“Hold still…” There was a buzz and my wrists felt the heat. Then the heat got uncomfortable.
It didn’t stop at uncomfortable. I let out a hiss with pain, drowned out by the machine’s laboured drone. There was a snap, and I felt the cuffs give-way. I pulled them away from the monstrosity and rubbed my scalded wrists, still encased in a far too hot whatever-the-hell plastic these things were made from. But free to move independently at least.
“Didn’t say it wouldn’t hurt, girl,” the man said. He brushed his thinning grey hair away from his eyes and addressed the leader of our his group, which had now dwindled down to just himself, and me. “Where’d you find this one, Jack?”
“On Ten West Street nicking food,” he said.
“Well, these things are the real deal. What kind of trouble you in?” he addressed me this time.
“I’d rather not say.” Also, I didn’t have a clue.
I swung my arms, taking joy in their full movement. “What do I owe you?” I said. Not that I had much to give, it made me uneasy agreeing to something without bargaining a price before-hand. I had no leverage, but he’d started up the machine as soon as Jack told him what was needed.
“I’ll do anything to piss of the MCPS. I’ll add this to my list. Just come back if there’s a next time, pay me then.” He flashed a row of broken teeth. “I get the impression you might need this service again.”
“Thanks.” I replied. It was heartfelt, you don’t get much for free in life.
“Thanks dad.” Jack said and slid down off the back of the machine, before whispering to me, “MCPS? I thought you said those were from the Kolmek.”
“I said no such thing. Implied maybe. These don’t have anything to do with that.” I whispered back.
“You are so full of bullshit,” he said, but he was smiling.
“Believe me, or don’t. I really don’t give a shit.” We walked out of his dad’s workshop side by side. The cramped room that Jack’s dad rented was two floors up, god knows how he got the machinery he earned a living repairing up here. Perhaps he dismantled them and only repaired parts. There was obviously some demand though, he could pay the rent.
Jack grabbed the ladder by the sides and slid all the way down to street level. Far too energetic. I took it slowly, favouring my good ankle and being careful with my broken hands. Just being able to use one on each rung felt good. How long had I been cuffed? Whatever it was, it was too long.
He was waiting, leaning against the crumbling brick tapping his foot. “Where are you going now?” he asked when I ignored him and started walking.
“There’s something I need to do.” I said.
He pushed off the wall and fell into step beside me. “What is it?”
“I’m not going to tell you.”
“Why not? I helped you out didn’t I?” We turned down an shortcut where a building had fallen in, skipping over the legs of the homeless and junkies that had claimed it as their own.
“Because I don’t want to. Besides, it’s dangerous.” I said.
“I can do dangerous,” he said and stuck out a grubby hand towards me. “What’s your name anyway? I’m Jack.”
What was with this kid? I ignored the hand. “Alexis. And I already know your name.”
“That’s a nice name.” Déjà vu. Beth had said that to me when I first met her. Fuck. Was she any better? I wondered. She could have woken up… I needed to give her dad a call – but the last time I’d seen him… not good.
“You ok? What did I say?” I didn’t answer. “Hey, sorry. Fuck. You’re touchy.”
I glared at him and he shut up. “I need some information. Some people are… interested in my whereabouts. I want to know why, and it occurred to me where they might look to find me.”
“So some people want to find you?” He said.
“Yes.” That’s what I said.
“And you don’t want to be found.” He sounded like he was working out a particularly confusing logic puzzle.
“Obviously” I said.
“So you’re going to the place where they will be looking for you?”
“I… yeah, but… Look, do you want to help me or not?”
He didn’t reply, his answer didn’t need to be voiced.
“Can I borrow that knife?” I added.
* * *
“Someone like that?” Jack said, nudging me in the ribs just where the bullet fragment gouged out a chunk of flesh. I was glad my armour was on, even if it was my ‘light’ version. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to get into fight here, and my normal armour was noticeable.
“Yep.” And at fucking last. I’d already been following his movement down the road of course. He stuck out like a sore thumb. Alien to the Island.
I hoped one of these fuckers would come back. It had taken me far too long to sleep off my injuries, a little at least. By the time I realised they’d come after where they thought I lived I’d guessed it was probably too late.
I’d waited anyway, just in case they returned for some reason. My legs cramping up and my fingers aching as I fiddled with the knife. I put up with Jack’s moaning, but he was curious enough not to leave.
It paid off.
“Watch the door. Try give me a warning if anyone else comes in.” I got up from our vantage point and stretched my disused limbs.
“Aww, can’t I come with?” He thrust out his bottom lip in protest, before cheering up at a thought, “You gonna kill him?”
“I’ll see what he has to say first.” I said. The guy, Adam? Arthur? He was one of those who’d chased me. Tried to save me, save Beth, and then tried to kill me. I saw no reason to rule out a sensible retaliation. I felt around my waist for the gun I’d shoved into the elasticated straps of my belt. I’d come prepared in one respect.
I descended to the ground as fast as I could and followed him up to my flat, catching up with him as he approached my old landing. I didn’t get a chance to register that I was returning to where I’d lived all my life; the adrenaline of following someone was coursing through my veins. It didn’t leave much room for nostalgia.
He looked long and hard at the door, bending close to look at the broken jam. What for I had no idea. It was clear they must done that when they kicked it in on their first visit, I had come to check and the place was empty. He mustn’t have been here when they first came?
Finally he went in the room. I could either follow him, or wait for him to come out. Knowing that the change for light to dark would be better for the person going through the transition I thought it best to wait for him to come to me. I pressed myself to the side of the door, and waited for him to emerge.
How was I going to do this? My first idea was to hold a knife to his throat, but damn he was tall. It would be a struggle to reach up that high.
I could use a gun, but I needed to be close to him to control his movements. Plus this was an enclosed space – he could get out of my line of sight easily enough unless I held on to him and that gave him ready access to the gun. They were long range, not close.
No, I just needed to get his throat down to my level. I needed to be able to control him.
How about… yeah that might work. I felt around my waist and took out the gun, shoving the stub nosed pistol into my jacket pocket. Trying to keep the noise of my movement to a minimum, I slipped off my belt. All it had left was my phone and a few odds and ends – nothing too important for a fight.
Belt in one hand, knife in the other I waited.
* * *
I didn’t get much warning. I was getting distracted by daydreams and my throbbing hands – I really should just stop using them for a week and let them heal – when the figure came back out of the door.
I burst into action, throwing the loop of the belt over his head and in a fluid movement I pulled with all my weight, backwards, back into the flat. I was greeted by a satisfying choking. It was relatively easy, pulling him back. People are usually very accommodating if the alternative was having their wind-pipe crushed.
I kicked the door closed with my heel throwing us into darkness and touched the tip of my knife against the soft flesh of his throat.
“So…” Right, I should have been thinking about what the fuck I was going to say while I was waiting. Spent too much time daydreaming about Beth. My stomach panged, was she any better? Well, now I had someone to ask…
So that guy’s with her. He seems like a bit of an amateur. I hope he doesn’t screw something up at some point in the future, but she does need allies.
thanks for the new chapter (liked this one)
(again earlyer than expected, did the schedule change?)
No, I just got back from watching Gravity so wouldn’t really have had time to post had I waited! I try to release them before midnight (or 1am the next day) on Friday and Monday.
If I know I’m going to be busy, or just happen to have it ready early I figured I might as well release it.
n to just himself, and me. “Where’d you find this one Jack?”
Comma of direct address
Liking the chapter, though there seems to be a trend of unsatisfying cliff hangers.
Thanks, fixed. Long term unsatisfaction or not-fast-enough (jumping to interlude for a chapter) unsatisfaction?
I always thought I didn’t have enough cliffhangerness! But I figure that everyone that’s got this far in is already hooked…
Short term, mainly. Like, there’s a brief bout of action, and then boom! End of section. On a cliffhanger. Again.
I’ll try refrain/tone it down, thanks for the feedback. It’s difficult to gauge what it’s like for a reader.
It’s interesting that it happens, as I don’t really plan the chapters at all. I write a big long thing and cut it up just before posting at what seems like a sensible moment.
Problem is, those happen at cliffhangers.
i have to both agree and disagree
i don’t like most of the cliffhanger but for the last 5 chapters they were good (not to mean)
Seems like Alexis is still oblivious to attempted romance.
That I’ve been hooked, true enough…I only found your story as you neared the end of Book Two, but I noticed a general trend of last-minute twists. They are usually more than satisfyingly explained in following chapters, but they do leave me somewhat pained, especially when the same plot development is paused at the same moment in time in each update. It would be much more satisfying if you advanced the plot, even a little, each time you changed the POV.
That said, I commend your literary skill for the very fact that you CAN develop the plot with such foresight & organization, that the same story can be convincingly retold through two or three different pairs of eyes.
Your humble reader
Thanks for the feedback, I’ll try keep from doing it in the future. My foresight and organisation is just smoke and mirrors I can tell you that!
“distracted by daydreams my throbbing hands” – missing an “and”?
It was, and fixed. Thanks.
What makes this a unsatisfying cliff hanger for me is that it ends on pretty much the same cliff hanger as the previous chapter only from a diverent perspectiv.
How the hell can she do that with broken hands?
She is a supersoldier, but it does seem odd to me that she’s like “It hurts!” and then immediately chokes a guy out like it doesn’t even bother her. Perhaps mention that doing so made her hands hurt even worse?
She broke them quite a while ago now. So they are pretty healed, so functional but painful. I’ll try add something to that effect.
A few comments covering 1.04 – 3.03 (so I may miss some things). Well I’m hooked. She’s definitely taken two or three levels in badass. I’m not entirely sure how much of that is natural and how much is unnatural. The ‘fight’ instinct seems unnatural and is pushing her really far really fast. I’m trying to model how much better her 180% muscles make her in a fight. I suspect the biggest advantage would be speed. She weighs much less for the same strength, so she can move that weight unnaturally fast. Whether that explains her early untrained fights, or she just got lucky is up in the air. She does seem to have some instinctive combat responses and a unusually cool head. Those seem less plausible to implant with this apparent level of genetic engineering.
Her retaliation to the bullies finally came. Sadly it was in a way that gets her in more trouble, rather than a true social victory as well. The DNA results apparently dropped her in the deep end already. Interesting that she finally found she could attack Haley. I wasn’t sure whether it was simple learned helplessness, or something else. The way her normal bloodthirsty (and probably unnatural) instincts abandoned her around Haley makes me wonder whether Haley had some (silly as it sounds) biological trigger that blocked the instincts. That’s seeming less likely now.
I definitely agree that bullies look for submissiveness. It’s not that it’s unrealistic, just not fun to read. Of course your objective seems likely to be for us to dislike that helplessness, and cheer as she overcomes it. Overcoming weakness is one of the great character development pillars for a reason. That being said, simply as a warning not criticism: I find it irritating to read if it lasts for a long time. I would have liked her to, say, start carrying around a phone with a looping record. Even if it doesn’t work we can see that she’s being proactive and trying *something* right away.
If her muscles are 80% more efficient she would need less food. The stomach thing doesn’t matter much, but was slightly SoD breaking for me, which is why I mentioned it. On a similar note her ability to climb ladders and so forth with shattered hands seems a bit implausible. Maybe she has unusually flexible bones that rarely actually shatter – they just get tiny stress fractures while still being somewhat intact despite bending around. That would also explain why she could walk at all when she had broken legs – something the doctors seemed to think was impossible.
Is her incredible pain resistance a product of growing up with continually broken legs or a part of her biological package?
I hope Beth recovers soon. Alexis and Beth’s friendship and possible relationship is very sweet and (uncommonly) developed with a gentle touch. I’m also interested in Mike’s relationship with Beth. He certainly is pinging some of the psychopath warning lights. He apparently can’t lie convincingly to Beth, which is a point against that hypothesis. He also seems genuinely emotionally invested in her.
It would be nice for her to get some long term goal, now that she has lost her pilot dream. Cleaning out the drug dealers sort of counts, but something more personal or achievable would be nice.
Lots to think about here. Thanks.
80%? Was that the number I picked? lol. You’ve twigged on a couple of things that I’m glad, like about about her instinct. Yep, super strong muscles but not much of them mean’s she’s not much stronger than, say, a large, fit male. But you’re right about speed.
The phone idea or similar. You might be right, and it sounds like something she would do to try solve it early on, before she has that violent edge. I’ll consider something like that :P
RE Muscle efficiency: You’re technically right. I believe I meant ‘effective’ rather than efficient. ‘More efficient’ doesn’t necessarily mean she’d be stronger, just that she would use less energy. It could be that the muscle cells can just provide force more effectively but would use the same amount of energy which is more what I envisioned.
180% more efficient would mean she need consume less food for the same strength. 180% more effective would mean she was stronger but would have to consume more food. I meant the latter. The Dr wouldn’t make that kind of mistake. Retcon incoming.
Mike has… Yeah. I’m not even sure about his relationship with Beth at the moment… Should I tell you that? haha
On her goal. I introduced the pilot thing early on, when I wasn’t sure where to take the story. I was never sure I had her *really* going for it. Seemed even she was a bit unenthusiastic about it. Did that come across?
Yes, her pilot ambition seemed more placeholder for escape, so that conveyed well.
80% was what the doctor mentioned, though he wasn’t sure how it would turn out in practice so you have a lot of leeway. That does seem approximately correct based on what we’ve seen. He may have been just referring to power output efficiency by muscle mass, and I interpreted it as applying to power consumption as well. Just power per mass would make more sense. If she gets some time to actually build muscle (including a diet to support that) she’ll be much scarier.
Note that the ‘uncommonly’ was referring to other authors, not you. It’s pretty rare to have a light and realistic touch like this when portraying relationships.