is not without merit, Mr. Krueger,” he admitted. “But my employers are quite strict about our procurement efforts and our synthesizing process.” He paused again, his fingers twitching. His eyes fell to his hands and I could almost hear the gears squealing in his head. Nothing but silence filled the room. Oppressive and absolute.

Finally, when I couldn't take the quiet any longer, he raised a hand. He held up a small, black square. It had no screen, only a small button, which his thumb was pressing and a tiny light in its center. It blinked softly, a green glow faintly shining on his outstretched fingers. Clearing his throat, he spoke.

“Your arguments are correct Mr. Krueger. I find no fault with them and, in truth, I share your frustration with my bosses. They are missing the forest for the trees, as it were. Loath as they are to hand the requisite information over, it is now clear that we will need to do so in order to advance our goals. I will need some time to work on them, to convince them of the necessity of the action.

“The market will not wait, however, until my bosses are convinced. It will move on without us and many of our buyers, both current and potential, will drift to other products. I propose a stop gap solution, one that will keep our competitors restrained until we can modify and expand production of the drug.”

“And what would you propose?”

“That you crush the current competition. Literally.”

“My boys are good, but not that good. If I could smash every other boss out there I would have already done so.”

“Please, let me finish. Your men are well equipped. Despite their ragged appearance, the bionics that they utilize are relatively well made and dependable. However, they are nothing but broken nuts and rusted bolts compared to what we would be able to provide. Certain individuals owe me rather large favors and I am inclined to call them in.”

“You want to upgrade my men?”

“Not all of them. Only the best top thirty or forty. I believe that we will be able to enhance your men in such a manner as to enable them to excel in shock and awe attacks. If the Mustafans and the Blue Angels operations can be wiped out in a matter of days, their morale broken and their leaders killed, then you will be able to terrorize the competition into compliance. This would, incidentally, confer more prestige and respect on you, and solidify your control of Neukölln.”

“They won't be kept long under control though,” I pointed out. “Sooner or later they'll find their balls again, and then I'll really have to look over my shoulder. I don't have enough men to watch over the whole district, after all. Even if I stepped up recruitment and flooded the streets with goons, the old gangs would find a way to come back. This city doesn't take well to dictators.”

I rubbed my chin, looking at the pale son of a bitch right in the eye. “Once I've taken control of the area, how long will I need to wait until you've convinced your bosses?”

“Two months at least. Four if I'm unlucky.”

“That's too long. By the end of the first month I'll be looking at three uprisings, if not outright coup attempts. I'll be lucky if I can field half my men after the first six weeks.”

The freak drummed his hands on the table, a steady, thump, thump, thump. “I may,” he said slowly, “may be able to convince them within a month if certain guarantees are made.” We locked eyes. I tensed slightly, and my boys behind me did likewise.

“What kind of guarantees?”

“My masters do not trust you, sir. They feel that you will stab us in the back the second we avert our eyes. But what if, to all appearances, you could not? What if they believed that your were clearly under my thumb?There are certain implants-”

“Out of the question.” Donner stepped forward, electro blade crackling in his arm. A rumble from above signaled the deployment of defense turrets. Black barrels spun as they descended from the ceiling, pivoting to cover myself and my bodyguards. Johnson's rumble from behind made my ribs shake. The freak didn't even blink.

“You are a dangerous man when provoked Mr. Krueger. But you know as well as I that you will not live to see the night if you have your men attack me.”

“See, that's the difference between us and you. We won't sell our pride so cheaply. You think I'll just let you stick your own hands inside my skull? Let you parade me around like a trained dog?I'd rather die laughing, your brains coating my fingertips, than live for one second like one your paid shills.”I pulled out that old stubber, the one that saw me through the winter of '68. Its barrel was still coated in the blood of that Spaniard that tried to back stab me.

The barrel would be painted fresh before the day was up.

Unblinking, the freak leaned forward. “You underestimate how far I am willing to go to accomplish my organizations goals Mr. Krueger. I believe wholeheartedly in them. It is the reason why you are still standing and not leaking blood from a dozen new orifices. You have performed well so far, and the results you have provided defied all expectation. You have ensured the spread of the drug throughout the district, and if we supply you with the right materials, you will expand the coverage of the drug to all of Berlin and perhaps beyond.”

“If it will assuage any apprehension on your part, I will consent to having a kill switch implanted within me. You may pick whomever you like, whenever you like, to perform the operation.”

“And why would you do that? I'm not falling for-”

“Mr. Krueger,” he says, softly. I have to fight to keep from flinching. That reminded me of the worst beating I ever got from my bastard of a father. “You do not understand why I or my fellows do what we do because you have no morals. No principals. No guiding light. Every action that I take, every risk, every gamble, is in service of the cause. Our goals are so far beyond your comprehension that it is like an ant laying on eyes on a man for the first time. It cannot understand the creature before it. Its power, its majesty, defies all understanding.”

I opened my mouth to curse him, to goad him into shooting first. The words died in my throat when I felt that steel touch my neck. Blood trickled down my neck, a thin stream of plasma staining my suit red. The boys behind me growled, and my rib cage shook, vibrating as subsonic waves pressed down on me. I fought to keep my expression even but some of my shock must have been clear. After a second the freak spoke again, as if his fucking ninjas didn't have millimeter thin blade pressed against my throat.

“I would strongly advise you to take my offer Mr. Krueger. Despite the volatile nature of our negotiations. Unfortunately, due to the complications that have just arisen, I'm afraid I must withdraw my offer of accepting a kill switch. It would seem that you are unwilling to lend us the same trust we have offered you.”

“Go to hell! You and your bosses can go fuck yourselves!”

“Is that your final answer, Mr. Krueger?”

I keep quiet for a minute, trying to think of a way out. My luck's been good so far, but not enough to get me out this trap. Caught in a steel vice-Me! The bloody whoreson of Neukölln! I lick my lips after a moment and croak out, “I...I accept your offer. Now call off your goons.”

He waves a hand and the sword eases off my neck. I breathe heavily, and I glare at the piece of shit. That calm, accepting gaze of his, that placid fucking expression- and them I realize something. He knew. He knew that I would react like this, and I let him set me up, let him lead me on like some two mark whore.

I accepted his demands, and listened to the instructions he gave me. But through it all, past the lies, the promises, I burned. I would not forget this. They can stick whatever they like in my skull. They can think themselves my master if it pleases them.

It will make their deaths all the sweeter.

Klara shook herself free of the memory, her head spinning. She blinked hard, squinting against the painful brightness. Streaming past her in technicolor waves, Krueger's thoughts roiled. They flashed in erratic patterns, deep reds and dark purples. His mind, it seemed, suffered under the strain of heavy scrutiny. The memories seemed to call out to her as they passed. She forced herself to concentrate, to resist the urge to examine every thought that caught her fancy.

She vaguely recalled reading how the human mind retained definite tolerances in regards to mental anguish. After a certain point, a victim's mind would shut down, to block out the pain and attempt to heal itself. Krueger's shaken thoughts seemed to indicate that his mind was on such a verge, and that shut down would commence shortly.

Once his mind had gone dark there was no going back. She would be trapped here, unless Krueger woke. Klara snorted as one particularly bruised memory floated by, a child's screams faintly blaring from its opaque skin. She'd be lucky if he fell into a coma. If his fat heart gave out instead, and then...

Gripping her Anchor tighter, she contemplated where the factory's location might be found. Trying to search each memory piece by piece would be impossible. Even if she wasn't fighting the clock, the slippery nature of his thoughts would scupper her effort to methodically. Sighing, she decided to press on. To have lucked into the previous memory was good. It gave her an idea of what to look for. Anything with the pale freaks would narrow the location down.

Grunting, she attempted to push against the current of thought, slowly dragging the rock of her identity along. Though it it kept her own mind anchored and coherent, it slowed her progress considerably. Her arms eventually grew weary, and frustration mounted. Trying to find a particular memory in that cyclone of noise and feeling was like trying to find a particular fish in a stormy sea, while you ankles were bound to a cement block.

The minutes passed and Klara grew more desperate. The longer she was under, the closer the beasts came. In the back of her mind she could feel them: titanic creatures, their minds far greater than that of mere mortals; simply knowing that they were out there, watching her, bearing down on her stilled form filled her with paralyzing dread.

It settled in her stomach like a stone, threatening to drag her under.

Biting her lip, she glanced at her anchor. A dizzying array of colors strobed at her, brilliant in its incandescence. She turned her head back to the current, weighing her options. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right Klara?, she thought. Slowly, her fingers loosened and the rock wobbled in her unsteady grip. Withing seconds the memories rushed over her. No longer a jumble of incoherent sights and sounds, they swarmed her mind, contents spilling out like beer from an open bottle. Without another word, she released herself, flowing amongst the sea of thought.

Her barriers began to dissolve, and foreign thoughts slipped through the widening cracks. Her cheeks spasmed in agony as fat fists pounded into her face. A smile split her lips as the warm afterglow glow of coitus suffused her. Her feet twitched as the faint memory of brutalizing another boy overtook her.

A thousand different memories, a thousand different feelings, a thousand different states of existence filled her, shaped her. Thoughts not her own, cherished memories of a turbulent past, vain hopes for the future all combined into one dreaming intellect. Just as her identity was about to be washed away, she saw it. A shimmer in the sea, the bright glare of the fisherman's hook.

A rapidly fading hand reached out, its long, bony digits just scraping the surface. Her vision shifted, all color and sound blending into a chaotic hellscape. Screaming in rage, terror burning in her veins, she struggled. To keep her mind intact, as one distinct entity, separate from the criminal, was nearly impossible. To try to hold onto the memory at the same moment, a madman's dream.

I've gone too deep, she thought. To have dissipated her mind amongst Krueger's was foolish. She regretted, a distant part of her realized, not taking up the Clockwork Man's offer of training, of apprenticeship. If only she could resolve herself! All the miseries of the evening would be rendered valid and given purpose with just that victory.

Neurons flaring, she pressed on. Dragging her scattered thoughts into place, brick by brick, moment by moment, she reconstituted herself. Meat that had sloughed away, melting into a red slurry, dragged itself back together. Slowly, arms arose from the mass, scraps of flesh hanging off chipped and scarred bone. A multitude of eyes swirled, blues, reds, and yellows blinking and weeping tears of black filth. They swam slowly to one another, uniting and dividing several times, until a pair of forest green eyes opened once more.

Bones clattered back into shape as the rib cage formed, followed by shaking legs and aching feet. Her skull, muscle folding itself over bone, pale skin wrapping around red meat, emerged from the squat form of her chest. With a final “shlk” Klara reformed.

She fell on her back with a gasp, her eyes burning. A choking laugh burst from her lips, making her gag. Turning herself over, arching her back, she vomited. Black filth and wriggling maggots spilled from her stomach. Heaving, she spat the writhing insects from mouth. She wiped her lip, a hard expression on her face.

This had damaged her, she knew. More than any bruise or beating she might sustain as the night went on, this event above will have changed her. She knew this, deep in her bones. Something I'll deal with later on, she thought. Slapping the vomit off her shirt, she glanced left, then right. Closing her eyes, she held out her hands and pushed.

The blank space she had found herself in disappeared. Rain once more beat down on her, the falling drops sparkling like diamonds in the light of sodium lamps. Bums and vagrants mingle together, their raucous laughter enlivening the decaying environment. Crumbling apartment blocks gazed blindly at her, their windows broken and their doors barred. Across the street was a vast edifice. Its front entrance consisted of a simple guard post and broken boom barrier. Broken plastic littered the ground and the surrounding walls were filled with holes.

Beyond the entrance the smoke stacks lay silent. No distant bellows, no trucks driving in and out, no workers loitering on the sidewalk, smoking their break away. It didn't look like any factory Klara had seen. The only visible employee was a lone guard, dozing faintly in the booth.

She squinted, her eyes roaming like searchlights. This memory was they key, she knew.

Some kind of identifying mark had to exist, some plaque bearing the address or a broken down monument, or something.

For some minutes, she looked, forcing the memory to freeze by sheer will. Her perception of the place seemed to hitch and jerk on occasion, as if Krueger's mind was trying to reject her, force her from the memory and out of his head. She smiled mirthlessly. She was, if nothing else, willful. The Parasite would have long since consumed her if she lacked sufficient strength. Despite his spiteful resolve, Krueger had nothing on that writhing piece of filth.

Grunting as she forced his slowly awakening mind into submission, she let the memory resume. Hopefully, someone or something would let something slip. Rain fell once more and talk filled the street again. After a few minutes, she noticed them: lights glowing in a sea of black, like pinpricks studding a great beast. Darkness seemed to smother the factory, obscuring sight and preventing curious onlookers from gleaning anything about the abandoned place. Simply looking at it gave her chills.

Cocking her head, she noticed the good natured ribbing of the drunks was not as carefree as she had thought: underneath the laughter lurked a subtle tension. They smiled too much and their eyes darted about. Fear. Fear filled them, Klara realized. It made their movements stiff and uncertain. A startled laugh here, a nervous glance behind them there; it was clear that something had cowed them.

A black limousine, its motor purring softly, drove up the street. White light scythed through the rain, illuminating the vagrants and bums. As one they scattered, all of them suddenly needing to be elsewhere. It came to a halt in front of the gate, rolling over the rubble with ease. The driver side window came down and the guard looked up, cracking one eye open. He nodded after a second, resuming his relaxed attitude.

The car drove on and Klara followed. It wound its way through darkened thoroughfares, driving past rotting crates and crumpled machinery. Broken forklifts lay in state, their bodies long since rusted beyond repair. Abandoned warehouses and empty assembly halls lined either side of the long road. A testament to the expansive nature of the production once carried out and the jobs it provided.

As she followed them, Klara found her own mind wandering. The dilapidated sate of the place reminded her of her old neighborhood, in Stuttgart. The forgotten factory, the old apartments, the crowds gathered at the street corners- nostalgia welled up within her, along with something else. It was only after the car had made its way deep into the factory that Klara realized that she was homesick.

It was odd, she knew, to remember her past with such fondness. Her mother provided for her as best she could. It didn't amount to much. Whores were a dime a dozen in Stuttgart, like every other city in Europe. Unlike most whores though, her mother did love her, enough to ensure that Klara's belly was full even if hers was not. Often, after canvassing the streets all night, she would return to their cramped apartment early in the morning, just before she left for school, her face sporting a new set of bruises.

The johns in her district tended to the rough side, a product of the harsh environment they found themselves in. While much of the city had been made prosperous with investments by the Kurita corporation and the National Bank, the slums retained their bitter character. Weary and coarse, its benighted denizens trudged daily to the factories, working day and night to produce the cars and appliances that furnished every house on the continent. She would have been damned to a life of drudgery, just another wage slave or whore, had things stayed their course...

Her few friends, those whom she had grown up with, had always stuck by her side, even after the police chief put a price on her head. In a city where betrayals and honeyed words ran like water, she alone had true friends, friends that would have died for her and she for them. Honest Jonah, fair Alicia, wretched Matthew, and the would-be Casanova Fredrick-they had all helped her and her mother where they could.

Smiling as she recalled the pranks they played, her eyes were slowly drawn to a great sign hanging above a pair of arches. It hung from iron chains, and through its weather beaten script, it read “Fischer Pharmaceuticals-Production Hall 1-C”.

Her smile grew wider and she pumped her fist, pleased at finding the name of the factory. Fischer Pharmaceuticals...yes, she did know that name. They had been implicated in scandals a few years ago and many of their factories and research labs were shut down. It looked like Krueger had moved in, eager to exploit the place's functioning machinery. Idly, she wondered how much he had payed for the place. She rubbed her chin, musing on how many officials he would have needed to bribe to keep the electricity flowing and curious reporters out.

A car door slammed open, snapping her out of her reveries. Cigar smoke clouding the air, its tip glowing red hot, Krueger stepped from the car, the Suit in tow. Krueger wore a tight scowl, his eyes hot with barely restrained rage. The suit, in contrast, kept a placid expression on his face, in spite of- or perhaps because of- Krueger's obvious hostility. Silently, they walked the cracked path between the arches and into the open doors of the factory.

Light spilled out of the doors, cold white beams slicing through the night. Workers in white suites bent over strange machines, their hands flitting between vials and pestles. Fine powder glittered like new fallen snow as masked men carefully cut portions out of the vast piles lying before them. Beyond the crowded floor, past the sweating multitude, she saw massive centrifuges, their metal forms shaking as their motors spun, separating the base ingredients from on another.

These were manned by the suit's own men. Garish tattoos coated their faces and chests, which lay exposed in the harsh light. Images of hissing snakes and screaming beasts undulated as they moved, coiling as they flexed their muscles. Klara suppressed a shudder as their pale skin shined dully in the light. Their arms and legs, replaced by sleek bionics, seemed to glide on the concrete. Cold and inscrutable, they operated the centrifuges and loading pallets with deft movements, as certain and sure of their purpose as the creatures inscribed on their bodies.

A pang of realization swept Klara: these were the same freaks she'd seen when the night had started. An uneasy feeling began to fill her. The doctor had warned her that these men were beyond dangerous. If Krueger had been suborned by the Suit, then it was only logical to assume that he'd detailed his own men to watch him. If they were in the room next to her's, watching Krueger twitch and shake, then it wouldn't be long before they figured out where she was.

Her hands shook as she raised them. Slowly, a portal split the air, a yawning void opening before her. A short hop out of Krueger's mind back in to the abyss, then once more into her body. It was a shame she couldn't have have followed Krueger through his tour of the factory, she thought. It would have made Alexei's job easi-

Lights flashed before in her eyes and her skull throbbed with pain. She gasped as she fell, her head striking the concrete. Rolling onto her side, she conjured a short spear and hurled it at her attacker. Crackling with Abyssal energies, a coal black hand smacked the blade aside. Forced away, the blade slammed into a passing worker. The phantom shook and broke apart when the blade pierced his flesh, and the memory itself began to break down.

Below and above, within and without, the world groaned. The memory began to flicker and morph. Once solid and defined, objects began to bend and shift, no longer bound by any physical law. The contortions of meat and steel, of flesh running down faces like water, of great iron walls breaking apart into rotting mouths that streamed miasmic vapors, and a thousand other horrors clawed at Klara's sanity.

A wordless scream tore itself from her throat and she threw herself at the abomination. Her eyes glowed as she conjured a knife, its serrated edges dripping venom. The parasite hissed in her skull, its hackles raised. Its arms and legs frothed with smoke, as greasy and dark as a forest fire. Eyes like fading embers glared at her;faint wisps of smoke floating out of its sockets. Its head was a mass of fused meat and bone. Charred and blackened like overcooked beef, its stench made Klara's eyes water.

Its chest had been cut open. Ragged cuts of skin hung limply from a broken rib cage. They flapped like flags in the wind as diseased lungs drew breath, their bloated forms studded with molding yellow teeth. They sensed her coming and they drew apart; smiles on rotten viscera.

She slammed into the abomination, driving it to the floor. Raising the knife high above her head, she brought it down with all the force of a hammer, its dripping tip punching though burnt meat and bone into yielding gray matter. Again and again she stabbed the monstrosity, her arm pumping the knife like a piston. Its eyes twinkled, amused at the insect's feeble attempt at killing it. Its hand shot out, clamping Klara's wrist in an iron grip.

Its touch was that of the corpse, of the bloated bodies dredged up from the river. Klara cried out in disgust, and she hammered the thing's face with her free hand. It took the blows silently, and its lungs wheezed like punctured tire. It took a moment for Klara to realize it was laughing at her. She redoubled her assault, drawing more power from the Parasite.

Green lightning arced down her arms, her veins and bones flashing clearly under her skin. The thing grunted, the blows now painful. Her fist left faint imprints on the things face, and its grip began to slacken. The pace of her strikes increased and the taste of victory filled her for a moment, heady and pure, before dissolving into ash.

The thing's hand squeezed, snapping her bones like twigs. The knife fell to the floor, nerveless fingers now limp in agony. Klara stared at her hand, a horrified scream bursting from her lips. White bone pushed against pale skin, and it crackled as she tried to move her fingers.

With contemptuous ease, the abomination tossed Klara away, rising in one smooth movement. Her back arched in agony as she struck the hard floor, bones juddering from the impact. Blinking the stars out of her eyes, she pushed herself up on her good arm, wincing at the pain of her broken wrist. Now upright she raised her hand again, to summon a portal out of-

Another scream broke from her lips and the nascent portal she had conjured flickered away to nothing. She clenched her eyes shut as bolts of pain struck her mind, making her sight grow red. Clutching at the the shifting ground behind her, she scrambled to get away from the slowly advancing abomination. Blinking away tears of pain, she raised a hand again, a ghostly throwing knife slowly fading into life. The thing cocked its head and the mouths lining its lungs smiled once more.

Lightning strikes of pain assaulted her again, laying into every cell of her body. The bore into her mind, squeezed her eyes, choked her throat, and hacked away at her nervous system. Like a puppet with its strings cut, she fell onto her back, gasping for air that would not come. The knife, now forgotten, slipped from her hand, half formed and melting into the bubbling concrete. Fires slowly crackled and burned as the thing stepped over Klara, its arms now aflame.

A set of talons extended from from black fingertips, hard and sharp. Crouching down, it leered at Klara. Its glee was palpable, exuding from the abomination like a physical thing. It hissed and a heady musk wafted from its burnt body. Slowly, it rose to overwhelm, pushing past the rapidly fading agony. She breathed its noxious fumes, coughing at the stink. The pain which had overtaken her was rapidly falling away, though her arms and legs were still limp and unresponsive.

Reaching out with a single, burning claw, it tapped Klara on her forehead. She whimpered at the burning touch, her skin crackling as it toyed with her. The Parasite mewled within her, and it took her a moment to understand why. As it placed the flaming digit on her forehead, she realized that she was to be vivisected. Not for mere amusement, though that undoubtedly played a part.

The thing wanted the Parasite. Whether it was because it wanted a new pet or to devour it and absorb its powers, she could not say. In the end, a small part of her realized, it didn't matter. The only possible outcome was her death, and the only question was whether or not she would die defiant and proud, like Hendrix; or weeping and screaming for mercy, like Alissa. Locking eyes with the thing, she spat a bloody glob in its face.

It raised its free hand to wipe away the spit. The saliva hissed as it evaporated and a faint stink of blood suffused the air. “You think you'll win,” Klara said, voice hoarse. “You think I'm just going to die. That I'll just give in, like all the others. I survived Stuttgart. I survived the black forest.

“And I made it to Berlin. You're nothing. Just another Neukölln freak that needs to be put down. You better make peace with yourself, you ugly bastard, 'cause I'll be sending your ugly ass back to hell.”

“Hell? Hell. Is. Here”

Its voice was that of wood snapping in the fire, of the sizzle of charred flesh. Its mouths rasped as it talked, reminding Klara of old smokers, their lungs straining to pump air. Silently, the flames vanished from its hands and it sniggered as its talons parted Klara's skin. Blood, as rich and bright as a polished jewel, ran down her face. Carefully, delicately, the skin of her forehead was peeled back. For several minutes it sculpted her, making a deft incision there, a little tuck here; like a master artist, it lavished attention on her, ensuring that every cut was correctly aligned, to ensure ease of access and to please the eye. That she suffered the maximum level of pain was a bonus.

A low moan of agony welled up from her chest, and she struggled not to scream. I won't give him the satisfaction, she thought. I won't give him the satisfaction, I won't give him the satisfaction.... Over and over she repeated the mantra as he slowly carved her face.

Flaps of skin hung over her eyes, obscuring her vision. The stink of copper now filled the air, a stench to complement the insanity now breaking out in Krueger's mind. At least he'll suffer after this, thought Klara. He won't just walk way after all this is done.

Her tormentor chuckled as he worked her over, phlegm oozing from his open mouths. “Hell. Hell knows. Hell Lives.” It ranted quietly to itself, rambling on about the horrors to come. Klara gnashed her teeth, cracking her molars. I won't give him the satisfaction. I wont, I wont, I won't...

At the crescendo of her misery, she opened her mouth to scream. A keening cry, more like beast than man. The thing threw its head back and laughed. Her scream faded into a coughing rasp, dry saliva mixing with crusting blood. “Little Flesh thing,” it whispered.

“You will scream more, yes. More pain. More glorious suffering. It is like the nectar I drank when I was young. Sweet and golden, it quieted the rumbling in my aching belly. Oh, Little Flesh Thing, How succulent your taste will be. I will partake of your life, drown my self in all your sorrows. You will live forever in me.” Bending forward, it spoke into Klara's ear, rotten breath tickled her lobes. Claws caressed her face, slicing new furrows on bloody muscles. She wept, hating herself for giving in and, at the same time, wishing the thing would grant her the release of death.

“You will live forever. Eyes wide. And mouth. Open. In Screa-” a blast of blinding light erupted behind the abomination, searing Klara's eyes. It was like staring into the heart of the sun, as pure and radiant as a newborn child. The abomination snapped its head around, rotten mouths roaring in rage. A flaming hand was lifted, claws burning a bloody red, when, with a percussive boom, the thing was sent flying. The hold on her limbs faded, and she rolled over, blood spilling onto the rusting floors.

The process that begun with the death of the worker was now complete. Coiling columns of flesh stretched as far as the eye could see. Faces faded in and out of the towers, screeching in horror. The floor melted away, shifting from solid concrete to rusting metal. Eyes were planted on the floor, like boughs of flowers. Their stalks were made of fine white powder, pearlescent in the sickening light that now suffused the hall.

A sense of warmth filled her and the clawing, biting pain in her forehead faded to a low growl, slipping into the recesses of her mind. Blinking away the blood, she rubbed at her eyes, shivering when her fingers met torn skin and slashed meat. Horror came with it, gripping her in an iron fist. Like the sand swept away by the tide, the warm fled, leaving her cold and helpless. She fell to her knees, weeping. The insanity of the memory, of the torture, was too much.

She might have stayed like, frozen, but for the shudders, were it not for the hand that fell on her shoulder. The sense of warmth returned, greater and stronger, as intense as a hot July day. Slowly, she looked up and saw a dark skinned man, his lips split open in an honest smile. Clad in white robes, his right hand clenching a sword of gold, his face radiant with life, he raised Klara to her feet.

In wonder, she gazed at him and said, “What are you?”

“Just a friend,” he told her, white teeth flashing.

His eyes snapped away from her and he tossed his sword up. It rippled, like water, and when it came back down his hand gripped a spear. He hurled it, face set in determination, and it struck true. The abomination, its charge cut short, fell forwards, planting itself face first. It bellowed in frustration and the vast space shook in sympathy; the Flesh Towers wailed harder, their shrieks deafening.

The man- angel,Klara corrected herself- turned back to her. “You must flee,” he told her. “Your friend needs to destroy that factory. The snakes will know he is coming.”

“I can't- I can't open a portal out of here. My mind, it hurts...”

Wordlessly, he raised his hand, conjuring a portal. It flickered in the chaos, its silver lining fluttering, as though buffeted by great winds. He gave her a gentle shove. Slowly, she hobbled to the portal, as the aches started catch up. Wincing in pain, she glanced back at that beatific face. Committing it to memory, she nodded her thanks, before stepping through.


She came back like a gunshot, slamming back into her body like a freight train. Gasping at the sudden impact, reeling from the touch of leather and the scent of wood, she bent over, hands crossing her stomach. Her forehead pressed against the desk, the surface cool and soothing. Every fiber of her being thrummed with energy, every celled screamed with an electric charge. This hadn't happened last time. Why now?

Slowly, she raised her head. Glancing at the clock, she uttered a tired curse. Fifteen minutes had passed since she'd stepped through the door. Given what had happened in Krueger's mind, what was happening in Krueger's mind, it wouldn't take long to figure out-

The door slammed open, hinges shattering in an explosion of wood and metal. It leaned drunkenly against the wall for a moment, still clinging to the entrance with a quiet desperation. Giving a great groan, it fell to the floor, hitting the plush carpet with a dull thump. An angry brute stomped through, his mouth open in a snarl. Sharpened teeth, filed to razor sharp points, glinted redly.

Blood ran down his chin, streaming from the small punctures in his lips. They glistened brightly in the soft light, reminding Klara of the puddles she used to play in as a child. His eyes, as before, swelled with blood, the pupil nearly lost in the sea of viscera. It stared at Klara, bobbing in and out of that copper colored ocean, like boat lost in the storm.

Gears whirred as his hand spun, metal fingers sliding back, receding into a steel wrist. Arcing with electricity, a long, serrated blade extended from his arm, slipping out without a whisper. It crackled with barely restrained energy, sparking blue as it charged. They danced along the bizarre grooves cut along the flat of the blade, their afterimage stabbing into Klara's eyes like a burning brand. The patterns swirled in her in her mind, nipping at her thoughts like a pack of yowling dogs.

She blinked, chasing the thought away, before saying, “You know, he never did like you, Donner. He thought Rudolph was the better killer. Smarter too. Shame he died in that fire. He might have proven to be a better son.”

The brute didn't move. Drool and blood mixed together, streaming down his mouth like a waterfall. He locked eyes with her, pale blue orbs shining with unshed tears. “Gonna kill you slow,” he rasped. His voice was like rusted steel, flaking away at the edges; too many bloody, vicious fights; too many bottles of whiskey and back alley surgeries. “Gonna make you pay. Little Stuttgart bitch.”

His footfall thudded into the floor, shaking the desk. A glass globe toppled, its gilded edges catching the light as it fell. Shattering into a half dozen chunks, the countries as broken and ruined as the man before her, she raised a hand, eyes squinting. Her mind arrayed itself, locking into place and readying her thoughts. The spear came to her, as easy and smooth as churned butter.

Cocking her arm back, muscles tensing, breath locked in her chest; she held position for a full second, her arm straining.

A grunt escaped her lips as she let loose; the glowing tip of the spear punched through metal, bone, and meat, before halting halfway through the brute's chest.

He stumbled, armored feet slipping and skidding on the carpet. Donner roared, spittle flying from bloodied lips. Righting himself, he pressed forward, plunging on through the hail of glowing metal. The flash of a spear, the squeal of pierced metal, the growing terror in the little bitch's face-none of it meant a damn. All that mattered was reaching father's murderer and tearing her apart limb from limb.

With an almighty crash, he slammed into the desk, sending paper, wood, and computer pieces flying. Splinters cut into Klara's cheeks, embedding themselves in her skin. Her arms flailed as she fell, and she narrowly missed the crackling blade. Her hair stood up as it passed, bright sparks flashing in her eyes.

Air fled her lungs as she impacted the ground and her lungs strained to shove oxygen into her shocked body. The brute had her pinned, one hand wrapped around her throat. Blackness threatened her, darkening the corners of her vision. Vainly, she tried to force her mind into place, order it back into the serried ranks it had stood in.

Cold steel slowly crushed her windpipe, cartilage groaning under the pressure. His mad eyes bore into her, wild with rage. Behind him, Klara saw the Cowled Bastard. He beckoned her forward, a hand of bone slipping out of his black robes. She didn't need to see his face to know he was smiling. Despair nearly took her then and there, and it was only with supreme effort that she pulled herself out of that pit.

The Parasite hissed in her skull and she did not stop to wonder how it was able to speak to her now, in the waking world. Her fading mind focused on what it proposed. Did the thing think she crazy? To give up her independence its wriggling little hands?

As the crackling blade was brought down, its barely contained energies millimeters away from her face, she relented. Even the slightest chance at life was better than an eternity of darkness. Tendrils slithered through her mind, greasy limbs gripping her thoughts like a clinging corpse. With nary a sound, Klara Mueller disappeared, and Donner's fist closed around empty air. Oil, black and glistening, puddled around him. The lights above cast strange colors in that swirling pool, and he swore he that saw his father's face, among thousands of others, screaming in pain.

He pounded the slick filth with fist and sword, cursing and ranting. Though he rained down the blows, though the blade squealed every time it struck the black liquid, nothing happened. It was simply oil, nothing more. He stopped after several seconds, staring in disbelief as it slowly gathered itself together, before melting away into the floor.

Within moments it was gone, the only evidence of her passage a few splotches of blood and tattered strips of clothing. The spears too faded, the sickly green glow fading from his chest. Absentminded, his hands pressed against the gaping holes in his chest. Blood mingled with oil, black swirls in red pools. His breath came in shallow bursts as his broken body sought to repair itself. Painkillers flooded his system and an overlay of his body blinked into existence. With dead, tired eyes he stared at the warnings covering his chest. Death, always the shadow at his side, now came for him. He could feel it, watching him, waiting for the chance to strike.

The others piled through the door, cries and question bubbling from their lips. “Where's the girl?” Rodrick thundered, his voice hoarse with rage. When Donner didn't respond he grabbed his shoulder, demanding to know where the little-

It punched through his cheeks with a wet splortch. The metal spike retracted into Donner's elbow as he stood, his jaw stiff and his eyes blazing. His stomped towards the waiting group, shoving Rodrick aside. Ignoring his feeble attempts to place his tongue back in his mouth, Donner gazed hard at the pack. The pawed the ground like dogs beneath his stare.

After a moment of silence, he said, “She's in the sewers. Tell Adams to open the gate.” They looked at him blankly for a moment, before he growled. Low and harsh, it dug under their armor plated bodies and made their ribs rattle. One man- Donner always forgot his name-peeled away from the group to inform Adams. The rest stepped aside to let Donner through.

The followed him silently, even Rodrick, who clutched his severed tongue like a drowning man. White walls slid away, revealing blank halls and locked doors. They made their winding way down to the sub levels, near the outlet to the West Sewers, Section 3B. A great vault barred the path, its steel pristine in the cold, clinical light. Gears rumbled in the distance and, with a speed that almost painfully slow, the door creaked open.

Groaning under the strain, the door opened to reveal a vast, cavernous space. The stink of excrement, blood, and other, less wholesome smells, filtered into the hall. Noses twitching, they roared as one when Donner charged forward, pounding through the portal on all fours.

The hunt was on.




Submitted: February 14, 2016

© Copyright 2023 raja302. All rights reserved.

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