Manhunt

MANHUNT

BY ADRIAN

“I'm telling you it’s bullshit. Everywhere you go, every settlement you see, there it is, a big fucking stone church. And this town has three! It’s ridiculous! Why does anyone worship Him anymore? He’s just a piece of crap for… hey are you listening to me?” Carson Connors shouted at the bartender before draining another pint. It was just before last call and Carson had driven off every other customer in the bar. Carson was once an upstanding citizen who worked for the betterment of Jericho. In his glory days he was well respected and appeared to care greatly for the city. After his brother took possession of a prominent political seat he dropped the charade. Now he had a different reputation: drunken asshole. “Face it. The rapture already happened and we got left behind. God doesn’t give a shit about us anymore.” The bartender poured Carson another pint, which he proceeded to dump down his gullet.

“You look like you could use another drink.” A tall muscular man of about 6-foot-9 in a brown coat and fedora sat next to Carson at the bar. His voice was deep, Carson couldn’t determine if the man was being sarcastic.

“Yeah I suppose I could.” He muttered. Carson eyed the stranger up and down, not sure of what angle the large man was playing. The stranger was tanned and aged, his face was adorned with several scars. Carson counted five scars in total, varying in length and depth. The man sported a beard that was short, black, and well-maintained much like his hair. His neck bore a small silver cross, which Carson scoffed at. Carson thought he recognized the man: a bounty hunter named Aleksander E. Renault.

“Nice hat.” He said with a chuckle. “Must get all the ladies with that.”

The bartender came over and poured another pint of ale into Carson’s glass. He proceeded to drain it as quickly as he could. “You know,” Aleksander began. He pulled a metal briefcase up onto the bar counter and opened it up. “I was debating about whether or not I should have slammed your head into that counter before I sat down.” The bartender smiled at Aleksander as he told this to Carson. “But then I thought ‘this guy isn’t much of a threat, there’s probably a way to get him to come with me without having to resort to such brutal measures.’” The man locked his eyes onto Carson to gauge his reaction. “Of course, the choice is yours. I could still slam your head into the bar if you don’t want to cooperate.”

“That’s pretty generous of you to give him a choice.” The bartender muttered as he poured Carson another glass.

“Have you got shit for brains?” Carson chuckled. “You know there’s a reason a wanted man like me can just hang out in a bar right?” He took a drink. “I’m a protected man. You so much as even look at me funny and I’ll have my brother’s friends crawling so deep up your ass you can taste them.” He ordered another drink and a shot of whiskey to go with it. “And I’m not going anywhere with you. I don’t care how intimidating you think you are, you’re still just some needle-dick bounty hunter.”

Aleksander didn’t respond. He took a small folder full of papers out of his briefcase and handed it to Carson. Carson took a shot and downed it with a pint of ale. He eyed the folder, trying to decide whether he should waste his time humoring this prick. He decided it might be worth a laugh or two and took the folder after ordering himself yet another drink.

“What the fuck is this!? What the fuck?!” He tore through the papers in the file. “This is a lie! I never… what the fuck?!” He threw the papers across the room and spilled his new drink all over the bar in the process. He pulled a switchblade out and threatened Aleksander with it. “These are fake and you know it you little fucker!”

“I got those from a reliable source.” Aleksander responded, completely unfazed by the switchblade’s presence. “Maybe they are fake; but those documents sure look genuine. You’re not exactly popular around town anymore. The fact is you’re becoming more and more of a liability to your brother and your recent bounty only makes matters worse. What’s he going to do when he sees that you’re selling him out to political rivals? My guess is that he would probably put a bullet in your head just to be safe.” Aleksander stood up. Carson saw how well-built this man was. He towered over Carson. “An associate of mine has a copy of this information and unless he hears from me by tomorrow morning your brother will know everything. If you run or you’re lucky enough to get me with that knife, you’re still not getting out of this. The other option is to come along with me and atone for your crimes.” Aleksander grabbed what was left of Carson’s spilled drink and downed it in front of him. “Like I said earlier, you can come peacefully or I could bash your head into this counter.”

Carson realized that it was all over. He was finished. His safety net was gone and his bounty was about to be cashed in. He didn’t like the prospect of going to a wasteland jail. The alternative was to have his brother’s men pick him apart. But would his brother still hear about that information in jail? If so then there would be nothing protecting him. Carson couldn’t think straight. The booze and the anxiety were getting to him. He decided to try the only option he could think of for getting out of this situation without losing his life.

“Fuck you!” He shouted, jumping to his feet. He stabbed forward at his opponent but Aleksander was remarkably quick. Aleksander grabbed Carson’s blade hand. With his other arm he bashed Carson’s outstretched elbow inward, fracturing the arm and causing Carson severe pain. He screamed and dropped the knife to the ground. Aleksander took a step in and hit Carson with an open palm to the nose. The nose snapped and blood poured out of his face and into his sinuses. Aleksander didn’t miss a beat; he quickly followed up by grabbing Carson’s shoulders and pulling him toward him while kneeing him in the gut. Carson rag-dolled fairly quickly and Aleksander punctuated the whole ordeal by fulfilling his promise to introduce the man’s head to the bar counter. The whole affair only took a couple of seconds and Carson fell to the floor, unresponsive.

“Sorry about the mess.” Aleksander threw several bills at the bartender and went to check Carson’s pulse.

“You know your money isn’t any good here. Keep it.” The bartender responded. “He alive?”

“He’s alive.” Aleksander rummaged through Carson’s wallet and grabbed all the bills inside. He tossed the bills to the bartender and insisted he take them. He picked Carson up and slung his body over his shoulder with relative ease. He disappeared out into the darkened streets to go collect on his bounty.

 

Two days later

Aleksander was being followed. He had gone to have his bio-mechanic friend check on his left arm to make sure the machinery was still functioning properly. Ever since leaving the shop he had a feeling that he was being followed. This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. Aleksander was well known and rival bounty hunters would come after him, expecting to eliminate him as competition. He scanned the crowds of people walking the streets of Jericho. Despite all of his experience and training, Alek was unable to spot who was tailing him. By midday he had visited many contacts and decided to stop at his hotel room briefly to drop some papers off. He wasn’t expecting to be in the city much longer, he already had a job and transportation lined up to take him out west. If everything went according to plan he would only have to spend two more nights there. Alek was done at his hotel for the time being and went to go have dinner and run a few more errands before the business district closed.

He found a dark corner of his favorite Jericho bar, The Silver Gorilla, and he still didn’t notice anything unusual. No one paying an unusual amount of attention to him, no one approaching him in any way, no familiar faces from earlier in the day. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary to him but he still couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was still watching him. He decided to stay at the bar another thirty minutes and after that he would have a few pints and head back to his hotel room.

Thirty minutes and three pints later Aleksander left the bar to go back to his hotel room. He had inspected and gone to great lengths to ensure his drinks were not tampered with. A lesson he learned the hard way as a younger man. He was still on the lookout for anyone who could be following him but had no luck spotting them. The streets of Jericho were fairly well-lit so visibility wasn’t an issue. Alek crossed one of the bridges that connected the two halves of the city.

Jericho was built around the time of the apocalypse; over the convergence of two rivers whose water kept people, animals, and crops alive in the early years following the devastation. Over the years the city had grown in size due in part the protection the large, thick walls surrounding the city provide. Many flocked to the city from smaller villages. Jericho had grown quite a reputation for being a hub of trade and as a beacon of safety in the wasteland.

“Good night Mr. Renault.” The hotel manager waved to him as he walked past the reception desk. Minutes later Alek emerged once more into the hotel lobby. It was time to put his plan into action and that began with faking outrage.

“Is this some kind of joke?” Alek spat at the man with great intensity. His voice was low but unmistakably hostile. “This is what my room looks like.” He held up a digital picture of his room he had altered to look wrecked. It was as if a tornado blew through the room, tossing furniture and bedding about in its wake.

“Sir, uh, I’m very sorry this has happened to you. I can assure you…” the flustered manager sputtered out before Alek interrupted.

“I’m not interested in apologies. I want to know what’s going to be done about this.”

“I’ll send someone up to clean it right away. And….”

“I want another room.” He interrupted once more.

“Of course, of course… and it’s on the house, naturally.”

“Thank you.” Alek took his new room key and proceeded upstairs. The new room was next to his old one, perfect. He had checked into his room earlier in the day in order to open himself up to an attack. If his stalker tracked him to the hotel room it would be the perfect place to ambush Alek. There were cameras set up in his old room. If someone was waiting for him in his room, he had a lot of options for dealing with his would-be attacker. Being that his new room was next door, he figured he could shoot through the wall with his .45 magnum.

Alek quietly entered his new room. He pulled up the security feed on the wrist computer he had built into his mechanical arm. A small 1 ½ foot screen projected from the computer. He tapped several images on the screen to get to the security feed. The cameras were set to record movement. He played the footage starting with him entering the room earlier in the day. He sped up the recording. As soon as he saw himself leave the room the feed went black. No one else had entered the room.

“I guess I was wrong.” Alek muttered to himself.

 “Wrong about what, exactly?” He heard a deep voice from within the room. It wasn’t one he was familiar with. He drew his weapon and aimed in the direction of the voice. He flipped on the lights in order to see the mystery man who had been stalking him.

In that chair sat a very old gentleman. His face was like a shriveled up raisin. Several blotchy dark brown spots and spidery teal veins added some color to his ghostly white face. His hair was as white as his face and was neatly cut and trimmed, it was thicker than normal for someone his age. His eyes were a piercing crystal blue. They looked to Alek as if they were almost glowing. As for his clothes: the man wore a black suit with a black tie and underneath he wore an iron-pressed white collared shirt.

“You’re…” Alek paused for a moment, the man grinned at him, his jagged smile made Alek uneasy. “…from Eden. An executive.” Alek was confused by this turn of events. He hadn’t spoken to an Eden executive, or really anyone from Eden, in almost a decade. What reason would they have to contact him here, now? Alek kept his weapon aimed at the man who nodded at his deduction. He had always been cautious around representatives of Eden. He didn’t want to be caught off guard again. “You’re Ivan Kuschner, Personnel Director at Eden. What do you want?”

“What I want is for you to put down the gun.” He continued. “Eden has a proposition for you that I know you’ll be interested in.” Alek did not lower his weapon. If Eden wanted him dead Ivan wouldn’t be having a conversation with him. Even so, he didn’t want to be caught off guard. Ivan raised an eyebrow at Alek’s refusal to lower the weapon but otherwise appeared unconcerned.

“I’m listening.”

“Of course you are. When Eden speaks, you people listen. I have with me a file on someone we want captured: David Cohen. You may know him as the terrorist responsible for the attack on Eden Tower.” Ivan tossed the file onto the bed next to him.

“I was only aware of the girl.” Alek knew well of the bounty on the girl’s head. As a rule he never took jobs that Eden posted, there was always a catch. “Thanks but no thanks, I’ll pass.” Alek responded in a grim voice. He held the gun level. Refusing a request from an executive wasn’t usually an option. He had to be ready in case the executive or any of his unseen guards were to retaliate.

“Let me put it this way.” Ivan stood up from his chair. He was shorter than Alek was by well over a foot but that didn’t make him any less threatening. Alek remained calm, his facial expression conveying stoicism. Inside his mind, however, he was already running over the many possible ways this scenario could play out. “The Eden Corporation wants your help and I’m here to get it. We’re here to offer you more than just money. We can make your life as comfortable as possible; we can set you up with anything you could ever dream.” Ivan took a few steps across the room toward him. A few steps closer and Alek had decided he would strike first and attempt to get the drop on Ivan. Following that he would bash out the window and use that as an escape from the hotel. It was a two-story drop, but it beat the alternative of having to fight his way out of the hotel.

“Or perhaps.” Ivan went on, turning away from Alek and taking a few steps back away from him. “We could set her up with everything she could ever want?” Alek made an effort to show no emotion on his face. Did they know about his daughter? He had been careful to hide her existence from everyone. His daughter didn’t even know her dad was alive and neither did her grandparents with whom she was living. Alek had long assumed no one knew of his past life as a family man. But if anyone could find out about all of that, it would be Eden.

“You would be willing to do that for the capture of one man?”

“This one man is very important to us. If you could bring him back to us alive Eden would pay you $10,000,000 and we would see that she is taken care of.” Ivan paused for a response of some kind but got none. “That would mean the best schools, free housing wherever she wants it, she’ll be able to personally use me as a reference for any new job; anything you want for her, Eden can get it.” Ivan looked up directly into Alek’s eyes. “Of course if you refuse well… you’ll find out what it’s like to have Eden as your enemy.” He grinned showing his teeth once more.

Alek wanted to squeeze the trigger and blow this guy’s head apart right then and there. But doing that wouldn’t stop Eden from going after his daughter. “Alright.” Alek told the executive. He didn’t like the way the job sounded, he knew he would have to do more research on the target and find out what Eden’s motivation for such a high bounty actually was. He knew it couldn’t just be domestic terrorism, the reward was far too high. “You have a deal.”

“I knew Eden could count on you.” Ivan turned and walked toward the exit. “Don’t forget to lock the door.” With that a small smirk stretched across Ivan’s wrinkled face and he disappeared into the hallway.

That night Alek reviewed the files before going to sleep. He slept with his gun under his pillow.

 

Several weeks later

Alek finally had the target. He had a near-exact location of David Cohen. After spending the better part of three weeks looking for Cohen, Alek finally had the breakthrough he was looking for. In his hands was a report given to him by one of his contacts in the region. He informed them to forward any crime reports from the small towns or villages in the area, no matter how big or small the crime actually was. He didn’t tell them what he was looking for, but it was mostly petty crimes or break-ins.

“Small Eden outpost break-in. Security footage was scrambled, the attackers’ faces couldn’t be seen. The two workers at the post were incapacitated but not killed.” Alek liked the sound of that. The description was very similar to a report he received several weeks ago, detailing another attack on an Eden outpost in the vicinity of where he expected Dave to be. With this, he was almost 100% certain of Dave’s location. “I don’t think I understand you very well David Cohen.” He muttered to himself. “You’re supposed to be on the run with Eden hot on your tail, yet you attack two of their outposts, potentially giving your position away to them. Are you really that arrogant? Or is it something else…?” Alek pondered the question and imagined what kind of man Dave was. Ivan’s folder of information wasn’t any help. Aside from a picture of Dave and his name it didn’t tell him anything about who he was and why he was such a priority target.

“In any case” he took a drink of his boiling hot coffee. “You’ll most likely come here next.” He pointed at the array of monitors in front of him and nodded to himself in approval.

“Let’s review the evidence before proceeding.” Alek liked to be thorough to the point of obsession. Sun Tzu was credited with saying “Every battle is won before it is fought” and Alek took that advice to heart. He also liked to hear his thinking aloud. Everything he said was recorded and translated into text for future reference. In the off chance he didn’t survive the data was backed up onto a server which would automatically pass on to a trusted source if it didn’t receive regular input from Alek. His replacement could then do what they saw fit with the information.

“About four weeks ago David Cohen and his partner Jessica Lawson broke into an Eden lab in Bastion City. Initial reports yielded nothing; Eden was very tight-lipped about the whole ordeal. Soon after, however, more information began to surface. Police reports revealed that there was a break-in at the Eden Educational Research Institute on the night of Cohen’s escape. Whether anything was stolen is unknown and Eden refuses to release any information on that matter. A man, Dr. Brian Oran, was thought to be an accomplice. He was probably framed by Cohen. He was captured by Eden on the other side of the seed and hasn’t been heard from since. He is most likely deceased. Additionally, that night an ATM was robbed of about $3000. It seems like an insignificant detail, but I will return to that point in a moment. For now, let’s assume that Cohen robbed this ATM.

“The population centers around Bastion aren’t Eden friendly, but they couldn’t resist if Eden decided to send personnel in after Cohen. In any case, I received reports in the following weeks of ATMs being robbed in New Wellsboro, Cloudbottom, and Paradise. All of them match the robbery pattern as those in Bastion City. The security footage at the ATM was scrambled and there was no sign of forced entry into the ATMs. In fact there weren’t any traces of mechanical or electronic failure present in any of the machines. It was during this crime spree that a small two-man Eden outpost was hit in the same region as where I had pinpointed Cohen’s location. Neither man was seriously injured in the attack. Why he would do such a thing is beyond my ability to guess at this time. The outpost’s surveillance footage was scrambled and the outpost’s systems do not appear to have been compromised, just like the ATMS. After the outpost attack, another ATM was hit several days later in Spire, also in that region. Either Cohen is a kleptomaniac or he needs a lot of money for something.” Alek rubbed his thumb over the hairs on his chin. “But what?” It troubled Alek to have so little information on who his target was but it couldn’t be helped. He didn’t have any spare time to dig further into Dave’s history. “Surely for someone with such a high bounty on his head he would be more careful than this. I can’t discount the possibility that it’s a string of coincidences or a decoy to throw pursuers off his scent. After all, someone is bound to find this pattern of ATM robberies sooner or later, and connect it to that night in Bastion City. Cohen is supposed to be a dangerous man, and he was able to break into the EERI. I would think that he would be a little smarter than this.” Still, this pattern of robberies couldn’t be ignored, it was the best hope he had at finding Dave.

“He will likely come here next if I’m correct so far.” Alek paused a moment but then proceeded. “I have considered three locations for his next attack.” Alek mused. “But ever since the first attack on an Eden outpost I had a hunch he would target Eden again in the future. With the second outpost I’m now much more confident in that assumption. He seems keen to get information on Eden, so I’ll use that as bait. Recently I’ve obtained information about some ruins far to the west around the proto-seed of Tidal Pool. I’ve had subordinates spread rumors that Eden is transporting something from those ruins to this region. This is information he shouldn’t be able to pass up. I’ve found an abandoned facility that should work as a trap. Once he’s inside this building he’ll be drawn toward the control room. The room is locked with an encrypted keypad but it shouldn’t be a problem for him. Once he’s inside the control room I’ll send a command to seal the door and gas the room.” Alek ended the recording and watched the computer screen as his words were typed out. The file was then uploaded to his server. Alek had everything he needed in place, now it was just a matter of waiting and seeing if David Cohen would take his bait.

 

A loud blaring noise filled the room. It was a proximity alert. “It’s time.” He arose from his chair and grabbed his armaments.

Alek’s equipment included: one wrist-mounted dart launcher; thirty-six non-lethal poison darts; two small, thin throwing knives strapped to either leg; one larger combat knife in a sheath around his waist; a pair of binoculars; an ignition interlock device; a grenade launcher strapped to his back; explosive, flash, and smoke grenades; his wristwatch computer; a headset with a right-eye view screen; a knife concealed within his mechanical arm; and of course his .45 magnum.

Alek arrived at the facility he had set his trap in. It was a brisk three minute walk from where he had his base of operations setup. He positioned himself in a hedge that concealed him from anyone approaching down the nearby dirt road and waited. The road ran up to the only entrance to the building so if Dave wanted to enter the building it would have to be from this position.

He spotted the vehicle in the distance as it approached up the road. He grabbed his binoculars and through them he saw a beat up old ground based car. Alek was surprised. He never got a better vehicle? Alek was expecting an APC at the very least. The east was considered safer than the west, but driving around the wasteland in an unarmored wheeled car was suicide.

He had studied the pictures Eden had of his target well and the man who stepped out of the vehicle was definitely Cohen. He was a man looking to be about in his 20s, short black hair, and a hoodie. Cohen hadn’t shaved in weeks, a beard covered his face. Jessica Lawson was nowhere to be seen. Alek was glad he wouldn’t have to eliminate the young woman.

Dave’s casual approach was tempting Alek to dispense with caution and strike now when he had the chance. Alek thought about leaping from his position, storming down the hill and kicking Dave square in the face. “No.” He muttered to himself. He already had a plan in place, no sense in throwing it out now. Though if things went awry he could always make kicking Dave in the face Plan B. “I underestimated an opponent once before.” He reminded himself. His mechanical arm twitched at the memory.

The building was a one-story concrete box constructed by a corporation that had been dead since before the apocalypse. The inside had been rigged with security cameras so Alek could watch Dave through his view screen. There was a map helpfully placed in the atrium that would direct Dave to the control room.

He watched the live feed from his cameras as his quarry moved quickly from room to room. It seemed to Alek that David Cohen was unaware that he was walking deeper into a trap. Perhaps Cohen wasn’t as tough or smart as Eden thought.

As Dave approached the control room Alek left the hedge behind and quickly approached Dave’s vehicle. He placed the ignition interlock device in the vehicle. Alek always had a backup plan. Now if Dave attempted to flee in this car he could remotely shut it down.

At last Dave had come upon the control room. The moment he stepped in Alek set his plan into motion. “First” he said, punching a few buttons on his wrist computer, sealing the steel door behind Dave and trapping him in the room. “Second.” He punched a few more buttons. “If you didn’t know something was wrong before, you should now.” Alek observed Dave as he reacted to the distinct hissing of the gas pumping into the room. “I don’t know why Eden would pay so much for you. They could have caught you themselves.” He approached the control room door and pulled his gas mask on. “I’ll admit, I overestimated you Cohen. I wasted so much time on guiding you to this trap and I could have accomplished the same thing with a swift kick to the head. How unfortunate.” He muttered to himself, a little upset that his quest of the past couple weeks was finding and subduing a pathetic twenty-something with no survival instinct.

Alek sent a command to the steel door to open. He shut the gas off and ventilated the room. Alek found it peculiar that the ventilation “all clear” signal had shown up so quickly. Alek didn’t think the system was that efficient. Alek walked into the control room. The room Alek walked into was vast, stretched before him were three rows and four columns of desks with computers on them. On the far wall there was a large screen looming over a small elevated stage. The floors were black tiled and the ceilings were lined with rows of small hanging lights. In the middle of the room lay a motionless David Cohen.

Alek stood over the body, trying to gauge Dave’s weight. Just then he heard a large stomping noise. “What’s that?” He muttered, checking his security feeds. Nothing, there wasn’t anything out there. Still there was a noise and his training taught him not to ignore his instincts. He touched his wrist computer and brought up the security feeds from the whole complex. The little image boxes spread across the screen’s surface. Then he noticed something peculiar. He was not shown in the control room. He realized that the footage had been tampered with, but how? David Cohen was unconscious in the middle of the room, he couldn’t have….

“Halt” Alek wasn’t able to continue his thought. “Intruder, surrender yourself and drop your weapons. You have five seconds to comply.” A screechy robotic voice boomed from the doorway. Alek turned to see a humanoid robot in the doorway. Where a face would be there was instead a bright red V-shaped visor. Its arms were bulky and there were turrets mounted on the shoulders, both of which were now aimed at Alek. “Four… three…” Its face exploded.

Alek’s mind had just grasped the full extent of what had happened. He jumped to the left, spun around and pointed his magnum at Dave just as he heard a gun go off. He heard a heavy whizzing noise as the bullet passed within inches of his body.

“Come on Carl what was that? You’re killing me here!” Dave shouted, firing another round from his pistol. Alek swiftly leapt out of the way. “Why would you not override the countdown timer to surrender?” Whatever response Dave had hoped to get was masked by the sound of a size 16 boot making contact with his face.

Dave hit the floor hard and in a moment Alek was on him, his weight pressing on his chest. “Who…” Alek pressed the magnum up to Dave’s temple, intending it as a threat only. “…the hell is ‘Carl’?”

“You know…” Dave began, struggling to breath under Alek’s weight. “…it’s funny you should mention that actually…”

“Halt. Intruder, surrend…” this next security robot didn’t even finish before it was hit with four rounds from Alek’s magnum, blowing it backwards and breaking it in half at the torso. The distraction was all Dave needed. The next sensation Alek felt was of the immense pain one feels when a knife goes through their thigh.

Alek clenched his teeth and contorted his face in agony. Dave used the opportunity to force Alek off of his chest. He got up and scrambled for his fallen firearm. He got his pistol and whipped around to aim it at Alek. “I knew I shouldn’t have left my shotgun with Jess.” He aimed his pistol at Alek and in the same instant felt it drop from his hands.

Alek had gotten his bearings a moment prior and removed the dagger from his thigh. He couldn’t let this fight continue any longer, it was time to end it. He threw the knife at Dave, catching him in his right wrist. Alek used the opportunity to fire a poisoned dart at Dave which found its mark in his neck. He had won the battle; Dave would not be able to recover from that.

“I should be thorough” Alek told himself as he charged Dave. He didn’t want to leave anything to chance, he closed the distance between the two of them and hit Dave with a running kick, sending him through a nearby computer station. Dave hit the table hard and it tipped over with him, spilling its contents onto his body.

Alek looked over his foe and played back the events of the battle in his head. Dave had put up more of a fight than Alek figured he would. Dave also managed to somehow tamper with his cameras and ventilate the room so the knockout gas wouldn’t incapacitate him, explaining why the “all clear” was so quick. Then there were the robots, how did he activate security robots from parts of the building he hadn’t even entered? Alek’s mind was racing with ideas as he approached Dave, who had started to move and stagger to his feet.

“Impossible.” Alek couldn’t believe it. The dart hit Dave, he shouldn’t be conscious, yet here he was. Dave supported his weight against the computer station behind him. His wrist and face were both bleeding. His bottom lip was swollen and there were various bruises about his face. All in all, he was very unpleasant to look at. Alek moved in on Dave slowly, watching carefully to make sure he wasn’t going to surprise him.

“Carl, I’m finding that having my ass repeatedly kicked is really increasing my stress levels.” Dave said aloud. Was he talking to himself? Perhaps Alek had hit him harder than he thought. “Stress wreaks havoc on your skin, and I have not properly exfoliated in weeks. Now would be an excellent time for more robots.” Dave lurched backward against the desk.

“Surrender Cohen, this fight is over. You have lost.” Alek approached Dave, on the alert that Dave might try something.

“Yeah, okay. I surrender.” Dave told him before staggering forward and throwing a straight right punch. Alek was able to block it and grab a hold of his hand. “I immediately regret this decision.”

The punch Alek had blocked was stronger than he anticipated, but his robotic appendage was up to the task. Alek felt a slight hint of remorse what he was about to do. He started with an elbow strike to the side of Dave’s head. Next he pulled Dave in close and rammed his knee into Dave’s gut. He followed this up by ramming Dave’s head into the table Dave had been using to support himself. The battle was now definitely over.

Alek felt throbbing pain from his thigh once more. He quickly checked to see how bad the wound was. He would need medical attention very soon. He berated himself. That was careless of him. He shouldn’t have dropped his guard or underestimated his target.

“Okay.” No. That can’t be right. Alek swore he heard Dave speak. He couldn’t possibly be conscious. “I’m done here. I gathered all the information I need. Time to go, Carl.” He looked at his wrist. He must have been talking to his wrist computer. Voice-activated commands, most likely. So this is “Carl”.

“Reinforcements have arrived, David.” Came a reply from his computer. Before Alek could think further on this he heard a very loud noise coming from the direction of the door.

“Halt!” said four security robots in unison. Their shoulder turrets engaged and they opened fire on the room, raining bullets upon Alek’s location. He dove for cover behind a nearby work station and drew the grenade launcher strapped to his back.

“Okay that was better.” Dave struggled to his feet. “You have lose the warnings though. Just have them come in the room and shoot him in the face.” Dave staggered his way past the robots and out the door. “Ooh,” He said walking past them. “You should have the robots shout ‘Exterminate’.”

Alek heard the sounds of the computer’s response but he couldn’t make out what was said over the carnage happening around him.

Alek knew he couldn’t waste time and let Dave get away. There were four robots, all lined up against the door. They didn’t seem to be advancing on his position, but they really didn’t need to. The bullets were going to cut through this table and the various electronic crap on it in mere moments. He loaded his grenade launcher and got ready.

He wasn’t sure if it was a good idea, but it did what he needed it to do. At once a shower of metal fragments shot around the room as the robots’ existence ended. Alek emerged from behind the computer station and began pursuing Dave once again.

Alek had made it to the building’s entrance when he caught sight of Dave. He was outside of the car he had come in on and he was limping his way around to the driver side. Alek used his wrist computer to activate ignition interlock device he had placed earlier. It should shut down the car’s ignition, but he had a feeling that “Carl” could prevent the device from working. He now believed that it was this “Carl” that had tampered with the cameras, opened the ventilation system, and operated the robots he had encountered. A piece of equipment that could do all of that, potentially separate of its operator, was unheard of. Was this device, this “Carl,” the reason Eden was after Dave? Alek knew he would have to close the distance and disable Dave for good this time, even if he had to blow his legs out to do it. He had no time to lose.

The moment Alek took a step outside a bright blue streak of energy struck the ground near his feet, stopping him from proceeding further. Alek doubled back inside the building behind the cover of the exterior wall.

“A warning shot perhaps?” Alek was frustrated at his luck. It must have been Dave’s accomplice. Dave must have known this was a trap and had her in place to guard his escape.

“I suppose you win this one Cohen.” Alek said through gritted teeth. The car engine roared to life. Alek didn’t expect he would be able to stop Dave now, at least not without killing him. He heard the car gradually get softer and softer as it moved off into the distance.

 

“If I had to guess.” Alek spoke into the voice-to-text translator as he thought about what had occurred the previous day. He had reviewed the footage several times and gone over every event in his mind since Dave slipped through his fingers. “I would say he knew this set-up was a trap. His actions at the facility were too obvious and too careless. Hearing about this place probably made him realize he was being tracked somehow and his actions yesterday were to make him appear vulnerable to expose me, maybe even eliminate me. I won’t know for the next few days but I have to assume he’ll be more discreet from now on.” Alek looked at his computer screen, which showed a small dot over 150 miles away. The tracking device he put on the car wasn’t tampered with. Alek would send someone to check the town where the car had lay motionless for the past 10 hours but it was likely he wouldn’t find anything. “He’s taunting me.” He concluded. “I underestimated him like an idiot. He doesn’t look like much, but he is definitely intelligent and dangerous.” Alek thought about his physical encounter with Cohen and couldn’t help but think he was being toyed with. Alek took a deep breath and scanned the various documents he had in his possession. “I need more information if I am to succeed. I need to know about this ‘Carl’ and its capabilities. I have a few contacts in Bastion I can notify. One of them should be able to connect me to the project or the EERI.”

Alek stopped the recording. He didn’t know what this failure would do to his tenuous relationship with Eden and Ivan Kuschner. He needed some eyes and ears on his daughter in case things went south. He began to craft a story to conceal her identity and at the same time picked up his phone. He had a lot of people to get in contact with in the next 24 hours.