Sam ignored the looks from the other people in the library. You’d think it was the first time they’d seen a scruffy street kid sitting at a computer. The fifteen-year-old boy thought they were probably surprised they couldn’t smell him from across the room. Sam wasn’t surprised though, thanks to his genetic alterations, his sweat gave off no scent and had odour neutralising properties. Even though the original purpose of the alteration was to enhance his stealth capabilities, he was probably the only teenage boy on the planet who never had to worry about deodorant and showers.
As he was tapping away at the keyboard, scrolling through another newspaper report on a missing teenage boy dated nine months ago, something made him look up. Two men stood at the front desk talking to a library assistant. They showed something to the assistant, a badge Sam assumed as they verbally identified themselves as NYPD detectives. Then, one of them asked if “she had seen this boy,” presumably showing her a photo at the same time. Sam knew he was in trouble when she glanced in his direction before pointing him out to the plainclothes detectives. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the two men approach, weapons still in holsters but ready to draw at a moment’s notice.
“NYPD,” said one of the men as he flashed a badge, “we need you to come down to the station with us to answer a few questions. We’ve had reports of a kid matching your description stealing bags and purses in the area.” The other man stood back, his hand by the holster on his belt.
Sam sized the two men up, calculating his chances. Slowly, he pushed his chair away from the desk and stood up. The two men took a step back. “I ‘aint done nothing,” Sam said, forcing a teenage whine into his voice, “I’ve been in here all day. Ask anyone.” He looked around at the other people in the library, as if looking for support. Not that he expected any; it seemed that he and the two men had developed the superpower of invisibility if the way that everyone was ignoring them was anything to go by.
“Don’t make this any harder than it has to be kid.” The man with a hand on his gun said.
“Fine,” Sam said with an exasperated sigh of defeat, “I could do with a warm place to sleep tonight anyway and a police cell is as good as any.” There was a pause as if the two men hadn’t expected Sam to give up so easily. They quickly recovered and the first man pulled out a pair of handcuffs, turned Sam around and cuffed his hands behind his back. Each taking an arm, they began to lead the unresisting boy out of the library. As they reached the front desk, way from the other library patrons, Sam made his move.
He effortlessly snapped the handcuffs as if they were made of cheap plastic; broken pieces of metal clattered noisily onto the tiled floor. Sam tore his arms from the men’s grip while they were still unprepared, surprising them with his strength. One of the men recovered quickly, reaching to draw his gun. That act designated him as the most immediate threat and Sam’s training took over. He jabbed upwards with the heel of his right hand, striking the man hard in his nose. The crunch of breaking bone and cartilage barely had time to sound before Sam followed up with a solid punch to the stomach with his left fist. Sam’s face betrayed no emotion as he pressed his attack, spinning around and kicking the man in his face while he doubled over from the punch. The man was sent sprawling across the front desk, knocked unconscious by the kick. A quiet click, the distinctive sound of a safety being disengaged, reminded him of the existence of the other man. In the reflection of a computer monitor on the desk, Sam saw the man had drawn his weapon and was taking aim at the back of his head. With split second reflexes, he span around, drew the unconscious man’s gun whilst knocking the other man’s gun out of his hands, and aimed between the startled man’s eyes, thumbing the safety. The force of Sam’s blow had shattered the bones in the man’s hand and the gun tomahawked across the library, embedding itself in the wall. It all happened so fast that the man didn’t get chance to react to the pain as he stared in shock down the barrel of the gun. In less than five seconds, the tables had been turned.
Sam blinked, his eyes seeming to refocus on the gun he was holding and his aim wavered slightly. If the man thought that he could take advantage of the boy’s hesitation, he was wrong. Flicking the safety back on, Sam tossed the gun into the air, caught the barrel and brought the grip smashing into the side of the man’s temple. At the last second, he pulled his blow, not wanting the shatter the man’s skull. The man was instantly knocked unconscious.
By this point, chaos had broken out amongst the few people in the library. Most were fleeing away from the scene of the fight as fast as they could and within a minute, the only conscious people left in the front were the Sam and library assistant.
She was standing frozen at the front desk, shocked into indecision about whether to flee or not. “You … you attacked those police officers.”
“Not cops,” Sam muttered as he knelt next to the man he had pistol-whipped and started to search him.
“I said, these men weren’t cops.” Sam said, holding the man’s wallet and pocketing the cash. There was no point in checking for and identification, he was certain that any he found would be fake. “Legitimate police officers don’t cuff you without reading your rights, at least the clean ones don’t. These men were armed with HK45 semi-automatic pistols firing .45 ACP rounds. Definitely not standard NYPD issue.” He found a cylindrical object in an inside jacket pocket which he pulled out and showed the women. “And what kind of cop carries a suppressor? If I’d gone with these two, I’d have ended up face down in an alleyway with a bullet to the back of my head. Just another dead street kid. Just another statistic.”
The woman watched as Sam removed the spare ammunition clips from both men and stuffed them along with the first man’s gun into his dirty backpack. “I don’t understand,” she said, “if those men weren’t police, then who were they?”
Sam laughed, “Trust me, you don’t want to know.” Shouldering his backpack, he began to hurry towards the door. He did not intend on being around when the real cops showed up; summoned no doubt by one of the terrified library patrons cowering in the back. With his luck, the local capes were probably less than a block away already.
Watching him leave, the woman’s eyes strayed towards the handgun embedded several inches into the brick wall. To embed it so deeply into the wall from across the room would’ve taken a great deal of strength. She looked back at the boy about to disappear on to the street. Even with his small but powerful build there was no way he should have been able to do that, unless … “Are you some sort of metahuman?”
Pausing at the door, Sam looked over his shoulder. “That’s one way of putting it.”
“Just who are you?”
“Huh,” Sam grunted, opening the door and leaving, “that’s what I’m trying to find out.”
“Commander Mayhew,” the soldier said as he approached the raised platform at the back of the control room whilst carrying a computer tablet, “we’ve had a confirmed sighting of Echo Three at a public library in Harlem.”
The man sitting at the desk looked down at the soldier. “Report.”
“Unit 7, posing as NYPD officers, located the target and they … uh ….” The soldier stammered to a stop as the Commander fixed him with a withering glare. “They attempted to apprehend the target but …”
“Let me guess,” the Commander interrupted, “they disobeyed orders, did not call for reinforcements, and the target neutralised them without breaking a sweat.”
“Um … yes,” the soldier said, glancing down at the tablet, “Unit 12 was able to intercept the ambulance taking Unit 7 to hospital for treatment. They’re bringing them in now. According to witness statements made to police who responded to a 911 call, an unidentified teenage boy attacked two men claiming to be NYPD officers when they tried to arrest him. Despite being handcuffed, he was able to defeat and disarm both of them within seconds displaying obvious metahuman talents. Apparently, even though he had a clear shot, the boy chose not to kill.”
Interesting, thought the Commander. Not only had Echo Three chosen not to kill the men who had tried to capture, but he hadn’t eliminated any of the witnesses. Evidence that the behavioural conditioning had broken down. Had that occurred over the last month Echo Three had been on the run or did the breakdown begin before his escape. Perhaps those scientists at Project Apex overestimated the effectiveness of their brainwashing techniques. Nonetheless, now he had yet another loose end to take care of. “Sergeant, once Unit 7 has arrived, escort them to the sick bay for debriefing. After they’ve made a complete report, instruct the medical team to process their bodies for organ harvesting.”
“But sir, their injuries are not life threatening!” Protested the soldier.
“They may as well be,” Mayhew said quietly. “One, they disobeyed a direct order to call for back up immediately upon locating Echo Three. Two, they attracted the attention of the authorities to what is supposed to be a covert retrieval operation. Finally, I’m going to have to explain to the Board of Directors why footage of an escaped supersoldier prototype has appeared on the news.” Mayhew turned the computer screen in front of him around to show the web stream of a local TV news channel. A heavily pixellated video, probably mobile phone footage, showed the blurred form of Echo Three effortlessly defeat the two mercenaries. “We are lucky that the quality of the footage is too poor for anyone to positively identify Echo Three. Nonetheless, The Armoury does not accommodate soldiers who do not follow orders and the Board will no doubt order Unit 7s execution for their part in this debacle. At least this way, their failure may have positive benefits for their comrades in the future.”
Mayhew dismissed the soldier and leant back in his chair, running his fingers through his hair. He needed some fresh air, the control room was becoming stuffy and he needed to work out what he was going to say to the Board.
16:22 June 19th, 2049
200m below Sector 23
Toby woke with a pounding headache and a ringing in his ears. Cracking open an eye and groaning slightly, he looked around. He was lying in a bed surrounded by beeping equipment, and judging by the vague antiseptic smell, it was in some sort of hospital room. Along with from the bed he was lying in and the medical equipment, the room contained two other unoccupied beds and several computer displays which were currently turned off. A clock mounted on the wall opposite the bed indicated that he had been unconscious for over three hours. As he propped himself up on his elbows, he tried to recall what he was doing in hospital. Had he been in some sort of accident? Looking at himself, he didn’t seem to be injured, although he did notice that under the blanket he was stark naked.
As he tried to process what was going on, he began to remember the last few hours in flashes. Fragments of memory barely connected to one another. The UniCops at school. Vaulting over a four-meter barbed wire fence. Being chased through the streets. Being shot in the leg. Surviving a broken neck and crushed skull. The cop with the knife. Being stunned and paralysed. A cargo drone swerving off the road. The wet crunch as it hit the cop. The red smear being left behind then a flash of blinding white light.
Toby was now sitting bolt upright in near panic, his mind racing from one worst case scenario to the next. One of the two doors into the room opened and a young woman, no older than twenty backed into the room carrying something. She was wearing black jeans, black trainers and a loose-fitting white shirt. Her long blond hair was tied back into a ponytail. As she turned, Toby could see that she was wearing a silver chain around her neck and was carrying a digital clipboard with two cans of cola balanced on it in one hand and two shrink-wrapped sandwiches in the other. Whoever she was, she certainly didn’t fit the picture of the stereotypical UniCop.
Seeing that he was awake, the woman smiled and tossed one of the sandwiches over to him. “Thought you might be hungry. Didn’t know what you might like but cheese seemed the safest choice.” She followed up the sandwich with the cola can. “And you can never have too much liquid sugar in your system.”
“Er,” Toby began, “no offence, but who the hell are you, where the hell am I, and what the fuck happened to my clothes!”
She laughed as she pulled up a chair and began to munch on her sandwich. “Ok, in that order, my names Sarah and I’m the one who brought you here. You’re in a safe place where the Unity can’t find you and you’re clothes are in a plastic bag under the bed. You were soaking wet after that dumpster dive of yours. They were filthy and you’d have probably caught pneumonia or worse if we’d left them on you so I had them dried out.”
Toby sat back, only partially satisfied by Sarah’s answer. “Safe? One minute I’m being chased by Uni’s who want to kill for some reason, there’s a flash of light and then there’s a guy standing over me with a tranq gun. Before I can do anything he shoots me and then I wake up naked in a hospital bad. Lady, you got a funny idea of safe.”
“Sorry about that,” Sarah said apologetically, “we didn’t know the full extent of your abilities and Talbot didn’t want you panicking; you could’ve done serious damage to the base and yourself.”
“Huh?” Toby said, his forehead furrowed in confusion, “what do you mean abilities? And what am I doing here?”
Sarah looked at him carefully for a few seconds, then her eyes widened in realisation. “He doesn’t know,” she thought to himself, “he has no idea.”
The way she was looking at him unnerved Toby. “What?”
“When you arrived at school this morning, your attendance was registered by scanning your ID implant as you entered the classroom.”
She went to explain how the implants that every citizen of the Unity received shortly after their birth had a hidden function. They had the ability to test the blood of the host and look for certain genetic markers. They weren’t capable of a full DNA scan; all they were capable of was detecting the presence of active mutant genes. One in four people are born in dormant mutant genes, another fact that few people were aware of, and only in tiny majority were they ever activated. She paused and studied Toby’s confused expression. At first Sarah thought he didn’t get what she was trying to tell him, but she slowly began to realise that wasn’t it. Toby knew, or at least he suspected, the boy just didn’t want to admit it, especially to himself.
“There’s no easy way to say this,” she said, deciding to come straight to the point, “at eight fifteen this morning, as you entered your classroom, your implant was instructed to perform a routine genetic scan. Later that morning, the results were sent back to the Unity reporting that active mutant genes had been detected and a two man UniCop snatch squad was sent to arrest you.”
“I’m a … a mutant?” Toby asked, whispering and looking down at his hands, “but I can’t be.”
“Trust me; removing the implant from someone who regenerates as fast as you is not easy. As soon as I made an incision, you healed it back up.” Toby’s eyes widened as what she was telling him started to sink in. “It was a real hack job, I had to get someone to hold the hole open with their hands while I cut the implant out from under your heart.”
“You cut me open!” he shouted, staring at her in indignant shock.
“Of course,” Sarah said shrugging. “We put a fake implant in to replace the one we took out. You can’t reprogram the ones the Unity put in, but the one that’s in there now can be reprogrammed with a new ID with the right tools.”
Toby looked down again, his hand running across his bare chest where there no sign of a surgical scar. Deep down, as much as he might want to deny it, he knew that it was true. The fast healing cuts, leaping on to that cargo drone, recovering from a broken neck and a crushed skull, all of it made sense if he was a mutant; no normal human being could have done those things. “I feel sick,” he said quietly, looking pale.
Sarah consulted the display next to the bed and tapped a few things on the clipboard. “That’s a normal side-effect of the drugs. It should pass in an hour or two. We didn’t want you to wake up mid-op. THAT would have been messy.” She laughed at the last bit. Toby just grimaced meekly.
He sat in silence looking down, not even touching the unopened sandwich. Sarah got up and threw her empty wrapper in the trash before turning back to the boy. “Look kid, get dressed. Talbot, that big mean man who tranqed you, wants to talk to you and he can probably explain things better than I can. I’ll be waiting outside when you’re done.” She left him alone in the room, closing the door behind her.
His head was swimming with a thousand unasked and unanswered questions. Reaching under the bed, he pulled out the plastic bag containing his clothes. The dirty marks from the stagnant water were gone but there was still a slight discolouration around the bullet holes in his shorts, dried remnants of blood. At least they were dry. Still feeling a little numb, he pulled on the knee-length grey shorts and his red hooded top.
As he stood up, a sudden wave of nausea flooded over him. Looking around frantically, he saw the other door in the room was marked toilet. Clutching his mouth, he leapt over the bed and sprinted across the room. He threw the door open and just made it to the sink in time before he could no longer hold the contents of his stomach down, vomiting up his lunch. After a few heaves his stomach was empty and he gulped down some water from the sink tap to get rid of the acrid taste. Wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve, he looked in the mirror. His face was pale and his eyes puffy and red.
It was at that point that everything that he had been suppressing and avoided thinking about since all this had started finally came crashing down on to him. Toby Smith was a mutant and an enemy of the state; a freak and a traitor. The Unity would be looking for him now, and if they found him, they would probably kill him. He could never go home, that would be the first place they would look for. As far as his family was concerned, he might as well be dead. Knowing the Unity, they had probably already told his family that he’d been executed and his body incinerated in the city’s waste incinerator. His life, as he had known it, was over. His legs buckled at the knees and the tears that he could no longer contain finally burst free; he lay on the floor sobbing.
Sarah stood outside the door listening to the boy crying. “Poor kid,” she thought, “it’s not every day that you learn the authorities want you dead.” Thinking back, she remembered when the Unity had come for her five years ago. She hadn’t been much older than him and she’d cried for days, prepared to give anything to see her friends or her parents again.
After a few minutes, he seemed to calm down and he opened the door, joining her in the corridor. He’d cleaned himself up but he still seemed a little delicate. Sarah knew better than to push him about what had happened after she’d left him alone.
Sarah started walking down the corridor, Toby following silently behind. He glanced curiously at the walls as they walked. Unlike the clean and white walls of the infirmary, the walls out here were dirty and grey. The cracked concrete looked old and in places, faded and illegible markings were still visible on the wall. “Just where are we?”
“In a bunker 200 meters below ground,” said Sarah. “Apparently, this place was some sort of bomb shelter during the Cold War or something.”
“What’s the Cold War?”
“It was this big war between two countries. It happened before the Unification War but there was no actual fighting.”
“Hmph, don’t sound like much of a war,” Toby mumbled.
They passed several doors marked unsafe “Unsafe: Do Not Enter”. One corridor branching off from the one they were walking down was barred with wire mesh, beyond which Toby could see the rubble of a collapsed ceiling. The general state of repair didn’t exactly fill Toby with confidence about the bunkers structural stability.
Eventually, after a climbing flight of stairs, they emerged into a large and well lit room. The room was dominated by a large table in its centre surrounded by several chairs. At one end, a large video screen was mounted on the wall. It was currently showing what Toby assumed to be a dozen feeds from security cameras. Disks and data chips were scattered over the table. They were also not alone, two other people in the room waiting for them.
Sitting at the table was a boy not much older than Toby wearing ratty blue jeans, a white long sleeved t-shirt and an orange sweatshirt with cut-off sleeves. A deep scar crossed the brow of his nose, spanning the full width of his face just under his eyes. He was glaring at Toby for some reason, hostility in his eyes.
From across the room, a young Hispanic man waved and walked over. He looked to be about twenty and his long dark-red hair was held out of his face by a headband. Unlike Sarah and the boy at the table, he was dressed in a more militant style; wearing combat pants with an urban camouflage pattern, black trainers, a grey shirt and a tan coloured military style utility vest over the top. Tribal style sleeve tattoos covered his arms and he had a single gold earring in his left ear.
Sarah smiled and greeted him with a brief hug before turning back to Toby and introducing him. “Toby, this is Jared. He’s what you might call our wheelman.” Jared smiled and grasped Toby’s hand. “He’s also our resident mechanical genius. Pretty much keeps everything here running.”
“If it’s got wings, I can fly it. If it has wheels, I can drive. If it ‘aint got neither I can still make it break the speed limit and evade the cops.” Jared boasted with a slight grin. “I saw how you handled that UniCop in the alleyway. Pretty cool. You ever play baseball? You’ve got a great pitching arm kid, nailed that cop right in the face with that rock.”
“Not really, I’m more into combat hockey,” Toby replied, still a little bewildered.
“Great, another one. Does no one on the East Coast play baseball anymore?”
While Jared and Toby talked, the boy at the table pushed his chair back and moved over to the group. As he approached, Sarah rolled her eyes. “And this charming young man is…”
“So this is the little runt whose arse we saved?” the boy interrupted looking Toby right in the eye, an obvious challenge. To Toby’s surprise, he had a British accent.
“As I was saying, this is Tommy and…” Sarah attempted to continue.
“What’s your problem huh?” Toby countered, squaring up to Tommy. The two boys now stood only a few inches apart.
“I can’t believe we risked our lives for this … this runt.” Tommy spat dismissively. “I mean he’s nothing more than some brainwashed arco-brat; force fed that subliminal shit they shovel out in the schools.”
“Hey, maybe you should leave him…”Jared began, although there was little chance he would finish the sentence before one of the two boys cut him off.
“I don’t have to stand here and listen to this.” Toby turned and started to walk away.
Tommy laughed before continuing in a fake American accent. “Yeah, why don’t go home and cry to mommy?”
Toby stopped in his tracks; his shoulders hunched and his fists balled. He turned and faced the Tommy, his face flushed red. “What did you say?” He said slowly and deliberately.
“You heard me, why don’t you just curl up on the floor again and cry.” He punctuated his statement with a sharp shove to Toby’s shoulder.
Jared looked at Sarah and mouthed “here we go” before looking over at the man that had quietly entered the room at the start of the argument. The man appeared to be in his late twenties with short brown hair and brown stubble on his chin. He wore dark grey cargo pants, black combat boots and an open dark grey khaki jacket. On the right shoulder was a patch of the old US flag. Underneath the jacket was a simple white t-shirt. Leaning against the wall, he was watching the confrontation with bemused interest.
“Touch me again,” Toby said calmly but with a hint of menace “and you’ll be sorry.”
Tommy tried to shove him in the shoulder again but Toby batted the hand away. “Ooh, tough guy.”
“Back off scar face.” The instant Toby uttered those words he regretted them. Tommy’s face flashed red with anger and he lashed, aiming a punch to at Toby’s face. The younger boy instantly caught Tommy’s fist in a blur of motion. With his free hand he shoved Tommy in the chest, forcing him back a meter. Without hesitation, Tommy leapt forward kicking out at Toby’s left side. Toby span to the side, avoiding the blow, using the momentum to respond with a spin kick of his own. Tommy, the more experienced fighter, stopped the spin dead by grabbing on to Toby’s foot with both hands. He lost his grip when Toby jumped back, landing in a crouch. Tommy adopted a martial arts stance as Toby charged forward.
As the two boys fought Sarah and Jared moved over to the man. “So Talbot,” Sarah began, “can those two actually hurt each other?”
Talbot shrugged, “Short answer no. Long answer yes but not permanently.”
“Where’s Kai?” asked Jared.
“He’s out getting supplies. It’s handy being the only one not wanted by the government for being a terrorist.”
Toby and Tommy exchanged a flurry of punches and kicks; both seemed evenly matched. Tommy seemed to rely on pure hitting power whereas Toby was the more agile of the two. After a few minutes, both boys were sporting rapidly fading bruises but surprisingly few blows had connected.
Talbot stepped away from the wall, put two fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. “Ok you two, that’s enough. Break it up.” Instantly, Tommy somersaulted back from the fight, obviously showing off. His entire demeanour changed, all trace of hostility vanished and He held his hands up in a placating gesture.
“Easy there mate, just testing ya,” he managed between breaths. Unlike Toby, Tommy was still trying to catch his breath. “Haven’t had a work out like that in a long while.” Toby, a little confused, looked at the other boy who was now grinning. “Sorry about that whole cry baby thing, no hard feelings right?” He took a step forward holding his hand out.
Toby, still a little wary, stepped forward and took the hand. “If you can forget about scar face thing then I guess we can call it even.”
“Sure. Looks like I’ve finally found someone in this group worth sparring with. Now, if I’m not mistaken,” he continued while flicking a look at Talbot, “I’m about to be told to go and clean the hydroponic waste vats.” In response, Talbot just raised an eyebrow in an unspoken order. Without complaint, he made his way to the door. As he backed out, he turned to Toby and raised his hand in mock salute.
“Oh yeah, welcome to BetaForce.”
12:45 June 19th, 2049
North American Zone, East Coast Metroplex, Sector 23 (Old NYC)
A bullet ricocheted off the road sign just centimetres from the boy’s head. Biting down a curse he jumped over the footbridge’s safety barrier and onto the hard shoulder of the road below. “Bullets,” he thought, “they’re shooting ACTUAL bullets at me!” Darting between the slow moving traffic, he glanced behind him as the armoured thugs of the Unity’s enforcement division reached the side of the road. The first shot had probably been a warning shot, probably. The next one though would definitely be aimed at his head, as would the next 20 or 30 in the burst; UniCops were not known for subtlety or conserving ammunition.
The day had started pretty normal all things considered. Waking up at seven, washed and changed by half seven, at school by eight fifteen ready to begin another day of indoctrination and training. He had never stood out at school, keeping his head down and avoiding trouble; the standard survival tactic for anyone growing up under the Unity’s watchful gaze. During lunch break, a pair of UniCops had turned up at his school. Now Toby Smith, or Tobs to his friends, had never done anything to even warrant the attention of Sector PD, let alone Unity’s very own “secret police.” When one of his friends ran up to him on the playground and told him that the UniCops were looking for him, he knew that he was in serious trouble. Everyone knew that if the UniCops came looking you got lost; anyone they took in “for questioning” was usually never seen again. That’s Toby had vaulted over the school fence and ran. That’s when they had begun chasing him. Overall, the day was turning out pretty lousy.
Down here, at street level, the congested traffic and crowded buildings might give him an advantage. Ground vehicles would be hard pressed to make it through the traffic and flyers would be unable to manoeuvre between the towering skyscrapers and arcologies. After the Unification War, the Unity had rebuilt the devastated Manhattan Island in order to house the refugees from the continent’s interior, fleeing the ecological devastation being inflicted on the former US heartlands. It had meant to be a showcase for the new regime but like most things the Unity promised, the reality was different from the newscasts. Forty years after the original was destroyed, Manhattan Island was once again a towering collection of buildings cramped together on a small and overcrowded island.
All that stood between Toby and relative safety was the drone lane. A section of road reserved for the sole use of automated cargo drones. Huge articulated lorries, often three or four trailers long, and travelling at up to 100 kph. Controlled entirely by computers and using satellite navigation, they stopped for nothing, even if a pedestrian was in their path. Only the largest corporations could afford to operate the behemoths, and even then, licenses were only granted to those corps that were on good terms with the Unity. Taking a deep breath, Toby launched himself in to a gap between a pair of Allied Technologies trucks. Legs pumping furiously, he was halfway across when he realised he was not going to make it.
Time seemed to slow down to a crawl and in crystal clarity he could make out every detail of the truck’s grill rushing towards him at bone crunching speed. Instead of leaping out of the way in a futile attempt to get clear, he boy jumped up. His left foot planted itself firmly on the front of the bonnet, thrusting downwards and propelling him up and over the front cab, onto the trailer behind and landing on all fours. Toby looked at his hands in amazement as he crouched on the roof, scarcely believing what he had just done. He’d always been athletic at school but jumping over the cab of a truck moving nearly a hundred kilometres per hour to land safely on the trailer behind was practically impossible. He was still trying to process the thought when a spray of bullets caught him directly in the leg. Losing his footing, he slipped off the side of the fast moving truck and sailed through the air. His head connected with the concrete wall of a building with a snap of breaking bone and his limp body rebounded into a side alley. It landed in a dumpster, half filled with stagnant water and trash, quickly sinking below the murky surface as the dumpster’s lid slammed down, nudged with the force of the body’s fall in to the dumpster.
“Did you see that shot?” One of the UniCops asked as they forced their way across the road stopping traffic, “sent that punk flying.”
“Our orders were to take the kid in alive, dipshit. Not in a body bag,” his older partner retorted, obviously not impressed by the rookie’s over-enthusiasm.
“The brat resisted arrest; you know what these muties are like.”
His partner did not respond, he had already reached the pavement near where they had seen the body hit the wall. There was no sign of the kid, not even a blood splatter or trail to follow. He pressed a stud on the collar of his helmet, activated the built-in communicator. “Central, unit 219 reporting; we’ve lost track of the target.”
“Unit 219, sat scan reports that his ID implant is still transmitting in your vicinity.” The operator on the other end said after a few seconds. “We put it within 50 meters of your current location. Can’t narrow it down any further, we’ve got some interference from the buildings.”
“Received Central,” he responded with a sigh. “You check that way, I’ll go this way. Stay in radio contact and for chrissakes, use your damn blaster. We need him alive.” As his partner stalked off, he muttered “damn rookie” under his breath.
Back in the alleyway, a head bobbed up out of the water gasping for breath. Toby lifted the lit and pulled himself out of the dumpster, sitting slumped against it on the floor. Gingerly, he felt his forehead, where only moments before the bones of his skull had been crushed inwards, and let out a shudder. “Ok, that was new.” Things like that had been happening recently. Cuts healing faster than they should, not being burned when touching a hot pan. But nothing like getting his neck broken and his skull crushed in yet still being able to walk away from it just a few minutes later.
“Hey you!” Zap! A blue bolt of energy struck the ground at his feet. “Freeze!” One of the cops, the rookie, stood at the entrance to the alley with his hand blaster drawn. Toby was beginning to suspect that he could take a bullet but he wasn’t so sure about the stunning energy of a blaster and he had no intention of finding out. As the cop began to advance, Toby reached for the nearest object, a lump of stone, and hurled it at the cop’s helmet. The stone shot through the air and smashed into the visor which shattered with the impact. Screaming in pain, and clutching his now broken nose, the cop looked at the boy with murderous intent in his eyes.
“You little shit, I’m gonna enjoy making you pay for that!” He howled as he drew a combat knife and charged at the boy. The two grappled in the mud, the knife at the boy’s throat. Momentarily stunned by the ferocity of the attack, Toby locked eyes with the cop as he tried to hold him back.
The look in someone’s eyes that wants nothing more than you to be dead is a cold thing, something that can chill you to the bone the first time you see it. This was it; this was where he was going to die. Alone, sopping wet in a filthy alley; murdered by a psychotic cop at age fourteen. It was at that point that Toby snapped. “Fuck that,” he thought, “I am not going to let it end like this.” With a howl of rage, he hurled cop against the wall as if he was nothing more than a rag doll. The cop struck the wall hard and fell to the floor, dazed, dropping the knife.
As the cop groaned, Toby stood up and grabbed the knife, holding it awkwardly. Logically, he knew that his only chance to escape was to make sure that the cop couldn’t follow him. However, for a fourteen-year-old boy, even one in his situation, that was an option that was difficult for him to choose. Pausing for only a few seconds, he tucked the combat knife into the back of his pants under his sweatshirt and ran. The guns he left behind because he knew they could be tracked and they most likely could only be fired by their authorised owner anyway.
A figure in combat fatigues watched the fleeing boy through a pair of old binoculars from a nearby fire escape. “Echo Four to Echo Two, target is heading your way.” He said into a headset microphone. “He’s going to run into some trouble before then. Is your distraction ready?”
Toby ran out into the next street and raced down the pavement trying to put as much distance as he could between him and the cop. As he turned the corner, he glanced behind him to make sure the cop wasn’t following him and ran headlong into the cop’s partner. The boy was knocked to the floor by a vicious punch to the head. “That’s enough running for you kid,” the cop muttered as he shot Toby with the blaster. Toby screamed as the electrical energy coursed through his system, paralysing his muscles.
“Toby Smith, citizen ID 7115202 dash beta, you are charged with violation of the genetic security act,” the cop began as he drew out a set of manacles. “You will be taken into custody where your mutations will be analysed. Once your abilities have been catalogued, you will be terminated.” He crouched down to look the boy in the eye, his tone softening slightly. “I’m sorry; your file says you’re a good kid. Maybe if you hadn’t ran you could have been recruited, but the law says runners get executed. Them’s the breaks unfortunately.”
The cop was reaching down to cuff Toby’s hands behind his back when the blast of a horn caused him to turn around just in time to see a cargo drone swerve from its assigned lane, through the safety barrier and onto the pavement. Toby, still paralysed, was unable to move as the hulk bore down upon them and he could only watch as the cop leapt to safety, leaving him in the path of the runaway behemoth. At the last moment however, the truck swerved to the side following the cop. With a sickening crunch, it ran headlong into him, leaving behind a bloody smear on the pavement. With another blast of its horn, the drone crashed back through the barrier and rejoined the flow of traffic as if nothing had happened.
He was still trying to make sense of what had just happened when he was enveloped by a white glow. A fraction of a second later he vanished leaving behind no trace that he was ever there.
A figure watching the scene from a nearby footbridge spoke into a throat mike. “Echo One, this is Echo Two, package is delivered did you get him?”
Several kilometres away and over two hundred meters underground, a man stood over an unconscious Toby, a tranquillizer gun in his hand. “Package received Echo Two. Good work people, everyone get back to base. Oh, an Echo Three, we need to have a word about that distraction of yours.”